Lasers shine light on Scotland’s mysterious Iron Age tunnels

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<p><figcaption class=A laser scanner used in a different project (Image: Messenger)

These are deep and dark mysterious tunnels carved by the people of ancient Scotland, the purpose of which has puzzled scientists to this day.

Hand-carved canals, often found beneath the remains of Iron Age dwellings and settlements, may have been used as storage, ritual space, or even as a safe area to hide from marauding invaders.

Searching for the secrets of these ‘underground lands’, named after a French phrase meaning underground passage, has always been a tedious and tedious task, forcing archaeologists to explore narrow, enclosed crawl spaces often clogged with centuries of rubble.

But now technology is being used to speed up the process and provide maps of centuries-old tunnels in never-before-seen detail.

A team of archaeologists is using lasers to map the subterranean areas scattered across the Scottish Highlands in various previously discovered areas.

READ MORE: Orkney’s ‘Older’ raises questions about Iron Age fish consumption

The method used involves a device called a Leica BLK360 laser scanner that sends lasers through walls 10,000 times per second to examine the area.

This creates a detailed 3D view of the site where measurements can be taken.

These measurements then create an interactive map of the underground, allowing archaeologists to examine it without stepping into the damp tunnel.

A team led by Graeme Cavers of AOC Archeology is using new technology to conduct research in a way that is impossible to do by hand.

Manual measurements using a device called theodolite, which are difficult to use in dark, congested tunnels, have been replaced by these laser scanners, which have improved significantly over the past few decades.

“They used to connect to an external laptop,” says Graeme cavers of AOC Archaology. “Data could only be saved as fast as that connection. It was done over an Ethernet cable, so it was relatively fast.

“But even then, the first laptops I used with a scanner had 2 gigabytes of RAM. It was the best in the range. And a laptop in those days cost a lot of money.”

READ MORE: Bronze Age pottery on display near where it was unearthed decades ago

The researchers aimed their laser at the Cracknie underground in February 2022. Located in Scotland’s Borgies Forest, Cracknie is one of the best preserved Iron Age sites in the country.

The tunnel was built 2000 years ago and is 13 meters long and one meter high.

Some believe the tunnels were used for storage, but others claim they were used for unknown spiritual or religious practices or even to imprison slaves and hostages.

Herald Scotland:

Herald Scotland:

underground map

But now the entire structure can be analyzed above from the comfort of the computer screen with a very small fraction of the effort required previously.

“You’d stay there a long time to do the equivalent of what we did with a theodolite,” Cavers said.

Forestry and Land Scotland, which commissioned the archaeologists for the project, said: “Underground lands are still a mystery.

“Maybe it was for storage, like cereal or dairy products like cheese in sealed containers,” archaeologist Matt Ritchie, based in Forestry and Land Scotland, told Wired magazine.

“Perhaps the security was for the safety of valuables, or the safety of slaves or hostages. Or perhaps it was for ceremonial purposes, such as a medieval temple or private chapel, for domestic rituals.”

“[Cracknie souterrain] It is one of the most important planned monuments in Scotland’s national forests and lands.”

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