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Tuesday, 22 April 2014

The Atlanterra Project I: the Development of Interpretative Animation & International Slate Studies

The development and international diffusion of innovatory survey and presentation techniques was one of the objectives of the four year Atlanterra: Green Mines Project which was brought to a conclusion in the early months of 2014.  The Project Partners also laid the foundations for international studies of the building-stone and slate industries.

The first four months of 2014 saw the culmination of a four year project that examined the valorisation of the mining heritage and laid the foundations for World Heritage Studies of the Building-stone and slate industries. It examined the mining heritage from both a geological and archaeological/historical viewpoint and explored how to showcase this heritage using the application of new digital technologies. As a result The Royal Commission recently won the first Peter Neaverson Award for Digital Innovation given by the British Association for Industrial Archaeology for its animation of world’s largest early/mid 19th century copper works - Hafod Copperworks in Swansea, south Wales, U.K. which can be viewed online at Other industrial archaeological interpretative animation films can be viewed at .

The two surviving engine sheds and rolling machinery at the Hafod Copper Works site. Crown Copyright: RCAHMW

Utilising a wealth of survey carried out by the RCAHMW and their in-house expertise in industrial archaeology, combined with historic images from the West Glamorgan Record Office and Swansea Museum, the animation recreates the detail of buildings, machinery and processes on the site as well as a sense of the highly industrial nature of the Lower Swansea Valley in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. The establishment of authenticity by analytical survey must underpin both the conservation and presentation of internationally important industrial archaeology sites as discussed in Stephen Hughes, 2011 ‘Authenticity and Conservation in World Heritage’ in ICOMOS  China, Wuxi Forum on the Conservation of China’s Cultural Heritage, Conservation of Heritage Canals: Material for Academic Exchanges (ICOMOS China, Wuxi, 2011), 9-13.
Stills from the animation. Crown Copyright: RCAHMW

The Atlanterra: Green Mines II European Inter-regional Project was formed in February 2010 by a group of geological, archaeological, tourism and regeneration organisations from France, Spain, Portugal, Ireland and Wales led by the municipality of Noyant-la-Gravoyère. An understanding of historic mining fields can only be achieved by a determination of their geological structure considered together with their archaeological remains. Cosequently the project partners have included the Instituto Geologico y Minero de España (IGME), the Laboratorio Nacional de Energia e Geologia of Portugal (LNEG) and the Geological Survey of Ireland (GSI). The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales (RCAHMW) has led on the archaeological objectives that included the demonstration and diffusion of digital and laser-scanning techniques.

Some 19 project blogs, describing the survey work undertaken, some based on the former centre of the world slate industry in the mountains of north Wales were posted here at  including  ‘2011/10/atlanterra-project-business-meeting.html’ , ‘2010/10/survey-at-maenofferen-slate-quarry.html’ and ‘2010/8/periant-arbrofol-codi-cwch-camlas.html’ [i.e. looking for an 18th century canal boat lift]. The slate industry was identified as being of international importance in S. R. Hughes, D. Gwyn & J. Alfrey,  2010, ‘Wales in the Industrial and Modern Period (Post 1750), Review of the Research Framework for the Archaeology of Wales, 7pp.’ at

Laser-scanning of a significant site such as that carried-out in the Vivian Slate Quarry, part of one of the world’s biggest nineteenth-century mountain terraced slate quarries of Dinorwig, Llanberis, north Wales can be viewed at These laser-scans of large industrial landscapes can simply be used to produce on-line ‘fly-throughs’ and seem to have an almost magical other-worldly feel that draws new audiences to go and explore these sites for themselves. The Royal Commission also commissioned an equally attractive scan of an underground mine-pumping waterwheel in a lead mine in mid Wales which can be viewed online at

This work helped inspire our Atlanterra project partners to produce their own ‘fly-through’ films.  One has just been produced by the Copper Coast Geopark in County Waterford in Ireland of the conserved copper mine engine-houses on the cliff at Tankardstown and can be viewed at Another has a fly-through of the remaining dry underground tunnels and mineral formations in the mine. This includes a 3D digital representation of all the levels, shafts and tunnels ever worked in the mine constructed from the historical mine plans archive held by the Geological Survey of Ireland. This can be viewed at The tours also encourage cultural tourism from the Copper Coast Geopark Centre ( where they can be viewed on-site.

The digital and laser surveys have helped produce high quality results upon which animators can build 3D models conveying reliable information to cultural tourists. The Royal Commission’s initial animation of the building of the World Heritage Pontcysyllte Aqueduct in north Wales available at, produced in 2009, lacked a sound track. The Hafod Copper Works animation has soundtracks in the English and Welsh languages and as well as being available on youtube these animations are shown at the Pontcysyllte World Heritage Visitor Centre, the National Waterfront Museum in Swansea and by the Swansea Riverboat Trust. The Hafod Animation also has character animations of copper-workers.

The Geological Survey of Ireland subsequently produced a visualisation of the copper-ore dressing-floors at Knockmahon and the Laboratorio Nacional de Energia e Geologia of Portugal has produced an animation of historical conical-shaped copper-roasting structures in use as part of the Teleiras mining process at Aljustrel.

The design and distribution of workers’ housing and settlements were also compared as part of the Atlanterra Project (online database of workers housing in Wales is available as part of ‘Coflein’ at In Wales animations of the key 1790s ironworkers ‘Bunkers Row’ Houses & institutional buildings at Blaenavon World Heritage Site (south Wales) was produced and can be viewed online in English at and in the Welsh-language at Both films are now shown on-site at the World Heritage Centre in Blaenavon. The animations show clearly how urban ideas of designing ‘back-to-back’ houses from the English west Midlands were imported to rural south Wales with the influx of both capital and key workers to the region. They also show how the iron workers built their own protestant Welsh-language chapels in the Italianate style to distinguish them from the gothic English-language Anglican churches provided by the ironmasters. The international background to this has been discussed in S. R. Hughes, 2010, ‘Attitudes to Religion, Education, and Status in Worker Settlements: The Architectural and Archaeological Evidence from Wales’, in M. C. Beaudry & J. Symonds (Ed.), Interpreting the Early Modern World: Transatlantic Perspectives (Springer, New York, in series C.E. Orser (Ed.) Contributions to Global Historical Archaeology, 2010), 197-225.  The international context has been expanded upon in Stephen Hughes, 2011 ‘The Architecture of Nonconformist Christian Religion and National Identity’ in P. Bellamy & Guarin Montpetit (Ed.), Religion: Beliefs, Theories and Societal Effects, (Nova Science Publishers, New York, 2011), 1-33 (2011).

International exchanges and visits to key slate-quarrying and mining sites were held during two international conferences held as part of the Atlanterra Project in 2012: at Plas Tan-y-Bwlch in north Wales (in conjunction with ICOMOS-UK) and at Nantes in France. Papers from the latter conference are available in Atlanterra, ‘Valorisation du Patrimoine Minier’ Actes du Colloque18 et 19 Septembre 2012, Nantes (Noyant-la-Gravoyère, 2013).

Animations of two of the major slate-quarrying and mining sites at Maenofferen Blaenau Ffestiniog and Vivian’s Quarry at the Dinorwig slate-quarrying complex have been produced as part of the Atlanterra Project and will be available at An animation of the railway inclined-planes at the Vivian’s Slate Quarry is already available at

During discussions with partner organisations it was decided that previous animations of sites such as the Hafod Copper Works lacked photographs showing the present state of the works. The latest slate animations address this deficiency by including both terrestrial and aerial photographs of the sites and landscapes. They also use an alternative narrative methodology by using sub-titles rather than spoken narratives.

In 2012 the Atlanterra project also sponsored the Royal Commission’s annual international conference on digital innovation Digital Past (details at Part of the output of that conference was the Atlanterra sponsored booklet Rhannu Ein Gorffennol Digidol: Sharing Our Digital Past (RCAHMW, Aberystwyth, 2012) to give guidance on current digital innovations and their use. Much of this is available online at: One very useful survey tool is aerial laser-scanning (also used by GSI in a Maritime context to detect wrecks as well as undersea deposits) which is explained at:

By Stephen Hughes.
Projects Director, Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales & TICCIH Secretary

Further Reading:
  • The Atlanterra Project II: Slate Studies
    23 Apr 2014
    The Atlanterra project has also led to cultural tourism and heritage maps and guides of a number of mining fields including the Mapa de Patrimonia Minero de Galicia, (IGME, Madrid, 2013) and the Slate quarrying & mining sites ...

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