Using 12,000 images taken over three days, the Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research (NIKU) has just created a high-resolution 3D model of the protected conservation area of Havrå in Western Norway.

The cluster of 36 medieval buildings is the best-preserved of the farming communities typical of this coastal area. Havrå is located on a steep slope around a fjord on the island of Osterøy. The earliest written record of its existence was in 1303.

Now an offshoot of a research project might yet offer insights into how locals lived and farmed 800 years ago. 

Contemporary methods, old ways

Last autumn, NIKU researchers and specialists, in tandem with the Hordaland Museum Center, used geophysical survey methods to seek out old roads and waterways, worried that the effects of climate change would remove historical evidence for good. 

In total, seven archaeologists scanned and photographed the buildings and the landscape.

In the process, the team also created a 3D model of the area with a laser scanner and high-res photos: "The accuracy provides a basis for the preparation of dimensionally accurate antiquarian drawings," says chief designer Knut Paasche. 

"This means that we now have a snapshot or a digital back-up of the entire farm complex from a given point in time. With each individual house, accuracy can be measured in millimeters".

The scanning took place by laying out a measuring system with fixed points with exact coordinates on each of the houses. Then all the buildings were scanned using a laser scanner. These were collected and then converted into a continuous surface.

For the right colors and texture, high-resolution photos of all surfaces were taken. In order to reach all angles, a photo stick and drone were used.

Paasche emphasizes that a model like this cannot be obtained without extremely accurate photography and survey work in the field. 

You must master the surveying tools, and not least, understand the cultural heritage you are working with: "The final model is of a very high resolution, and it required a lot of computing power during processing, and not least experienced operators in the various parts of the process."

A planning tool, children's game, and historical facility

The new 3D model of Havrå can now be used by anyone to pay a digital visit to Havrå, as a planning tool in the museum's day-to-day operations, and for any media communication it wishes to publish.

The museum has also received support from Vestland County Council to develop an interactive learning game, where the model will be used.

"It involves food security in the future and uses Havrå as the location. This game will be included in the teaching in social studies, biology, and geography," says Marit Adelsten Jensen of the Hordaland Museum Center.

Thanks to the new 3D model, it will be possible to enter more precise map data and illustrations, layer upon layer.

"Imagine when, in the digital world, we can remove electrical wires and, not least, the modern-day motorway with just a few keystrokes, thus opening up the landscape down to the fjord. This will make it easier for visitors to understand farm life by the fjord back in time."

The next step is documentation of the houses from the inside: "In the next phase," says Paasche, "we hope that it will be possible to document the building stock in the same way internally. In addition to drawing out the façades, this will provide opportunities to create good plan and section drawings of the individual building.

"Today, Havrå consists of buildings from many different time periods, with the digital model at the bottom, it will be possible to reconstruct Havrå and show how it may have looked in early times".

We get to provide readers with original coverage thanks to the support of subscribers to The Viking Herald's Facebook page. Do you enjoy our work? You can SUBSCRIBE here or via our Facebook page. You'll get access to exclusive content and behind-the-scenes access.

A laser scanner was used to build the model of the community. Photo: NIKU

Do you have a tip that you would like to share with The Viking Herald?
Feel free to reach out to discuss potential stories that may be in the public interest. You can reach us via email at with the understanding that the information you provide might be used in our reporting and stories.