Deep Time: 350 million years of Edinburgh's history

An epic light display on Edinburgh Castle has opened this year’s Edinburgh International Festival. 

Kicking off the festival in spectacular fashion, the projected animation unearthed 350 million years of history, earning its title Deep Time. This landmark event was set to a specially commissioned soundtrack by contemporary Scottish musicians Mogwai, and saw a viewing arena built on Castle Terrace to accommodate some of the viewers who descended on the city for the display. 

The backdrop for the historical animation could hardly have been more perfect: Castle Rock is the remnant of the 350 million-year-old volcano that formed the Edinburgh we know today. At the heart of the story is the work of Edinburgh-born geologist James Hutton, who was the first person to propose that the Earth was billions of years old. Deep Time celebrates his legacy, and places Edinburgh at the heart of this story; it was by studying the city that Hutton gathered enough evidence to make his then-shocking claim. To find out more about the legacy of this landmark discovery, read researcher David Farrier’s blog and listen to the festival’s Big Idea podcast—both below. 

The installation was created by 59 Productions, the company of artists behind the video design of the opening ceremony of the London Olympics in 2012. Their work uses cutting-edge technology to tell incredible stories—and this story fits perfectly for what they do. This installation, like the others they have produced, captivated the public by reimagining familiar sights: projecting the animation onto the Castle creates a memory that will live long after the lights have gone. To live that experience for yourself, watch the video of the stunning installation below. 

Other writers and artists have taken this one-off event as a starting point for their own work. To coincide with the installation, artist Graeme McNee has created a comic that depicts the animation’s backstory in a fun and digestible format. "Bet James would have loved this!" says one character in the comic, referring to the light show, and it is hard to disagree. 

Deep Time is an artistic achievement that celebrates the wonders of the human mind and the artistic spirit. In Scotland’s Year of Innovation, the work is a dazzling tribute to the wonders of nature and the imagination of humankind.