Highlands & Islands

Website reveals hidden landscape in Caithness

Image caption The website offers virtual tours of archaeological sites

A new website has been launched to help people explore an ancient landscape hidden beneath fields and woodland in north-west Caithness.

A Window on Caithness' Past gives details on hundreds of sites, more than 300 of them previously unrecorded.

The remains of 5,000-year-old burial cairns and 3,000-year-old homes were identified using Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) laser scanning.

The work was done ahead of the construction of the Baillie Wind Farm.

The 21-turbine project at Baillie Hill, west of Thurso, was granted planning permission subject to a number of conditions.

One requirement was for the scheme to open up better public access to the Hill of Shebster and Cnoc Freicedain scheduled ancient monuments.

Billion 'points'

The developers - a joint venture between Statkraft and local partners - was also asked to improve the interpretation of the sites, incorporating the results of the LiDAR survey.

AOC Archaeology Group was commissioned to carry out the scanning, which involved mounting equipment on an aircraft and flying over the wind farm site.

Archaeologist Andy Heald said the survey was the first of its kind in the far north of mainland Scotland.

A Window on Caithness' Past, has been launched as an educational tool and offers virtual tours of ancient sites and links to those already documented on the Highland Historic Environment Record.

Sites include Sithean Dubh, a chambered cairn where in 1831 it was said two skeletons of "gigantic size" were found.

The website also provides information on areas showing time depth, the use of land over thousands of years.

In Caithness, LiDAR revealed fields where medieval and later rig and furrow systems overlie much earlier agricultural use as well as the remains of 3,000-year-old low-walled, thatched roofed houses called hut circles.

LiDAR fires thousands of laser pulses per second at the ground.

Almost a billion "points" were collected during the Baillie survey and this raw data was processed to create high-resolution models showing field boundaries, walls and ancient monuments.

Mr Heald said: "This survey is beginning to rewrite the history of northern mainland Scotland."

He added: "One of the main aims of the project was to present the results of the Baillie survey online, in a format that allows different users to explore the data, identify features of interest and explore monuments that are familiar to them.

"The website provides a unique window on Caithness's past, and will be a valuable resource for archaeological research and interested visitors alike."

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