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First Minister visits Eastern Qing Tombs as Scottish Ten arrives in China

5 December 2011

On the day the pandas arrived in Scotland, First Minister Alex Salmond visited China's Eastern Qing Tombs, ahead of work to digitally document the world-famous heritage site as part of the groundbreaking Scottish Ten project.

Launching digital diplomacy links between Scotland and China, the First Minister’s visit highlighted the Scottish Ten collaboration between Historic Scotland, Glasgow School of Art and CyArk, which is documenting all five UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Scotland and five international sites using cutting-edge digital technologies, including laser scanning.

The Eastern Qing Tombs - in use from 1666 to 1911 - are the final resting place of some of China's best known emperors. The Imperial Tombs of the Ming and Qing Dynasties were both designated as a World Heritage Site in 2000 - UNESCO describing it as a "masterpiece of human creative genius".

The Eastern Qing Tombs now join the portfolio of Scottish Ten sites being digitally scanned to create detailed three-dimensional records for future generations, which can be used to manage the sites, and provide source material for remote access and educational programmes.

The First Minister discussed the potential for one of China's most celebrated sites to become part of the Scottish Ten project when he welcomed Vice Premier Li Keqiang to Scotland in January this year.

The First Minister was joined on the visit to the Eastern Qing Tombs today by Mr Zhang Heqing, Director of China's State Administration of Cultural Heritage, and Mr Lu Qiong, Vice Director of the Department of the Protection of Monuments and Sites.

Mr Salmond will attend a ceremony in Beijing today (Monday) where the agreement between Historic Scotland and China's State Administration of Cultural Heritage will be signed to formally incorporate the Eastern Qing Tombs into the Scottish Ten project.

The First Minister said: "I am delighted to be visiting the remarkable Eastern Qing Tombs, to see first-hand how Scottish expertise has added digital diplomacy to help manage and conserve some of the world's most important and iconic heritage sites. We have been working closely with the Chinese government for some time to identify a suitable location, and the study that will be carried out here at the Tombs represents a magnificent opportunity to enhance global understanding of this hugely impressive site."

The advanced laser technology employed on the Scottish Ten has already captured sites as varied as St Kilda and Neolithic Orkney in Scotland, Rani Ki Vav in India and Mount Rushmore in the United States.

In China, the digital team will focus on the site's most elaborate tomb, belonging to Xiao Ling, which was the first to be completed and exerted a profound influence on those that followed.

Chinese rulers attached great importance to their mausoleums, which reflected a belief in an afterlife while also affirming their authority. They feature richly decorated stone statues and carvings, and tiles with dragon motifs, and show the development of the Qing Dynasty's funerary architecture.

The team will also record the Jingling Tomb of Emperor Kangxi, widely regarded as the greatest emperor of the Qing Dynasty.

Also speaking from the Eastern Qing Tombs, David Mitchell, Head of Conservation at Historic Scotland, said: "The Chinese Tombs pose unique challenges and we are looking forward tremendously to digitally recording this fascinating site.

"Our team has already experienced extremes of temperature and climate, and they are well versed in operating in difficult conditions. It will be a privilege to join our Chinese partners in analysing the Tombs."

The scanning system uses a combination of lasers and 360 degree photography to create a detailed model which is then analysed and processed at Glasgow School of Art's Digital Design Studio.

The technology can also reveal construction methods and help decipher inscriptions.

At Glasgow School of Art, Doug Pritchard said: "The Scottish Ten projects pose huge technical and logistical challenges. Our team is excited to be visiting the Eastern Qing tombs, and helping improve understanding of this unique historical site."

Much of the technological expertise used in the Scottish Ten project originated with CyArk, a non-profit organisation from California which aims to collect and archive digital information from heritage sites around the world.

CyArk founder Ben Kacyra, said he was delighted to see the Scottish Ten project at the Eastern Qing Tombs: "It is crucial that such important sites are digitally preserved, to ensure that collective human memory is not lost forever.

"Laser scanning and digital modelling allow us to study these precious monuments, and make them available to a global audience through modern communications tools including the internet and mobile platforms. It is my passion to see these unique and inspiring icons of human history preserved, so future generations can continue to marvel at them in the same way we do today."

The technology employed creates records of unparalleled accuracy, and often provides insights not revealed by more conventional methods of survey.

The First Minister said Scotland will be the first country in the world to digitally document its national collection of monuments, and that Historic Scotland was embarking on the Rae project to record all of its 345 sites using the scanning technology.

The completed archive material will by made available to the public, reinforcing the government's commitment to Scotland's cultural heritage.

Mr Salmond's visit to the Eastern Qing Tombs is part of a wider week-long mission to strengthen economic and cultural links between China and Scotland.

Notes for Editors

  • Images can be accessed from the Scottish Government's Flickr photostream at
  • View a video of the visit
  • Further information about the Scottish Ten project is available here:
  • Historic Scotland is an executive agency of the Scottish Government charged with safeguarding the nation's historic environment. The agency is fully accountable to Scottish Ministers and through them to the Scottish Parliament.

For further information

David Gray
Communications and Media Officer
Communications and Media
0131 668 8588 or 07747 165 289