Promoting Access to Shared Heritage with HES

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This week Dr Lyn Wilson, Digital Documentation Manager and Al Rawlinson, Head of Digital Innovation and Learning at Historic Environment Scotland (HES) tell us how they are using 3D to increase access to Scotland’s heritage sites and collections.

HES is the Scottish national heritage body, responsible for 336 properties of national importance, thousands of objects and millions of images. We have advisory and regulatory functions and carry out research to better understand and care for the historic environment. A big part of our remit is to promote access to our shared heritage and to provide support to the heritage sector.

I (Lyn) am a heritage scientist by training and has been involved in cultural heritage for over 20 years, and working in the realm of 3D for almost 10 years. And I (Al) am a digital designer and visualization expert, with particular interest in industrial heritage. We have been working together since 2008 when we started laser scanning heritage sites including Stirling Castle and Rosslyn Chapel. Back in 2009, we began a large-scale international 3D project known as the Scottish Ten which saw our combined team digitally document Scotland’s world heritage sites and international heritage sites, including Mount Rushmore and the Sydney Opera House.

Fig1: Sydney Opera House point cloud cross section, laser scanned as part of the Scottish Ten project.

The datasets produced were highly accurate and useful for conservation and heritage management purposes, but typically very large in size and not easy to disseminate at the time.

For the last few years, it has been my team’s remit to digitally record all of the 336 properties in our care, ranging from standing stones at Calanais, to mighty Edinburgh Castle (and everything in between!). We also digitally record the objects we look after, many of which are displayed at our properties. We call this the Rae Project, named after the Orcadian explorer John Rae. Given the scale of the project, it is going to keep us busy for quite a few years to come!

Fig2: Point cloud to 3D model blend of Edinburgh Castle, captured as part of our Rae Project.

Fig3: Laser scanning at Skara Brae World Heritage Site as part of the Rae Project. We scan here every two years to monitor coastal erosion.

Beyond this, we are involved in collaborative research with external partners which also furthers our work in 3D.

The last few years have seen a sea-change in the way 3D data can be handled. Whereas before we could only realistically share large 3D datasets via pre-rendered animations or convert to 2D CAD outputs, being able to integrate 3D models into gaming environments has opened up lots of new possibilities. We are now working to make data we have captured over the years accessible through 3D printing, VR, AR, educational games and apps. We are now able to provide virtual access to some of our remote sites such as Maeshowe Chambered Tomb in Orkney and share interactive tours of fabulous places such as Rosslyn Chapel – all based on accurate laser scan and photogrammetric data.

Maeshowe app:
Google Play / iTunes

Rosslyn Chapel app (created with our partners at The Glasgow School of Art):
Google Play / iTunes

For HES, we are really excited about the possibilities Sketchfab offers as a platform to share our sites and collections with wider audiences in ways never before possible and to learn from others doing great work in this area. We’ve just published our first 20 3D models: these are part of a collection developed from scans and photogrammetry of objects found at archaeological sites along the line of the Antonine Wall and now residing in disparate museum collections. Sketchfab offers us a way of digitally repatriating these objects:

3D model of a child’s shoe found at Barhill Roman Fort. The shoe fragments were digitally documented using an Artec structured light scanner, processed in Artec Studio and 3D Studio Max:

3D model of an Antonine Wall distance slab from Old Kilpatrick, digitally documented using an Artec structured light scanner, processed in Artec Studio and 3D Studio Max:

We are systematically recording Antonine Wall objects as part of the Alapp project to create an interactive location-based augmented reality app for the northernmost Frontier of the Roman Empire. We are adding content to this over the next few years with funding we received from Creative Europe, but the app can be downloaded now with information for the first sites:

Antonine Wall app:
Google Play / iTunes

We use a range of different tools for digital documentation from terrestrial laser scanning for historic buildings and landscapes to close-range high res laser scanning, structured light scanning and photogrammetry for objects and architectural detail. For the Antonine Wall collection we primarily used Artec scanners for carved stone distance slabs and photogrammetry using a Nikon D3X with Nikon lenses for smaller more detailed objects. Post processing was carried out using Artec Studio, Agisoft and RealityCapture, with further optimisation in 3D Studio Max, Xnormal and Zbrush where needed.

Fig4: Close-range laser scanning of Viking runes within the Neollithic chambered tomb of Maeshowe on Orkney.

One of our favourite bits of cultural heritage on Sketchfab is the ‘Around the World in 80 Models’ blog series. It’s a great way to explore sites and objects from far and wide and hope we can feature on there one day. We love how alive the cultural heritage community is on Sketchfab and it’s great to be a part of that now!

Over the coming months, we aim to upload a range of 3D models: more from our Antonine Wall collection, objects from across the Historic Environment Scotland estate, point clouds from our 3D laser scan surveys, virtual reconstruction models and animations. We are really looking forward to making the most of Sketchfab’s features, including VR support, audio integration and we’re excited about the possibilities of integrating AR.

Our Digital Documentation and Digital Innovation teams are based at The Engine Shed, Scotland’s new national centre for building conservation. Education and training are at the heart of what we do here so we aim to integrate our Sketchfab models to augment our learning resources, both for visitors coming to the Engine Shed and for digital engagement with heritage though our online VLE and website.

Follow Lyn, Al and Historic Environment Scotland on Sketchfab, Twitter @Scottish3D /@AlRawli / @HistEnvScot / @HESEngineShed and the web Historic Environment Scotland / Scottish Ten / The Engine Shed




About the author

Dr Lyn Wilson & Al Rawlinson

Digital Documentation Manager & Head of Digital Innovation and Learning at Historic Environment Scotland

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