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Aerial survey

Read about the work of our aerial survey team, which has discovered and recorded more than 9,000 buried sites by searching Scotland from the sky.

An aerial view is a very effective way to understand and record Scotland’s historic environment.

Aerial surveys can be used to:

  • identify previously unknown sites
  • record ancient monuments, buildings, urban areas and landscapes

Aerial survey combines:

  • airborne reconnaissance (exploration)
  • analysis of existing aerial photographs

Increasingly, it also makes use of airborne laser scanning (ALS) – also known as LiDAR – data to understand the past and to aid conservation, planning and research.

In an average year, our aerial survey team:

  • completes more than 100 hours of flying
  • adds some 4,000 to 6,000 photos to a collection of more than 166,000 aerial images of all aspects of Scotland’s landscape

Aerial reconnaissance to discover previously unknown sites is especially important. Searching lowland areas from the sky for buried sites that show as cropmarks has led to more than 9,000 such sites being recorded to date.

Our aerial mapping programme draws on existing aerial images and the results of reconnaissance to create interpreted maps that add to our knowledge of archaeological sites and landscapes. More and more, we also use 3D models of the ground surface (derived from ALS) to help with this process.

The aerial survey team researches:

  • aspects of the historic environment
  • the viability of sources such as satellite, radar and hyperspectral data for recording sites and landscape

More information

Find out about all of our records by visiting the online catalogue of Scotland’s historic environment. Search Canmore now.

Historic Environment Scotland also delivers or is involved in:

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