Burghead Pictish fort digitised in 3D

The fort sits on a sand dune and is thought to have been occupied as early as the 6th century AD

Burghead promontory fort in Moray is the largest Pictish fort in Scotland, but its remains have been eroding along with the headland on which it stands. Now, though, the c.5.5ha site has been digitally reconstructed in 3D, showing how it may have looked more than 1,000 years ago, with images based on investigations led by the University of Aberdeen’s Professor Gordon Noble since 2015.

IMAGE: Alice Watterson.

The fort (see CA 331, 341, and 364) sits on a sand dune and is thought to have been occupied as early as the 6th century AD, but it was destroyed (possibly by Vikings) 400 years later, and its remains were further demolished in the early 19th century during the construction of modern Burghead. The fort’s interior was presumed to have been lost, but recent excavations have unearthed the footings of early medieval buildings inside the enclosure, with well-preserved floors, which Gordon said had been protected for centuries by layers of sand. ‘Wherever we’ve sunk a trench over the last few years, we have identified buildings of some kind… which gave us ammunition for the animation in terms of showing it as quite a densely occupied site,’ Gordon told CA.

The team gathered archaeological data and produced photogrammetry models using drones. These were passed to Dr Alice Watterson at the University of Dundee, who coordinated the 3D digital reconstruction, with filming and editing support from Dr Kieran Duncan and Dr Kieran Baxter of 3DVisLab research group.

The final digitisation shows a complex divided into upper and lower citadels. ‘It looks like maybe there’s a functional and a status difference between them,’ Gordon explained, ‘with the upper citadel perhaps the highest-status part of the fort.’ This is where the archaeologists discovered the most elite finds, including coins and weapons. The lower citadel, where animal bones were found and the fort’s well is situated, ‘looks like it’s maybe for more industrial processes,’ Gordon said.

The digital model can be seen at the Burghead Visitor Centre and www.abdn.ac.uk/news/15492/. The excavations were funded by the Leverhulme Trust and Historic Environment Scotland (HES), with HES funding the 3D digitisation.