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Laurel Thoennes @ Quality Digest


3-D Scanning Brings New Life to Medieval Caves Beneath Nottingham

Pointools software and Leica 3-D laser scanner make caves virtually accessible to anyone.

Published: Wednesday, February 9, 2011 - 06:00

There is a group effort commencing beneath the English city of Nottingham with a main goal of assessing the archaeological importance of nearly 500 man-made caves that were cut into the sandstone during medieval times and possibly earlier. The caves have served many purposes from housing dungeons, beer and wine cellars, malt-kilns, tanneries, and even a bowling alley, to serving as air-raid shelters, sand mines, and summer homes. Some caves currently serve as visitor attractions or are used for commercial purposes but most caves lack public access and remain unknown.

So began the effort to research these caves that represent a unique part of Nottingham’s history and are now realized as playing an important role in Nottingham’s under-exploited tourism. Organizing and funding this effort as the Caves of Nottingham Regeneration Project (CoNoRP) are the East Midlands Development Agency, the English Heritage, the Greater Nottingham Partnership, the Nottingham City Council, and the University of Nottingham. The project teams will visit as many caves as possible, document each cave’s condition and its contents, take photographs, and use 3-D laser scanning to survey the cave, then input the data in a database and post the information on a website. The project teams hope to survey every cave and bring their history to new audiences.

The CoNoRP begins with The Nottingham Caves Survey, which is run by Trent & Peak Archaeology, part of the University of Nottingham. The project teams travel to the caves via bicycle with their research kits in tow inside large aluminum boxes on trailers. Inside a cave, the team uses a Leica 3-D laser scanner that emits a beam of light that reflects back from surfaces to produce a point of data that is later viewed using Pointools software, and then continues in a rotating motion, recording the details and shape of the surface. A complete survey of the cave is created by connecting the point-cloud data to adjoining scans.  The individual cave surveys provide the data for an overall GPS map. Several high-definition Nottingham Caves Survey movies produced by the project teams can be viewed on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/user/NottinghamCaves?feature=mhum.

“So far we have documented about 10 percent of the caves using our laser scanner,” says David Walker, Ph.D., project officer for Trent and Peak Archaeology. “The interest generated by the Pointools videos on YouTube and on our own website has been amazing.”

According to Walker, the project team can survey a small cave system with just six or seven scans to measure around 50 million points. Whereas Peel Street–the largest cave measured thus far–involved 99 scans and generated more than a billion points. “Using Pointools software to convert, process, and reuse the point-cloud model, we can move from raw scan data to finished website with high-definition movies in about four working days,” adds Walker.

“This streamlined workflow saves the project team time and money when compared to traditional surveying workflows,” says Joe Croser, vice president of products at Pointools. “Better still, it produces higher quality 3-D models which can then be used to cut dimensionally accurate cross sections and elevations at any point with the press of a button.”

Trent and Peak Archaeology and the University of Nottingham join a long line of distinguished teams that have used Pointools software for heritage work. Other users include English Heritage, The National Trust, CyARK, and Channel 4’s globally acclaimed “Time Team” who first featured Pointools software recreating the World War I tunnels at Ypres in France.

“We selected Pointools software for its ease of use, its performance when working with the very largest point-cloud models, and of course, price,” says Walker. “However, most compelling was the high-quality visualisation, excellent animation, and photo-realistic lighting options which place Pointools far ahead of any other solutions on the market.”


About The Author

Laurel Thoennes @ Quality Digest’s picture

Laurel Thoennes @ Quality Digest

Laurel Thoennes is an editor at Quality Digest. She has worked in the media industry for 33 years at newspapers, magazines, and UC Davis—the past 25 years with Quality Digest.