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Ancient Calanais goes digital

Published: 13/08/2018

Minister for Connectivity and the Islands, Paul Wheelhouse, was at Calanais in the Outer Hebrides last week to see how the Isle of Lewis’ ancient past is being recreated using the latest in technology

Lewis based charitable trust, Urras nan Tursachan, in partnership with St Andrews University, is using cutting edge geophysics, and digital technology to bring to life a monumental landscape lost for 5000 years.

The trust operates the Calanais Visitor Centre, one of the most visited tourism locations in the Outer Hebrides with over 50,000 visitors in 2017. The Centre acts as the gateway to the iconic Calanais Standing Stones, one of the most important monuments in Scotland.

Following his tour the Minister said: “I very much enjoyed my visit to Calanais - there is clearly something very special about the stones themselves and this site and the surrounding landscape is of truly global cultural significance.  The Centre’s digital project will preserve every detail of this iconic Scottish location.  By using virtual and augmented reality, all visitors to the island - regardless of age or mobility - will be able to experience Neolithic Lewis, as part of an exciting new Calanais Visitor Centre project opening in 2021.

“With improved connectivity, we can provide a platform for businesses to transform how they work, opening up efficiencies, opportunities and improving the economic prospects of our most remote areas.

“Earlier this week, the First Minister announced our current Digital Scotland roll-out in the Highlands and Islands is reaching further than its initial target. Great Bernera, which we can see from the Calanais Stones, is one of the areas which will have some coverage as a result.”

Against a background of year on year visitor growth, Urras nan Tursachan is working with partners including Historic Environment Scotland, Heritage Lottery Fund, Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) and  Comhairle nan Eilean Siar to develop Calanais as a world class visitor attraction.

Simon Butler is the Project Delivery Director for Urras Nan Tursachan. He said:

Our digital project forms part of a community led vision for Calanais. It is a unique place, where visitors can see some of the oldest man-made structures in western Europe dating from 3000BC. Our work will secure and protect this remarkable landscape, and development of the visitor centre will play a key role in the delivery of economic growth for a fragile area.”

HIE is working with the Trust, investing in both the three year project development post and the digital heritage project.

HIE’s Gordon MacDonald commented: “As part of the Year of History Heritage and Archaeology, HIE, Interface, and the Trust developed this digital project with The University of St Andrews to 3D scan the stone circles and to map buried features associated with the site. It’ll open up a hidden world for visitors and will play its part in providing high quality exhibitions in the new Visitor Centre.”

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