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isle of arran

1,000 ancient monuments discovered with lidar on Isle of Arran

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Airborne laser scanning, also known as lidar, has been used by archaeologists to discover around 1,000 previously unknown ancient sites on the Scottish Isle of Arran.

The project, undertaken by archaeologists at Historic Environment Scotland (HES), detected the remains of ancient monuments on the island.

Dave Cowley, Rapid Archaeological Mapping Manager at HES, said the lidar technology allowed the team to undertake a rapid archaeological survey “over weeks rather than months or years”.

He added that without it, many of the sites would have been “impossible” to find.

“We have been able to see how densely settled parts of Arran were, and the medieval and post-medieval shieling sites that were discovered have told us how upland areas were used by shepherds,” he said.

Among the new sites discovered is a Neolithic cursus monument, prehistoric settlements and medieval farmsteads.

The project isn’t the first to use lidar in this way. Last year scientists used it to document and digitally preserve the first known set of theropod dinosaur tracks in the state of Arkansas. While in Guatemala more than 60,000 previously unknown Mayan structures were revealed that are interconnected through a vast network of cities, fortifications, farms and highways.

“This survey has shown us that there are double the number of ancient monuments on Arran than we previously knew about,” Cowley said. “We have been able to see how densely settled parts of Arran were, and the medieval and post-medieval shieling sites that were discovered have told us how upland areas were used by shepherds.”

He said the Arran project is “just a first step”, adding: “As this technology become more widely available, we expect to find tens of thousands more ancient sites across the rest of Scotland - working at a pace that was unimaginable a few years ago.”

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