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Visualising our Heritage

Historic England's Imaging Team helps engage the widest possible audience in the stories of the Stonehenge landscape.

The Imaging Team creates beautiful, informative images in a variety of forms, from traditional archaeological reconstruction drawings to three-dimensional representations of sites and an interactive digital map. This ‘Story Map’ acts as a portal to our research reports for the World Heritage Site (WHS). Other recent work has been in response to requests from the Stonehenge Southern WHS Survey Project.

Landscapes re-created

A request for illustrations of the development of a long barrow resulted in images that use a combination of conventional and digital drawing techniques. Excavations at Druids Lodge for the southern WHS project had confirmed that the supposed Neolithic long barrow known as Winterbourne Stoke 71 was just that. Previously, the site had only been recorded from the cropmarks of two parallel ditches seen on aerial photographs but the excavations suggested that the long barrow had been ploughed out centuries ago, perhaps even in prehistory.

As well as a reconstruction drawing of the long barrow as it might have been in the Neolithic period, Ellie Winter, a Chartered Institute for Archaeologists placement with Historic England’s Graphics Team, was asked to create an illustration of the long barrow being ploughed away.

Ellie modeled the terrain in SketchUp three-dimensional modeling software and visited both the long barrow site and St Catherine’s Hill, Hampshire, to get a feel for chalk downland. She then created the textures for the trees and plants by hand. Once scanned, these were layered in Photoshop together with Ellie’s hand drawings of Manx Loaghtan sheep from Butser Ancient Farm and people in various poses. Ellie added other detail by painting digitally in the software.

As well as developing her own artistic style, Ellie’s work shows how even requests for ‘traditional’ reconstruction drawings are opportunities to develop methodologies, as it is becoming easier to work hand-drawn elements into a digital product.

 

A reconstruction illustration of Winterbourne Stoke 71 being ploughed away, set in later prehistory.
Ellie Winter’s illustration of Winterbourne Stoke 71 being ploughed away, set in later prehistory. © Historic England

Burials brought together

Further east, at West Amesbury, Historic England excavations uncovered two separate burials cut into the Bronze Age linear boundary ditch. Due to the sequencing of the fieldwork one burial was discovered, recorded and the bones lifted before the trench was extended and the second burial found. This posed a problem: how to visualise both burials together when they had not actually been seen that way when they were in the ground? Luckily, the digging team had taken just enough photographs of the first burial to have something to work with when they asked Jon Bedford, Senior Geospatial Imaging Analyst, for help.

 

3D model of two skeletons with wireframe.
Extract from a 3-D model of skeletons
Extracts from three-dimensional model. The images show the process undertaken in the software. © Historic England

By taking even more photographs of the second burial and using Structure from Motion, a photogrammetric technique for estimating the form of three-dimensional structures from two-dimensional images, Jon was able to create a three-dimensional model of the whole trench showing how both burials were inserted.

  View the 3D model of the burials

 

Detail from 3D model of a skeleton.
Extracts from three-dimensional model showing the wireframe detail on one of the skeletons. © Historic England

A digital map

Given the iconic status of Stonehenge it is hardly surprising that there are a number of Historic England research reports relating to the henge, stone circle and surrounding area. They range from detailed earthwork surveys carried out as part of the Stonehenge World Heritage Site Landscape Project, through various geophysical surveys, to assessments of the human remains.

Making use of our ESRI ArcGIS on-line facility for sharing spatial data, I developed the interactive Stonehenge Research Reports Story Map to encourage direct access to research reports in a more immediate and engaging way. Anyone looking at the map can move it around, zoom in and out, and choose which sites they wish to know more about. Small ‘pop-ups’ give a short summary of each report with the picture used on the front cover, and a simple link takes the user straight to the on-line report.

When it was launched in January 2016 the Story Map created a distinct spike in views of the Historic England research webpages. It clearly demonstrates the potential for web mapping to engage our audience and provide easy access to information about the historic places we champion.

View the Stonehenge Research Reports Story Map

 

Sharon Soutar

Author

Sharon Soutar MSc ACA  is a GIS and survey specialist in the Investigation and Analysis Graphics Team. Combining skillsets as a landscape archaeologist and graphic designer, Sharon has spent over 20 years working in various parts of Historic England.

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