Aerial Photography and Visualisation for Built Heritage - PhD Portfolio by Kieran Baxter
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Monday, 8 September 2014

Kite aerial photography of the excavations at Links of Noltland on Westray, Orkney

The Links of Noltland is a complex prehistoric settlement in the care of Historic Scotland and under rescue excavation carried out by EASE Archaeology since 2006 when erosion was identified as a significant risk to the site. I have been involved in a project, backed by Historic Scotland, to tackle the challenges of visualising the site for public outreach as part of a team of four practice-researchers: Dr John Was, Dr Aaron Watson, (the newly Doctored) Alice Watterson and myself.

This kite aerial photograph covers a large portion of the Neolithic and Bronze Age settlement areas and shows the proximity to Grobust beach. Positioned on the north coast of the remote island of Westray, Orkney, Links of Noltland is exposed to a barrage of "high energy" weather that backfills unattended trenches, tears at anything not tied down (including caravans apparently) and is in danger of destroying archaeological remains as quickly as it reveals them.

One of the challenges of visualising a rescue excavation such as this is that the site is constantly changing. This vertical view into Neolithic Structure Seven was taken during excavation last year. On the right is Alice, sketching from the vantage point of the sand dune. Alice is working on a digital reconstruction to speculate on how Structure Seven might have looked in its complete form.

I used kite aerial photography to gather images for structure-from-motion photogrammetry in order to generate high resolution three-dimensional meshes of the site at different stages. Orthophotos are one of the outcomes of this process - high resolution plan views such as this Gigapan where you can zoom in and navigate around details in a way similar to google earth.

It has also been great to be able to photograph ongoing archaeological activity on the site and we have been combining low altitude aerial photography with time-lapse photography in an attempt to give an impression of a dynamic environment that is constantly in flux.

This large area of excavation is Area Five, a cluster of Neolithic dwellings where some of the most exciting finds have emerged. For a sense of scale the black circles are car tyres used to secure covers for parts of the trench not currently under excavation - a fact of life in such a wind-swept environment. The four of are are currently working towards an animated introduction to the site that incorporates some of the elements mentioned here so watch this space!


  1. Great photos and great work on an important project.

  2. Great images and important to document settlements other than on the mainland! Can you add sharing links?