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The Stonehenge Landscape in 3D

We have recently finished creating a short animation for the exhibition “Making History: Antiquaries In Britain, 1707–2007” at the Royal Academy in London. The three minute video demonstrates “Stonehenge revealed through digital technologies”.

It incorporates a fly-through of the Stonehenge landscape in 3D, based upon Environment Agency LIDAR (airborne 3D scanning) data, high resolution panoramas, and a new animation of the prehistoric dagger and axe carvings on Stone 53 at Stonehenge itself, from data collected by Archaeoptics Ltd.

During production of the animation, we turned the LIDAR data into a solid 3D model of whole landscape surrounding Stonehenge. Aerial tours of the most famous sites and monument groups were animated in HD (720p) resolution. What is exciting is that much of the upstanding archaeology, from well-preserved barrows to the subtle earthworks of prehistoric field systems, are clearly visible.

To do this, we had to work out how to use the data at 1:1 for our animations (for this kind of task it is often necessary to reduce the complexity of the data by half or quarter (1:2 or 1:4) due to enormous memory and processing requirements). This we achieved, and using lighting techniques we have been able to show the archaeology of the Stonehenge World Heritage Site as it has never been seen before.

An often asked question about the animation is about why the landscape is a neutral colour rather than a photorealistic texture. This is because we need to see the underlying form of the ground and natural colour can detract from what we are interested in seeing: the subtle features where people once 'worked' the ground into burial mounds, pathways, fields, etc. It is because many archaeological features are hard to see on the ground in normal daylight that we do the reverse (unusual lighting positions on a non-naturalistic textured landscape) to see the shadows and highlights of the earthworks themselves.

This video focusses on the LIDAR data of the Stonehenge World Heritage site, including all footage as shown in the Royal Academy plus some of the footage that didn’t make the final cut. The version below is low resolution; to watch the footage in HD, head over to Vimeo.

Read more about Wessex Archaeology's work in and around the Stonehenge World Heritage Site, and view a zoomable version of the LiDAR. Find out more about the Stonehenge WHS LiDAR dataset on the English Heritage website.

A Virtual Stonehenge Landscape from Wessex Archaeology on Vimeo.



Hello Tom. Hope you don't

Hello Tom. Hope you don't mind - I've posted the video and part of your entry over on my blog here: . This is the great thing that so many people miss - the sheer extent and complexity of the area surrounding the monument. Good work.

Dear Michael,Many thanks for

Dear Michael,

Many thanks for your comment, and I'm glad that you have found the video to be useful. Reposting to your blog is welcome, and to be encouraged!

Kind regards,


Two years later, and still

Two years later, and still majorly impressive! Wow! ;)

Hi Ann,I'm glad that you

Hi Ann,

I'm glad that you like it, and thanks for the article on Heritage Key. We have put a zoomable image of the Stonehenge landscape LiDAR survey online if you want to explore further!


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