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16 March 2022

New digital models of Salisbury Crags Hutton Section and Hutton’s Rock

The ancient meets the modern with the launch today of two new digital 3D models highlighting the “Hutton Section” and “Hutton’s Rock” at Salisbury Crags in Edinburgh’s Holyrood Park.

Hutton Section at Salisbury Crags

Devised by Historic Environment Scotland (HES) in partnership with Nature Scot, the new virtual models are available to view online via Sketchfab, and provide a unique, immersive exploration of the areas, as well as a wealth of historical facts about the sites named after the “father of modern geology” James Hutton, following his defining study of the crags in the 1800s.

Comprising a series of cliffs adjacent to the park’s Radical Road and boasting thousands of years of history and archaeology, Salisbury Crags, and its adjoining Hutton Section, were formed millions of years ago by rising magma forced under pressure between layers of sedimentary rock below the now dormant Arthur’s Seat volcano. This then cooled to form a near horizontal sheet-like body, or sill, of igneous rock called Dolerite. While the Hutton Section and Hutton’s Rock are temporarily closed to the public due to rockfall issues which HES is currently addressing, there are plans to start risk assessed, personal protective equipment (PPE) covered park ranger led educational visits to the site for students and educational groups over the next few months.

Providing a visually stunning, virtual perspective of the Hutton Section and Hutton’s Rock, the new 3D models were created through a process of laser scanning, using ultra-fast, high-resolution laser scanners to capture 3D spatial data in the form of a point cloud. To create a photorealistic model, hundreds of overlapping images of the site are then combined with the 3D data, in a technique known as photogrammetry.

As well as aiding future conservation work at sites such as Holyrood Park and supporting HES’s wider interpretation and education programmes, the 3D data created is also becoming increasingly important in providing virtual access to places and buildings in the heritage body’s care.

Commenting on the new 3D models, Dr Lyn Wilson, Head of Programme for Technical Research and Science at HES said:

We care for over 300 historic properties and sites, and it is our aim to use a range of digital technologies to capture accurate, highly detailed 3D information to both support our wider work in monitoring and maintaining our sites, and to offer additional, innovation experiences via virtual access to our sites and places.

“These latest Sketchfab 3D models are notable examples of that approach in action, not only helping with our crucial conservation work but in allowing new audiences to enjoy and increase their understanding of iconic areas like the Hutton’s Section and Hutton’s Rock within Holyrood Park.”

Dr Colin MacFadyen at Nature Scot, who HES partnered with in the development of the Sketchfab models to provide accurate geological information for the captions, said:

“It has been a privilege to work with HES on this exciting and innovative project. Salisbury Crags is a Scottish Geo heritage asset of major global significance where James Hutton gathered evidence for his Theory of the Earth. For those not able to visit Holyrood Park the digital models of “Hutton Section” and “Hutton’s Rock” will provide useful interaction with these famous geosites. They have considerable educational value and will act as a taster for Geo tourists from across the world planning to experience the locations at first hand.”

Explore the Hutton Section and Hutton’s Rock on Sketchfab.


  • James Hutton’s life (1726-1797) spanned the period of the Scottish Enlightenment which marked advances and discoveries in industry, commerce, agriculture, science, and the arts. James Hutton made a considerable contribution to our understanding of Earth processes and of the immensity of ‘deep time.’ He suggested that the Earth was incredibly old, and continually changing – a startling new idea that changed forever the way people thought about our planet. This had a major influence on other scientists such as Charles Darwin. James Hutton is now recognised as the ‘father of modern geology.’
  • Situated at the south end of Salisbury Crags, the Hutton Section holds a special place in the history of science, for it was here in the late 18th century that James Hutton found evidence to support his theories about the workings of the Earth. At Salisbury Crags, he observed igneous and sedimentary rocks and understood that they had been formed at various times by different processes.
  • Hutton believed that molten rock (magma) could be ‘intruded’ between or across sedimentary rocks, sometimes reaching the surface as lava flows. He found evidence to support this at the base of the Salisbury Crags Sill, where magma intruded between sedimentary layers has cooled to form tough igneous rock (dolerite or whinstone). The junction between the dolerite and sandstone shows that the magma was intruded forcefully, disrupting the existing sedimentary layers. Such a dynamic contact feature is incompatible with the common view in Hutton’s time that igneous rocks ‘crystallised like salt from sea water.’
  • To highlight its 3D digital models, HES uses the popular and free online platform Sketchfab which currently has over 10 million unique users worldwide. On Sketchfab, users can virtually explore 3D environments from their phone, tablet, or computer or in a VR (Virtual Reality) headset for an immersive experience. We have shared our accurate 3D data for the Hutton Section and Hutton’s Rock here and annotated the models with several key points of interest.

    Learn more about visiting Holyrood Park

About Year of Stories 2022

The Year of Stories (#YS2022 #TalesOfScotland), led by VisitScotland, will be showcased throughout 2022 and will spotlight, celebrate and promote the wealth of stories inspired by, written, or created in Scotland. From icons of literature to local tales, Scotland’s Year of Stories encourages locals and visitors to experience a diversity of voices, take part in events and explore the places, people and cultures connected to all forms of our stories, past and present.

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About Historic Environment Scotland (HES) 

  • We are the lead public body charged with caring for, protecting and promoting the historic environment. We will lead on delivering Scotland’s first strategy for the historic environment, Our Place in Time.

  • Historic Scotland, Scran, Canmore, The National Collection of Aerial Photography (NCAP), The Engine Shed, Stirling Castle and Edinburgh Castle are sub-brands of HES.

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For further information, please contact:

Barry McPherson
Historic Environment Scotland Media Office
Mobile: 07221 959 962