Using cutting-edge laser scanning technology, archeologists are gaining new insights into a famous battle on Scottish soil that wrote a new page in history almost three hundred years ago.

Seeking a better understanding of that part of British history, National Trust for Scotland (NTS) archaeologists are digitally scanning the Culloden battlefield site for a detailed model of the landscape where the Jacobites took their final stand.

Nearly 2,000 men lied beneath Culloden Moor when, in 1746, the Jacobites led by Bonnie Prince Charlie last fought government troops led by William Augustus, the Duke of Cumberland.

The key is Aerial LiDAR or Light Detection and Ranging, which is captured through the use of a pulsed laser beam fired from an airplane. The laser beam scans from one side to another, measuring thousands of points per second to construct a very accurate, detailed model of the ground and its features.

The LiDAR data can be filtered to remove tree cover and other vegetation, allowing experts to find any archeological remains currently hidden from view.

“Because we can view and light the digital model from different angles, it can pull out topographical features that we wouldn’t see in any other way,” says Stefan Sagrott, NTS’ archeological data officer.

The meticulous topographical survey allows geographic information system (GIS) to peek into the positions that the opposing forces held, and to see the influence of the terrain on the results of the battle. The results will then assist in the management and conservation of the battlefield area, adds Sagrott.

Plenty of prehistoric remains, such as the Clava Cairns south of the battlefield, have also been discovered and captured by the LiDAR survey.

Jacobites, the supporters of the deposed James II and his descendants in their claim to the British throne after the Revolution of 1688, played a critical role in the political and religious events that beset the country during that tumultuous period.

The series of Jacobite risings culminated in their defeat at Culloden, where their surprise attack was marked by opening fire at government soldiers.

“Although a short battle by European standards, it was an exceptionally bloody one,” states the NTS.

LiDAR is increasingly being employed in scientific missions, including looking for shipwrecks across the globe through producing a map of coastal regions in the past. The technology also proved useful in mapping native populations in North America to figure out what led to their massive population decline when European missionaries arrived.

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