Media Release: Public show huge interest in adding to national heritage database


SINCE it opened its virtual doors to public contributions a year ago, a national online database of Scotland’s buildings and archaeology has received thousands of submissions.

Says a spokesperson: “People have posted photographs they’ve taken from cameras suspended on kites, on poles, from cranes and, in one example, have written an account of underwater dives exploring wrecks in the Firth of Clyde where the contributor came face to face with large conger eels.

“Nearly 3,000 images and 500 text contributions have now been made by members of the public, adding their own knowledge directly to Canmore, an interactive database which already holds images and information on more than 300,000 buildings and sites.

“Canmore is hosted by RCAHMS, the national collection of images and information about Scotland’s built environment.”

Says RCAHMS head of Education and Outreach, Rebecca Bailey: “The ability to share images and text contributions directly with a national archive appears to have fired the imagination and creativity of an army of amateur archaeologists and surveyors across Scotland.

The most interesting aspects of the contributions that have been made are:

  • Technical innovation: using a camera suspended on a kite, which is essentially a lower altitude, do-it-yourself version of the aerial photography that RCAHMS routinely carries out across Scotland. The majority of kite images come from West Lothian Archaeology Group; composite images where a number of individual images have been stitched together to give an overall impression of the site can be seen Bowden Hill, with the standard kite photographs on show at Cairnpapple.
  • Image quality: the quality of many of the contributions is very high, either technically or aesthetically. These photos of a WWII coastal battery at Boars Head and tank traps at Innes Links  in Moray are good examples.
  • Importance in adding to the national record: many contributors have posted up text and images relating to sites across Scotland, where official records are incomplete and where the public’s efforts can make a real contribution.  Contributions of this kind from the public include the only digital aerial image of the broch at Kintradwell in the collection; the only specific aerial picture in the collection of Maggie’s Care Centre in Inverness designed by world renowned architect Charles Jencks taken on a private flight; an aerial image from a private flight which supplements existing ground survey records of a WWII coastal battery
  • Personal connection to a site: there are dozens of examples of personal stories relating to buildings on the database  and dialogues between contributors, each adding more information to the records and richness to the collection – for example images and text contributed by the grandson of the former owner of a 1930s lemonade factory add social context to the existing industrial survey by RCAHMS chairman John Hume
  • Regular contributors: A number of regular contributors have emerged, who return again and again to post interesting, relevant and high-quality images, usually focusing on their local area or drawing on visits they have made to other sites.

Canmore maintains a searchable website allowing interested people quick access to archive materials about the built heritage throughout Scotland, ranging from ancient archaeological sites

such as Skara Brae, to iconic modern structures such as the Falkirk Wheel. There is also a huge range of material on every day buildings in villages, towns and cities across the whole of Scotland.

Communications manager, James Crawford, said how pleased RCAHMS had been with the level of public contributions: “This initiative represents a sea change in how archives can interact with the public. It is breaking down the boundaries between collections and their audiences and placing a new value on the knowledge, stories and reminiscences of every individual.

“The large number of postings is evidence of the high level of interest there is among people in sharing information on Scotland’s built environment, and demonstrates how effectively we can connect people to places in the digital world.”

Forthcoming developments include Canmore mapping – a new initiative due to be launched before the end of the year which will offer an interactive mapping interface for users to search for and locate sites.


Notes to Editors:

  1. RCAHMS is the national collection of images and items about Scotland’s built heritage.
  2.  Canmore holds information and images on more than 280,000 of Scotland’s buildings and archeological sites. Contributions can be added on Entering information is as easy as adding to an online conversation.
  3. For over one hundred years, RCAHMS has been collecting, recording and interpreting information on the architectural, industrial, archaeological and maritime heritage of the nation, creating a unique archive.  It also holds archives of international significance, including The Aerial Reconnaissance Archive (TARA) of over ten million images taken by Allied pilots during WW2 and since. Many millions of items, including photographs, maps, drawings and documents are now accessible online, through exhibitions and publications and at the RCAHMS search room in Edinburgh.

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