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Leica BLK360 in front of Knowlton Church

Scanning Roman Ruins, Prehistoric Barrows, and Medieval Castles in England: Elias Logan and the BLK360 Round 3

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09/02/2020

I’ve now traveled from the rural north of Scotland into its more bustling southern neighbor, England. Just as it is more densely populated today, it also reflects an eventful and tumultuous past in its substantial supply of scan-worthy stone ruins. While my time in Scotland was equally divided between the concentrated efforts at the Ness of Brodgar excavations and my roving research, England required faster scanning workflows to capture all the sites of interest, and the BLK360 was not idle for long between each site.

So, buckle up and we’ll go twisting through the narrow country lanes together!


BLK360 Records Layers of Occupation

While the Scottish scans moved from prehistoric to Medieval era ruins, the British scene introduced another historic period to my scanning study: Roman!

The first sighting of a Roman structure was the Empire’s northern border, Hadrian’s Wall; designed to defend against attacking clans from the north. In subsequent cities from Lincoln to London, signs of the Roman period showed up in similar defensive walls constructed with the textbook method of moderately dressed stone blocks and intermittent coursings of clay brick.

Hadrian's Wall Milecastle

These Roman fortifications were often renovated, repurposed, or added onto by the feudal lords of the Medieval period in their fortresses and walled cities like York, where the BLK360 captured segments of the city’s original Roman wall sandwiched between and below medieval additions of the ‘Multangular Tower’ and Gothic-vaulted Church of St. Maurice. 

York City Walls Multangular Tower

If Rome had its day in the (rare) English sun, still more of the country’s ruins were the home of the feudal kings, knights, clergy, and other characters of the Medieval period. While the large scale of many of these structures – most notably the immense Gothic cathedrals – extended beyond my capabilities and practices (see below), the partial remains of castles, chapels, and monastery buildings were prime subjects for the scanner and my research.

In another interesting case of alignment between eras, the Medieval met prehistoric on the Salisbury Plain. The small sanctuary ruins of Knowlton Church are situated in the middle of a mounded earthwork ring like those at Stonehenge and other stone circles. Again, the BLK360’s full-circle scanning action ensured that these earthworks were as much the focus of study as were the church’s flint rubble and sandstone block walls. 

Knowlton Church and Earthworks

The prehistoric period appeared in more than just earthworks during the tour of England, although earth figured prominently in more of these scans than not! For example, in the Cotswold region, the BLK and I created digital captures of several ‘long barrows’: earthen mounds covering chambered compositions of stone orthostats and capstones that – when they have lost their surrounding soil – are often recognized as dolmens. As such, these structures required me to use the low-light, limited space scrambling and scanning methods I’d developed out of necessity in the chambered cairns and earth houses of Scotland.

Nympsfield Long Barrow

 

Laser Scanning Plays Alongside Preservation Practices at Weeting Castle

While I took on ‘the-low-and-enclosed’ structures in the Cotswolds, across the country in Norfolk county I left ‘the-high-and-exposed’ structures to the experts. Expanding the study to include historic preservation, my scanning of Weeting Castle overlapped with masonry inspection by Building Conservation Solutions (BCS), Ltd.

As the BLK360 and I scanned around the perimeter of the medieval manor house, BCS director (and rock climber) Joseph Picalli surveyed the integrity of the flint ruin’s upper regions on belay and on 25’ ladder. Luckily for me, the BLK’s supreme reach allowed me to stay solidly on the ground in order to capture those areas being inspected by Joe!

Weeting Castle

Down from on high, Joe informed me that BCS does preservation work at over 40 of the country’s historic sites – from the soaring spire of Lincoln Cathedral to the chunky chimney of Magpie Mine - over the past 18 years. Our conversations were very insightful in understanding not only the lithic composition of Weeting Castle and neighboring sites but also the role of representation in historic preservation practice, especially by drawing the site in order to represent it.

Joe’s assertions on the importance of the hand-to-mind connection at play in the act of drawing, for example, underscored the significance of the sketching efforts that I undertake at each site; even as the BLK far surpasses them in accuracy and scope. So, while the scanner allows for instant user feedback on point cloud coverage via software on an iPad Pro, I also recommend drawing the scan locations the ‘old-school’ way in a planometric sketch.

Weeting Castle Plan GIF

This does present somethingof a risk/reward moment when scans are downloaded from the device to computer to reveal the degree of scanner coverage obtained in the compiled scan file. Regardless, considering the roles of hand, mind, and BLK in the representation process inspired a set of scanning principles to accompany my “4-C” scanning criteria shared in the last post:

 

Elias Logan’s “3-R” Scanning Principles/ Practices

  • Representational redundancy: 3D scanning is understood not as a replacement, but an augmentation, of the representational toolkit. In practice this means that notes, sketches, and photographs of the site should be completed simultaneously with scanning. Particularly when running the device without an iPad interface, sketching a plan of the structure that notes scan locations is paramount.
  • Rigor: the completeness of any given 3D scan should not be conflated with rigor (or success). This means capturing as much as possible within the limits of the travel itinerary, site, and site conditions before moving on to the next location. As part of a travelling fellowship, covering many sites is the priority over the depth of representing any one site. Just as these sites are fragments of former whole structures, the scans may often be understood as similarly fragmented. As the research is primarily rhetorical rather than professional, missing information should be viewed as a way to contemplate and analyze further rather than an error or oversight.
  • Respect: the integrity of the site, its enjoyment by fellow visitors, and safety of both should be prioritized over 3D scanning considerations. In practice this means that scanning efforts should leave no physical trace (aside from the occasional tripod footprint), observe barriers protecting fragile areas, and minimize disruptions to the visitor experience. The latter means avoiding asking a visitor to pause or stay out of the way during scanning. With enough overlapping scans, they can always be trimmed out of the model! And when visitors are curious, it’s always fun to explain the project and how the device works.

With scan criteria and principles in mind, the next post will take us into continental Europe where the BLK360 and I will take on mighty megaliths, more Roman ruins, and clifftop chateaus across France. I’ll share my experience collaborating with a medieval fortress restoration team as well as some best practices in processing scans. Until then, au revoir!

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