FRESH light is being shone on some of Scotland’s most ancient monuments by an award-winning student who uses aerial cameras and ground-breaking computer graphics to recreate how they would have looked aeons ago.

Photographer Kieran Baxter is bringing some of the country’s most iconic ruins and archaeological sites back to life with his films, based on archaeological evidence.

Using cameras mounted on balloons and images taken from planes, the 28-year-old and his colleague Dr Alice Waterson splice the footage together and create reconstructions of long-vanished buildings, giving a window into the long vanished past.

His work includes a fly-past of the Jarlshof prehistoric and Norse settlement site in the Shetland Islands, which uses computer generated imagery to show not just the original buildings but how the area changed with time during multiple occupations.

His latest film, of the Iron Age Caterthuns hill forts in Angus, was part of his doctoral thesis and won an award from the Arts and Humanities Research Council for the best work by one of its funded students.

Mr Baxter, whose background is in animation, said: “There are a lot we don’t know about the hill forts and archaeological sites, but what we do know is amazing.

“The films are about trying to bring that through and use the landscape as a platform to tell the stories the archaeologists have to tell. The Caterthuns are an interesting place to visit, but you can’t get a feel for the extent of them without the aerial view.”

The footage, which is available to watch on the University of Dundee student’s website, shows the two hill forts, known as the Brown and White Caterthuns, during the seasons before ending with a representation of how they most likely appeared then they were occupied. Mostly built during the Iron Age, the oldest hill forts date to around 1,000BC and the most recent to around 700AD.


Hill forts served as communal gathering spaces for local communities, although many of their functions remain shrouded in mystery. And some of the structures which fall under the term are not on hills, or are not really forts.

Of the 4,147 recorded, 1,695 are in Scotland, 408 of them in the Scottish Borders. There are 1,224 in England.

After the Scottish Borders region come Dumfries and Galloway (286) and Northumberland (271).

Last month, the locations and details of all ancient hill forts in the UK and Ireland were released to the public in an online database for the first time.

The sites, ranging from well-preserved forts to those where only crop marks are left, were compiled by researchers from the University of Edinburgh, University of Oxford and University College Cork during a five-year project and can be viewed through an interactive map.

It marks the end of the major effort to catalogue the thousands of hill forts in Built by Iron Age Britons and Celts, the precise purpose of the structures still remains an enigma for modern-day archaeologists and historians.

Gary Lock, emeritus professor of archaeology at Oxford University, who co-led the project, previously told the Independent newspaper: “Because they are prehistoric and there are no written records, we will never know exactly why our ancestors built these things.

“We are stuck with the term ‘hill fort’ because when it was coined in the early 20th century many archaeologists were military men with a military mindset.

“Their theory was that they served as defensive structures against invasion during the Iron Age. But current thinking is quite different. There is very little evidence that they were attacked or indeed that they were permanently occupied. We think they more served some sort of communal purpose – a place for religious events, celebrations with feasting and drinking, and trading.

“There is evidence of fighting at some – we are not saying that Iron Age Britons were all peace-loving hippies. But they were, on average, about 20 to 30 hectares, and at that scale you would have needed a very sizable force to defend them on a permanent basis.

“I am not convinced they were defensive places.”