Trim Castle in Co. Meath is the largest Anglo-Norman castle in Ireland. Wikipedia/CC BY-SA 2.5

A group of American students from Ithaca College spent their summer making a comprehensive 3-D scan of a thousand-year-old castle in Ireland.

The research team, which consisted of four physics students and two professors, spent a month in Trim, Ireland, working to produce a 3-D scan of Trim Castle and its surrounding historical structures, reports The Ithacan.

The castle, which was built in 1173 by Hugh de Lacy, is the largest Anglo-Norman castle in Ireland.

The data gathered will enable the team to produce digital models of the castle and the surrounding area — something like a virtual walk-through.

Scott Stull, an assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology, said their scan will help better illustrate the many viewpoints of the castle, including those that cannot be seen in person. Some of the viewpoints, such as the windows of the castle, are not accessible because either they have been blocked off or are in a location with no floor behind it.

“We can identify what those viewscapes are from the digital model in a way that you can’t do in real life today,” Stull said. “We are taking all of that information and using it to look at it in a new way.”

The project began in April 2015, when Stull, along with Michael Rogers, a professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, attended a Society for American Archeology meeting. There Stull, whose interest is in landscape, spoke with the Irish Archaeology Field School and inquired about Trim Castle. IAFS then put him in contact with the Irish Office of Public Works, and with their help, Stull was able to get permission from the government to scan the castle.

After the trip was approved by the university, Stull and Rogers formed a team of students to work as paid researchers. The team included junior Harrison Kesel, sophomore Chidi Anyata, senior Benjamin Bouricius and senior Tom Steele.

Student Benjamin Bouricius said that scanning for the project was done in groups of two, with each group having “work” days and “off” days.

A shot from inside one of the towers of Trim Castle. Credit: Wikipedia

A shot from inside one of the towers of Trim Castle. Credit: Wikipedia

On workdays, the students would start working at 9am, traveling to the site from the Knightsbrook Hotel by rental car. Once there, the students positioned the 3-D scanners at 76 stations around the castle and began mapping. Bouricius said these stations were crucial to the scanning process.

“You need fixed points that you can come back to and they’ll be in the same spot,” he said. “If you put a nail in the ground with a flag on it, you’ll be amazed by how much that can actually move around over the course of several days. It might be a small amount, but that will play into the scan.”

Rogers said that at the stations the students used the Leica 3-D scanners to do a context scan of a given area. They would then conduct a detailed scan on features of interest in that area that captured data on approximately every 5 millimeters of surface area, The Ithacan reports.

On their days off, the students explored the town and spent time with the locals.

“When you go abroad, if you stay some place for more than four days, people will start to realize you’re not a tourist,” Rogers said. “So one of the things that happens is that as soon as they realize you’re not a tourist, people chat a lot more.”

They also visited the Black Friary site, a local archeological field–school site where student Olivia McNeely, who was being supervised by Stull, did fieldwork as part of her anthropology major requirement.

Once they completed the scan of Trim Castle, the team used the remaining time they had to scan several surrounding landscapes such as the Old City Wall, the Yellow Steeple and the Black Friary site — to help give better context to the Trim Castle scan.

“We had given ourselves a month because we weren’t quite sure what obstacles we would run into, and we ended up making really good time on the Castle Wall and the outside of the Keep,” Bouricius said. “The fact that we could get everything in the surrounding area into the same scan — that just hasn’t really been done before.”

Rogerts said that once the data is finished being cleaned and processed, he plans on sending a copy of it to the Irish Office of Public Works. He and Stull will also give a presentation in Oxford about the viewscape of Trim Castle next April.