Sculptor’s Cave G-B) : Digital exploration

Kathryn Krakowka
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The sculptors cave e1507893322378The entrance of the Sculptor’s Cave, the inside of which was recently digitilised. (Photo: The Sculptor’s Cave Publication Project)

The Sculptor’s Cave in Moray, Scotland, is a treasure trove of archaeological finds.

During the late Bronze Age, the cave appears to have been a repository for precious objects, with finds ranging from bronze bracelets via pottery to a swan’s neck pin. Large quantities of human remains have also been discovered – especially those of children – suggesting that the cave may have been a centre for funerary rites. Intriguingly, on the frontal bone of one child, there is evidence suggestive of deliberate defleshing. Some of the cave’s most important features, however, are the Pictish symbols that can be found on the walls of its entrance passages.

The fish and crescent and v rod a photograph b scan image c enhanced scan using relfectance transformation imaging rti courtesy bradford visualisationThe fish and crescent and V-rod Pictish carving: (A) photograph, (B) scan image, and (C) enhanced scan using reflectance transformation imaging (RTI) (Image: Bradford Visualisation)

Problematically, the cave is only accessible at low tide, making investigation of the interior time-sensitive. A new project, funded by Historic Environment Scotland and carried out by Professor Ian Armit and Dr Lindsey Büster at the University of Bradford, has created a high-resolution animated model of the cave. Through laser scanning and structured light scanning, the details of the cave have been digitally preserved to allow for more in-depth exploration of the cave – and the Pictish symbols – no matter whether the tide is high.

The Sculptor’s Cave is a fascinating location, known for decades for the richness of its archaeology and for the unusual Pictish carvings around its entrance,’ said Professor Armit of Bradford’s School of Archaeological and Forensic Sciences. ‘This walk-through animation allows us to study the carvings in detail, and to present this inaccessible site to the public through online and museum displays. It also ensures that we can preserve the cave and the carvings digitally for future generations to study.’

The digital model will be deposited in the Elgin Museum and included in their exhibition on the cave. More information can be found at A video of the 3D animation can be found on YouTube at A monograph on the cave excavations by Professor Armit and Dr Büster will also be published by the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland in 2018.