The Archaeological Kite Aerial Photography Group

(UK & Ireland)

(formerly known as The West Lothian Archaeology Group)

Archaeology Index

Aerial Photography

West Lothian Archaeology

Formerly known as West Lothian Aerial Archaeology, we are a non-commercial community group whose primary aims are:

  • to investigate, record and publicise the archaeological and heritage sites of West Lothian, and elsewhere, mainly through the use of non-invasive techniques.

  • to promote the use of kite aerial photography as a low-cost, inclusive, environmentally friendly technique for heritage and community photography.

West Lothian Archaeological Trust

Scottish Charity No SC043118

The Hall of Dowager Lady Torphichen  Larger version   Kite aerial photo  (KAP)

Our interest in the archaeology of West Lothian began in the Spring of 2007.  The Edinburgh Archaeological Field Society (EAFS) was the only group to answer our call for help to resolve issues relating to the site of Ogilface Castle.  The primary geophysical investigative technique used by the EAFS is the measurement of ground resistance (1,2,3).  In turn, the EAFS called on the support of Dr Peter Morris who carried out surveys using both a gradiometer and a linear resistance array (2,3).

Resistance meter in use.

EAFS, Ogilface, Woodend. Gradiometer - Peter Morris Linear Array - Peter Morris

We taught ourselves kite aerial photography (KAP) for use in both the visible and infra-red parts of the spectrum.  Later, in January 2010, we were joined by Jim Knowles, a professional archaeologist with extensive experience in archaeological geophysical techniques.  Jim also took up KAP. This was the beginning of the WLAG, with Jim being the group's archaeologist.

The West Lothian Archaeological Trust was founded in April 2012.

Sybil Cavanagh oversees Jim Knowles, John and the late Rosie Wells at the West Lothian Local History Library signing the document which sets up the West Lothian Archaeological Trust. 19 April 2012

Scottish Charity SC043118

Rosie and John Wells


Torphichen Hills (Looking east)   KAP

including Castlethorn prehistoric hillfort and Gormyre Hill  (Cairnpapple by mast, top right)

Iron age archaeology in West Lothian has been described as a 'Black hole' (an area where site types are still ill-defined or unknown, and which have seen little or no modern research beyond the site-specific) by a Working Party of members of the Iron Age Research Seminar. The Convenor was Colin Haselgrove (University of Durham); and the members were: Ian Armit (Queens University Belfast), Tim Champion (University of Southampton), John Creighton (University of Reading), Adam Gwilt (National Museum of Wales), JD Hill (British Museum), Fraser Hunter (National Museum of Scotland), Ann Woodward (Birmingham University Archaeological Field Unit).


Archaeological investigations in West Lothian have been minimal for all time periods.

Cairnpapple  Jim Knowles  2 February 2010  KAP

Archaeological sites within West Lothian are probably much more significant than has been previously recognised. With these web pages, we hope to raise the profile of West Lothian's archaeological and historic heritage.

Initially, our aim is to provide a visual record of features and places of interest within West Lothian (including its original boundaries), and the Armadale/Torphichen/Bathgate area in particular. We will continue to include other areas that are of special interest to us.  Our photographic equipment includes a range of near infra-red cameras (and from September 2011 a thermal imaging camera).

Ogilface Castle, Woodend. (Near infra-red KAP) August 2008

We will include buildings and sites that are known and recorded, as well as previously unrecorded sites.  We welcome suggestions for inclusion on these pages, especially unidentified sites, and also features that have been incorporated into older buildings from even earlier times. Topographical features, especially hills, will be included regardless of any established archaeological significance.

Bowden Hillfort Composite KAP    Jim Knowles

Features (archaeological, architectural and topographical) and artefacts will be presented in a form that is accessible to those interested in archaeology and history and their context within the landscape. In some cases, this may lead to more detailed archaeological investigations. Where possible, we will take kite aerial photographs to help delineate structures that are difficult to see otherwise.

The use of kite aerial photography (KAP) in a community and archaeological context is a primary interest. Sites identified as being worthy of further investigation will be surveyed using other non-invasive techniques.

Blackness Castle   KAP

Kite aerial photography appears to have a limited place in the curriculum of British universities. It is not used routinely as a means of taking photographs on archaeological sites. Around the world, there are excellent examples of the use of KAP.  We will demonstrate the usefulness of KAP and, through this website, link to the work of others.

Increasingly, non-professional groups are making significant contributions to archaeological research, and aerial photography should be one of the core techniques that they have readily available for use.

We believe that aerial photography, whether by kite or pole, should be adopted as a routine technique for recording archaeological sites, both before and during excavation. No other technique is as cost-effective for the information it yields, its ease and speed of use and its visual impact.

The West of Scotland Archaeology Service has a page which is designed to allow you to submit new archaeological information to the WoSAS Sites and Monuments Record (Interactive Mapping). WOSAS is our region's primary body for recording information and for providing archaeological services. Martin O'Hare, Sites and Monuments Record Officer, has been a constant source of advice and information.

Beecraigs prehistoric site Near infra-red PAP

The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS) is also responsible for recording, interpreting and collecting information about the built environment for the whole of Scotland. Their Scotland's Rural Past team has carried out some excellent work supporting regional archaeology groups. 

We would like to acknowledge advice and support from Historic Scotland and from the RCAHMS, especially Dave Cowley.

Unless otherwise indicated, all photos were taken by Rosie and John Wells

and are  CC-BY  West Lothian Archaeology or by Jim Knowles Jim Knowles

We would like to thank John Reid FSA Scot of Armadale for his relentless enthusiasm and for his valuable contribution to the archaeology of West Lothian.

Cathlaw with Cairnpapple in the background.  Near IR

Associated pages: Armadale Local History




Rufford Abbey Nottinghamshire.  Near IR  KAP 

Jim Knowles