1. Rachael Kershaw (University of Bradford) scans the pictoglyphs in the Sculptor's Cave for the 3D animation video.

See the sculptor's Cave in 3D

The Sculptor's Cave lies on the southern shore of the Moray Firth in north-east Scotland. Excavations in the late 1920s and in 1979 produced large assemblages of disarticulated human bone and one of the most significant groups of prehistoric metalwork in Scotland.

These finds provide evidence for some omplex mortuary practices, including the manipulation and curation of human bodies in the Late Bronze Age and the decapitation of several individuals in the 3rd century AD, together with the votive deposition of valuable personal items including bracelets, gold-covered hair-rings, amber beads and pins. A coin hoard from the 4th century AD – one of the most northerly – suggests that the site retained this special status for a significant time. Indeed, in the 6th century AD, a series of enigmatic Pictish symbols (from which the site derives its name) were carved on the walls of the cave's unusual twin entrance passages, the point where daylight gives way to the increasingly dark interior.

The symbols may have served as a way to commemorate the dead, with the names of execution victims perhaps passed down the generations through oral tradition. Or, with the emergence of Christianity, it may simply have served as a warning for others to stay away from this pagan place. These symbols, including crescent and V-rods, fish, pentacles, so-called 'mirror cases' and an enigmatic double rectangle, are usually found on free-standing stones throughout north-east Scotland; they are much rarer in caves. The closest parallels are at the Wemyss Caves complex in Fife. The more famous Pictish carvings in the immediate locality of the Sculptor's Cave are a series of stylised bulls from the fort at Burghead, 10km west, which are very different in character to those in the cave.

In 2014, the Sculptor's Cave archive went to the University of Bradford for analysis and publication. There, the project team augmented existing data with the use of new digital capture technologies, such as scanning the cave to accurately record the site and preserve it for future generations.

This resulted in a 3D walkthrough animation (1), including more detailed scans of the Pictish symbols. Hosted by Elgin Museum, it allows people to experience the site – which is difficult to access and cut off at high tide – from anywhere in the world.

• (To see the video visit: www.bradford.ac.uk/news/2017/sculptors-cave-video.php)
• The Sculptor's Cave Publication Project, directed by Professor Ian Armit and managed by Dr Lindsey Büster (University of Bradford), will be published by the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland in 2018.
Lindsey Büster