Find out more about LiDAR

Using modern technology to investigate historic landscapes

In April 2020 lidar data was acquired for 351km2 of the the Chase & Chalke Valley project area. This landscape has a rich history of human activity which can be traced using the digital models created from the lidar survey.

Airborne lidar is a survey method that allows us to make highly accurate 3D models of the ground surface. These models show traces of human activity that help us to understand how communities use the landscape in the present and the past.

A lidar sensor uses a laser to measure the distance between the aircraft and the ground. By recording millions of these measurements we can create a record of the relative heights of the ground surface. The laser also reflects off trees and buildings, cars, cows and cursus monuments – anything present in the landscape at the time of the survey is recorded. This means that the models must be interpreted by humans to make sense of the information they contain.

Cranborne Chase Lidar Portal

The data captured during the survey are processed into high-resolution (25cm) models of the land surface that allow for the small physical traces left by past communities to be mapped. Features such as banks, ditches, pits, mounds can be identified even when they are covered by vegetation.

Lidar survey has been revolutionary to our understanding of past human activity due to landscape-wide scale and holistic nature of the data captured. There have been many examples of lidar for archaeology over the last two decades but this project is the first time that the unique archaeological landscape of Cranborne Chase has been surveyed at such a high resolution.

However the wealth of information in the lidar models needs to be captured and interpreted to be of real use to anyone wanting to understand the landscape and this is where our amazing volunteer citizen scientists step in. The Chase and Chalke project have created a lidar portal and learning materials to help anyone access this incredible resource. In return, you can contribute to the creation of a lasting legacy of archaeological information by mapping potential sites on the portal and joining our field surveyors to assess them on the ground. The information gathered for this project will allow us to better manage and protect this special historic landscape for future generations to enjoy and explore.

Why is it

While we have hundreds of archaeological records for Cranborne Chase, many thousands more sites remain unrecorded. The traces of past human use of the land such as ancient fields and settlements can be hard to appreciate on the ground. Using lidar survey brings a new perspective on the landscape and helps us to identify, monitor the condition and better manage new and existing archaeological remains. Lidar can really help in our understanding and appreciation of this archaeology through incredible levels of detail and robust, innovative 3D modelling.

Find out more by taking our online training course …

Get involved

Become a ‘citizen scientist’ and help to discover, understand, and preserve the natural and cultural heritage of the Chase & Chalke landscape, by exploring the Lidar mapping and identifying new and exciting historical sites.