Imagining prehistoric structures, how they were thousands of years ago and examining long lost society is one of the most exciting elements of any archaeological study of the past.
Digital technology now allows us as archaeologists to visualise theories in 3D and through the use of mobile phones and other smart devices help the wider public view and imagine how people lived thousands of years ago.
Lews Castle College UHI , University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar have been awarded a grant of £271,000 from the Scottish Natural Heritage Natural and Cultural Heritage Fund to complete an exciting digital archaeology project, helping people to understand the archaeology of the Western Isles, Scotland. The programme is called the Uibhist Virtual Archaeology project and will be undertaken over the next three years.
3D computer model of Skaill Farmstead in Orkney, demonstrating the possibilities of on-site modelling of archaeology.
This pioneering new community project, led by Dr Rebecca Rennell and Dr Emily Gal from the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute at Lews Castle College, aims to help tourists visualise and understand some of the most archaeologically significant sites in the Western Isles, Scotland.
The project will also work in collaboration with the Comhairle’s Heritage Service and community groups across the island to create a sustainable heritage resource that will help further develop the local tourist economy.
Using mobile phone digital hotspots, 3D augmented reality reconstructions and clickable explanations, a downloadable app will display information on the latest research on seven sites located on the Hebridean Way walking route in Uist and Benbecula. The reconstructions will also be supported by complementary mixed-media exhibitions located at local museums.
The new app will bring the visitor experience of these archaeological sites to a completely new level of quality, by visually transporting visitors back in time via a multisensory experiences. The visitor will see a stunningly detailed, moving, seemingly real-life representation of prehistoric structures as they were in the past – seamlessly interwoven with the landscape of the real-life present.
Through the app, the visitor will explore the site visually, and access detailed information about sites and their history. Multimedia information within the app will be ‘triggered’ only at site locations on the Hebridean Way, encouraging people to engage with and access these significant places and wider heritage landscapes. The use of augmented reality within a ‘real’ landscape setting is a unique product – no directly comparable product exists for engaging the wider public in archaeological heritage in Scotland
The first site to be designed will be the Bronze Age roundhouses and mummified remains at Cladh Hallan, South Uist which date to around 1500BC.
Site Director, Professor Mike Parker Pearson (University College London) said: “The discovery of Cladh Hallan’s Bronze Age mummies is of international interest. It is great that this fascinating prehistoric settlement will feature in this innovative project, becoming accessible to visitors whilst protecting sensitive locations.”
Dr Rennell added: “We are really excited to bring decades of archaeological research at these fantastic sites to the wider public. It will deliver community benefits, unlock economic potential and improve visitor experience in a way that conserves and protects the unique natural and cultural heritage recognised across the highlands and islands.”
The project itself is part of a new £5 million Scottish programme of projects to invest in the Highlands and Islands to provide more high-quality opportunities for visitors to enjoy natural and cultural heritage assets. The Natural and Cultural Heritage Fund is led by Scottish Natural Heritage and is part-funded through the European Development Fund (ERDF). The project has also received a National Lottery Heritage Fund grant of £85,000 and £17,220 from Comhairle nan Eilean Siar.
Councillor Donald Crichton, Chair of the Comhairle’s Sustainable Development Committee said: “I welcome this innovative approach to help unlock the economic value of Uist’s exceptional archaeological assets and to promote the area as a major destination for heritage tourism. We are pleased to be working in partnership with the University of the Highlands and Islands to support and develop archaeology in the Outer Hebrides.”
Dr Gal noted that “community stakeholders have been involved with the project since its inception, and this will continue. Ensuring that schools and community interest groups are involved in shaping the digital products is essential to the project”.
Na h-Eileanan an Iar MSP Alasdair Allan said: “This is a very exciting initiative and it would be wonderful to see the islands being a trailblazer when it comes to developing augmented reality to enhance archaeological tourism. I look forward to seeing this project develop.”
The whole programme is supported by Scottish Natural Heritage, The National Lottery Heritage Fund and the Comhairle.