The Scottish Ten began its five-year mission to preserve 10 sites – five in Scotland, five abroad – in high-definition 3D last month. Images from the first site to be captured, New Lanark, have just been released.

Once complete, the highly detailed digital models will be used to restore the sites if they are damaged by climate change, disaster or vandalism, as well allowing future generations to virtually wander around sites such as Edinburgh’s New Town or Orkney’s Neolithic heart as they appear in the early 21st century.

The Antonine Wall is the other Scots site on the list. So far only Mount Rushmore in the US has been confirmed as an international site.

But on a trip to Kolkata in West Bengal last week Culture Minister Michael Russell announced the next one would be in the Indian region.

“We would like the second one to be in India, as that fits in with our own priorities as a government,” he said, adding: “Part of this project is to make sure that Scotland is on the map.”

An old Buddhist monastery in West Bengal has been suggested. The site will be confirmed in the next few months.

Negotiations are ongoing for the remaining three: one is believed to be in China, one in South America, and one could be in Iraq.

The £1.5 million project is being delivered by Historic Scotland, Glasgow School of Art’s Digital Design Studio, and US non-profit organisation CyArk.

David Mitchell, director of Historic Scotland’s technical conservation group, said scanning Edinburgh’s Old and New Towns gives him “sleepless nights”. The process will begin at the end of November and take three years.

When Mitchell made his first trip to Mount Rushmore to scan the granite faces of Washington, Lincoln, Roosevelt and Jefferson, access was so treacherous he ended up in hospital.

“It is basically a cliff-face.” he said. “To create it they had to blast it with dynamite. So you have all the scree and debris below. It’s really unstable.”

Using GSA’s world-class expertise in digital visualisation, The Scottish Ten project means Scotland is leading the field in using digital documentation technology in the heritage sector.

The project takes several pictures at different exposures on 25-megapixel cameras and blends them to get an extreme level of detail. It means details such as the Viking graffiti in Skara Brae, threatened by coastal erosion, will be digitally preserved forever.

The Scottish Ten has three aims, according to Mitchell. The first is to be a straightforward recording exercise, the second is to use it as a showcase for Scotland’s capabilities in the field, and the third is to be a diplomatic tool.

“Site selection is determined by the countries we want to have a relationship with,” said Mitchell. “In some respects we are giving them a gift that will give us a long-term relationship and bring something back.”