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The Scottish Ten


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Video: Watch footage of the team on Mount Rushmore and stunning animations of the data already collected.


The Scottish Ten is an ambitious five year project to use cutting edge technology to create exceptionally accurate digital models of Scotland’s five UNESCO designated World Heritage Sites.

Historic Scotland and Glasgow’s School of Art’s Digital Design Studio are using laser scanners to create a range of digital imagery that will aid in the conservation, maintenance and management of these globally important sites.

In addition to the five sites in Scotland – The Heart of Neolithic Orkney; The Antonine Wall; the Old and New Towns of Edinburgh; New Lanark and St Kilda – the team will also record five international sites.

When the digital models are complete, they will be hosted in perpetuity by CyArk, a non-profit organisation set up to digitally record heritage sites across the globe and provide public access to the information.

What is laser scanning?

The laser scanner fires a laser beam at a solid surface which bounces back to the scanner on forming a ‘point’ on the surface. Because the speed of light is known we are able to formulate an accurate distance from the survey point. This is much like measuring with a tape measure and generating a point of reference. The advantage of the laser scanner is that it can quickly measure millions of survey points at hitherto unknown accuracy not feasible by hand or other measuring device. This collection of points is known as the point cloud. The laser scanner provides and XYZ co-ordinate – the location of a specific point in space, RGB values of the surface, and data on the reflective properties of the surface. Terrestrial laser scanning uses a tripod mounted scanner tied to a survey control network with an accuracy range from 0.1mm to 5mm generally practical, where airborne laser scanning (LIDAR) collects point cloud data to around 1000mm accuracy.

                     Scan of Rosslyn chapel

Laser scanning is line of sight in that it can only record what it can ‘see’ in a linear sense, although the point cloud can comprise scans from many different locations to build up an accurate picture. It does not provide sub surface or ‘x ray’ type information.

The point cloud can be manipulated by specialist software to generate traditional CAD drawings, to section through the point cloud – perhaps to ‘slice’ through a building or roof, or allow the viewer to take any vantage point within the cloud.

This point cloud forms a highly accurate base from which visualisations can be created, by draping high definition photographs on the cloud, architectural modelling (a more subjective technique) and increasingly used by HS – GSA, increasing point cloud density to present pure measured form, completely objective data.

Canadian born Doug Pritchard said ‘our partnership with Historic Scotland is a uniquely complimentary relationship – our scanning skills coupled with our modelling expertise and the conservation experience Historic Scotland brings gives us a unique skills set’.

Why is it important?

Laser scanning can contribute significantly to the way in which we record the historic environment –never before have we had the means to record to this level of detail.

David Mitchell, Director, of the Conservation Group said: ‘Laser scanning allows us to create a digital archive for future generations of the sites that we enjoy today, it can also allow us to provide virtual access to sites which are sensitive, and help us in the management and conservation of range of locations.’

Objectives of the project

This positions Scotland as a world leader in documentation and visualisation of the historic environment.  It is a great opportunity to showcase our innovation on a world stage, and to extend our expertise and strengthen cultural and economic links. Historic Scotland and Glasgow School of Art have come together to create the Centre for Digital Documentation and Visualisation a commercial venture to deliver the Scottish Ten and other documentation projects. A key role will be research and development.

How will the data be stored?

The data can be vast  - Rosslyn Chapel scans recently completed are made up of 8 billion individual points, meaning terabytes of data. This information is held on special secure servers.

Where can the data be viewed from?

You will be able to see the Rossyln model at and other examples of the laser scanning at

How will the sites be chosen?

The five Unesco World Heritage Sites are being scanned in Scotland. Four of the overseas sites have been selected to fulfil Scottish Government International objectives in North America, Japan, India and China. A fifth site will be selected, with details of how you can participate in it’s selection available soon.

Key People

The team from HS comprises of David Mitchell, Director of the Conservation Group, Chris McGregor and Dr Lyn Wilson.

They are working with Douglas Pritchard, Head of Visualisation, Digital Design Studio, Glasgow School of Art,  and members of his team.

Plans for the future

The team are now working to scan all of Scotland’s entries on the UNESCO list including the Antonine Wall, New Lanark, Neolithic Orkney, the Old and New Towns of Edinburgh, the Island of St Kilda plus five other international sites over the next four years.

The first international assignment will take place in May this year when the team fly out to South Dakota to scan the faces of the American Presidents which are the Mount Rushmore National Monument in partnership with CyArk, the National Park Service and local specialists. Scanning the face of a mountain is quite a challenge and a specialist rope team from the Park Service will be on hand to assist and keep the team safe.

Contact us

Historic Scotland
Conservation Group,
Longmore House,
Salisbury Place,
Tel: +44 (0) 131 668 8668