LiDAR Mapping for Heritage Applications
LiDAR Mapping for Heritage Applications

The King, The Castle and The Laser Beam – LiDAR Mapping for Heritage Applications

In by 3dlm_user

Across the world, when you mention Nottingham, there are a few different things people automatically think of. “Ah, Brian Clough” is common one, especially on the football mad Asian continent, however most common is, of course “Oh, Robin Hood!”

The legend of Robin Hood has been around since the 13th century and has spawned several contentious[i] movies featuring Errol Flynn, Kevin Costner and more recently Russell Crowe. It is yet to be established whether Robin ever lived in Ireland as Russell’s accent may suggest…
giphyThis month marks the 800th anniversary of the death of ‘Bad King John’. Remember the greedy tax obsessed Lion in the Disney cartoon Robin Hood? King John ruled England from the 6 April 1199 until his death on 19th October 1216. He was portrayed by Disney as a greedy, malevolent lion in the cartoon Robin Hood and has been dubbed the ‘Most evil monarch in British History’. After contracting dysentery on his travels, King John painfully made his way as far as Newark Castle where, after a large feast, he died aged 49.[ii]

Rumour and folklore speculates that Robin Hood & Friar Tuck conspired to poison John as revenge for the murder of Maid Marian. Being based 10 miles away from Newark we decided to take ROBIN back to Newark Castle to mark the anniversary of King John’s death so that we could take an in-depth look at the historic landmark.

Newark Castle stands on the bank of the River Trent and is inaccessible by foot on one side. Using a mobile mapping system, attached to a backpack, our team performed a 360° scan of the castle in under 15 minutes. A similar scan with a terrestrial laser scanner would take around a day and a half, with multiple set ups required to capture the same amount of data. Full details of the castle emerged, from the detail of the original mullioned windows to lost and damaged bricks on the ramparts. With survey-grade mobile systems now available, mobile scanning can now achieve accuracies of around 10-20mm. Making systems such as ROBIN ideal for documenting the intricacies of historical heritage.


The following video shows an elevated animation of the resulting pointcloud created by ROBIN:

Documenting heritage sites such as Newark Castle allows for closer inspection of architectural details as well as the potential to maintain and even rebuild an exact replica in the event that the structure is damaged beyond repair. The benefits of LiDAR in archaeological documentation were first recognised at a NATO symposium in Poland in 2000. A survey of the River Wharfe in Yorkshire revealed a Roman fort, previously thought to have been destroyed. This led Historic England to engage with the Environment Agency’s Geomatics Group to conduct an aerial LiDAR survey of World Heritage Site, Stonehenge. This produced a highly detailed terrain model which allowed for the study and identification of archaeological features which otherwise may have gone unnoticed. Several new sites were discovered in the investigation and the scan also provided a map of much greater accuracy than previously recorded.

figure_5-1449x1557Other recent findings include the discovery of a network of medieval cites buried beneath the floor of the forest close to Siem Reap in Cambodia, a number of ancient sites have been uncovered in Honduras and more has been learnt about the AONB Cannock Chase and its involvement in the Great War, all using LiDAR technology.

Almost all cultural heritage projects require the recording of dimensions, position and form to allow for documentation and analysis. Laser scanning also allows for the detailed retrospective study of buildings and artefacts, giving conservation experts the ability to spot changes and erosion over a period of time by comparing repeated scans. Project Managers can also plan restorative works more easily when they have access to an accurate 3D scan of the project.

Despite recent accomplishments made in the application of LiDAR to archaeological projects, it is yet to see extensive use within the industry. There are several obstacles preventing the technology being more widely used. Technological innovation comes at a cost which can prohibit the use of certain equipment, especially in the not-for-profit sector. To perform effective scans of remote areas can also involve the use of planes or helicopters, especially where vegetation is dense and impenetrable. Often, external grants or funding are applied for to help fund specific projects, though collaboration between stakeholders and interested parties can help to raise funds or provide resources for larger scale applications, such as Cannock Chase where Staffordshire County Council worked with Historic England to deliver the project with help in the form of a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Even though scans and scanners in particular can be an expensive acquisition, the data collected allows for the examination of a large area, in detail, with the ability to zoom in to specific areas of interest. This has proven to be an invaluable way of referencing scale pre and post excavation, with mobile systems cutting the time spent scanning even further. As shown at Newark Castle, vast amounts of data can be collected in minutes if a system is moving. In a recent project in a school in the US, Leica estimated that the scan was carried out over 80% faster than if using a TLS. When factoring in the cost of human resources, the speed and practicalities of mobile mapping systems can suddenly become a game-changer. With the cost of LiDAR systems dropping and the technology becoming more commonly used in other industries, there are many more opportunities for collaboration between the private and non-profit sectors.

The CyArk 500 challenge is a great example of where collaboration is helping to document heritage sites using 3D mapping technology. The aim is to digitally document 500 of the world’s most important cultural sites, preserving them for future generations in the event that they are ‘lost to natural disasters, destroyed by human aggression or ravaged by the passage of time’. With time and resource being donated by some of the world’s foremost specialists in realty capture, CyArk have already documented 40 sites including Pompeii, Mt. Rushmore, Sydney Opera House and the Tower of London.

The Scottish Ten project is a similar success story spawned from the CyArk project. Historic Environment Scotland and The Glasgow School of Art’s Digital Design Studio joined together to digitally document Scotland’s then five World Heritage sites. The resulting ‘Centre for Digital Documentation and Visualization’ or CDDV brings together people and businesses with skills in heritage, surveying and digital and interactive technologies such as virtual reality.


Professional guidance to cover 3D laser scanning for archaeology and architecture has been developed by Newcastle University, following a 2 year project by the School of Civil Engineering and Geosciences. The project sought to provide information to guardians of national heritage such as local authorities, archaeologists and architects, to facilitate the use of LiDAR scanning for documentation and preservation. Historic England have since released two publications; ‘3D Laser Scanning for Heritage’ which builds on the guidance notes from Newcastle University, covering decision making – accuracy required, time and access restrictions about more  how the captured data can be used and archived. ‘The Light Fantastic’ focusses on Airborne Laser Scanning (ALS) for archaeological surveys to help those in charge of historical documentation decide whether LiDAR data can help them achieve their research aims.

ROBIN provides a multi-purpose all round system, integrating a 360° field of view laser scanner, 12 MP camera, two GNSS antennas, inertial navigation system, touch screen control unit and three mounting systems, allowing for applications via WALK, DRIVE & FLY. The ROBIN package also includes complete capture and a post-processing software.

Our technical team are always happy to answer your questions. Give them a call or visit to find out more about ROBIN


[i] One movie which will always be forgiven is the Mel Brooks classic ‘Robin Hood: Men in Tights’

[ii] Not all of John’s legacy was bad – His excessive taxation of normal citizens led to a rebellion led by the Church which culminated in the signing of the Magna Carta, the first document to limit the power of the Crown and give rights to the common folk.

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