Archaeologists and digital experts are joining forces to try to unlock the centuries-old secrets of one of Scotland’s most important geological sites.
An extensive new project is under way to explore the litte-known history of the uninhabited Hebridean island of Staffa and its world-famous sea cave.
Investigations are being carried out inside Fingal’s Cave, the cathedral-like structure formed more than 50 million years ago, but only discovered in the late 18th century.
The latest technology is to be deployed to provide the closest ever examination of mysterious carvings and “graffiti” inside the cave, some of which is said to be invisible to the naked eye.
Digital mapping experts from Glasgow School of Art are working with a team from the National Trust for Scotland (NTS), which has been responsible for the half-mile-long-island for the past 30 years.
The latest “photogrammetry” scanning techniques, which can transform photographic images into 3D models, are being deployed on Staffa as part of the project.
The work is hoped to shed new light on the early history of Fingal’s Cave, the 227ft long cavern, which was discovered by the London-born naturalist Sir Joseph Banks in 1772. It is renowned for its hexagonal columns, similar to the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland.
It was immortalised by composer Felix Mendelssohn in his Hebrides Overture and in artist JMW Turner’s painting. Sir Walter Scott, John Keats, William Wordsworth and Jules Verne are among the writers to have visited the cave. Derek Alexander, head of archaeological services at NTS, said the project would “extend our understanding of human activity on Staffa from the prehistoric period to the present day”.
He added: “Despite Staffa’s prominent position in the romantic imagination, it remains a largely unknown quantity archaeologically. This is a significant gap. We have no understanding of prehistoric activity.”
Dr Stuart Jeffrey, research fellow at the art school, said: “During our time on the island we will also be taking the opportunity to record some of the fascinating 18th an 19th century graffiti in Fingal’s Cave and search out earlier rock carving using reflectance transformation imaging which reveals surface information not visible to the naked eye.”