A creative partnership to develop immersive simulations of ancient heritage sites.

Lead Research Organisation: Bournemouth University
Department Name: Faculty of Science and Technology

Abstract

Ancient monuments are remains of a distant past that can now appear out of context, ruined or discernible only as subtle marks in the landscape. Some are hidden completely beneath later buildings or re-working of the land. Virtual simulations can illuminate what is now imperceptible, contextualise what is now isolated and incongruous and can give us a means of connecting with people and cultures from which we are separated by thousands of years. This project brings together researchers and practitioners in archaeology, heritage management, virtual reality, soundscapes and education to create and evaluate a virtual simulation of the Avebury Stone Circle and Henge complex, part of the UNESCO Stonehenge, Avebury and Associated Sites World Heritage Site, approximately 4,500 years ago. The project aims to develop a simulation that can be experienced as an on-screen virtual world, a visual and auditory landscape on mobile devices, and as a fully immersive visual and auditory experience for visitors using 3D headsets and haptic (touch) devices. Our particular focus is the sense of place and presence that visitors can experience through interaction with the environment and with other visitors, and how those virtual interactions affect their understanding of, and reactions to, Avebury today.

Planned Impact

Impacts from this project are intended for 2 audiences, as discussed below.

Academic and professional bodies.
This project will provide an opportunity for heritage management organisations to consider how audiences might interact with the past in active ways, and encourage them to consider how museums and heritage sites might develop in the future. The findings of this project will provide information on the development, deployment and evaluation of immersive technologies in the heritage sector, and thus impact upon their planning and policy-making activities. The research team will gain experience of working together in a virtual space with an emergent sense of place, and we will share these experiences openly with the wider academic and professional community. Immersive technology developers will gain insight into working in multi-disciplinary teams that focus upon archaeology and heritage, which will impact upon their ability to develop their activities in this field. Archaeology researchers will have the opportunity to understand how immersive simulations can be places for experimentation in archaeological interpretation, particularly in relation to public outreach and encouraging public interest in archaeology. Also, our focus on 16-24-year-olds has the potential to impact upon recruitment to archaeology and heritage management courses, as well as the broader societal impact discussed below.

Societal impact
Virtual Avebury will be on an openly available platform that supports full 3D immersive experiences, 3D on a computer screen, and access to the visual and auditory environment on hand-held mobile devices such as mobile phones. Participants will be able to access the simulation anytime and from anywhere with an internet connection from June 2018 onwards. We anticipate that most users will not have access to immersive VR equipment, so we will make Virtual Avebury available on an immersive headset and haptics set at the National Trust Barn Museum at Avebury for 3 months in the summer of 2018. This location is part of the world-renowned gallery and museum complex at Avebury and will form part of the exciting experiences the monument offers visitors, enriching its interpretation and encouraging visitors to construct their own meaning of this iconic landscape. This access will be supervised by project staff, where visitors will be encouraged to participate, discuss and evaluate their experiences.

By concentrating upon interpretation, accessibility, participation and ease of access, we intend that this project will have a significant impact on enhancing engagement with Avebury as a heritage site. Our focus upon 16-24-year-olds also has the potential to impact upon our understanding of the educational potential for immersive experiences of historical sites, particularly in relation to understanding the societal development of the UK over thousands of years. Avebury was developed over a period of approximately 800 years which saw significant cultural changes due to new ideas and new technologies, brought to the British Isles by visitors and immigrants from Europe and beyond. We will particularly encourage this age group to see the history of the UK as dynamic, multi-cultural and evolutionary as they experience history as a participant in a time of change, rather than a distant observer of the past. We will work with the National Trust in its education and outreach activities, together with Bournemouth University's outreach services, to focus upon participants in this age group.

Publications

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Description We developed Virtual Avebury (VA) as a simulation of a Neolithic Stone Circle in Wiltshire as it may have appeared 4,300 years ago. It wa experienced as a fully immersive visual and auditory experience using 3D headsets and haptic (touch) devices. VA was available for public engagement using 3D fully immersive headsets and hand-held haptic devices on 45 days from June - September 2018, in the Barn Gallery of the Alexander Keiller Museum at Avebury. More than 700 people tried the experience there, and we collected detailed feedback from a sample of 388 of those participants. We also exhibited at 2 public events hosted by Bournemouth University (The Festival of Learning and the Bournemouth VFX Expo) when a further 400 people experienced VA using the immersive equipment.
1. Responses to VA were overwhelmingly positive, with respondents commenting that the virtual experience helped them to understand Avebury today, and that they felt that virtual technologies can enhance the experience of visiting museums and heritage sites. Seventeen respondents reported having a disability that they felt had affected their experience of Virtual Avebury including autism, motor function disabilities and eyesight and hearing impairment. There appears to be no clear statistical association between reporting a disability and responses to the experience questions, but 17 is a small percentage of the 388 respondents and so these findings may not be statistically robust.
2. We also found some unexpected responses to questions relating to IT usage and computer game playing which signal the importance of avoiding stereotyping when it comes to use of information technologies. In particular, responses to the question of how frequently participants used mobile phones, tablets, laptops and desktops showed no appreciable decline in frequency of use until over the age of 55 and, even then, many respondents were still using these devices several times a week over the age of 75. The most widely used devices were mobile phones, with 91% of all respondents reporting that they used their phones daily.
3. The question regarding how frequently participants played computer games, including those on mobile devices like phones and tablets, showed that up to the age of 45 males played computer games more frequently than females and they used consoles (e.g. Play Station) most frequently in the 16-24 age group, but they also used mobile devices frequently too. However, between the ages of 45-75, females played computer games more frequently than males, especially in the 65-74 age group. Whilst we did not ask further questions about the types of games being played, our data does suggest that the belief that using IT for game-playing entertainment is predominantly a young male phenomenon is likely to be a significant over-generalisation.
4. Statistical analysis of our feedback shows that personal characteristics such as age, gender, immersive tendencies and how frequently they use information technologies (IT) showed little association with respondents' experiences in VA.
Exploitation Route Those developing virtual simulations to enhance understanding of heritage sites could take forward our findings to inform their simulations, particularly in relation to catering for a wide audience. Our findings suggest that there is no particular demographic group that enjoys, dislikes, learns from or appreciates immersive simulations of ancient sites more or less than any other. Many of our participants expressed the idea that the simulation would probably appeal to younger people more than older people, but we found no statistical association of any kind between age and reaction to Virtual Avebury. We consider this to be our most important finding to carry forward, to avoid simulations being aimed at children and young people when deployed at heritage sites, simply because they can appear to be like computer games. In any case, our data suggests that using IT equipment for game playing is by no means an exclusively young persons' pastime.
Sectors Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

URL https://research.bournemouth.ac.uk/project/virtual-avebury-an-immersive-partnership/
 
Description The greatest impact that has occurred so far (1 month after the end of the project) is the recognition by the major stakeholders in the Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage Site of the potential of immersive technologies for public engagement, informal learning and formal learning activities (e.g. schools and colleges outreach). This, in turn, has led to an early outline for a bid to carry out a scoping exercise of the potential for immersive technologies to be used across the wider Neolithic ritual landscape that forms the environment for the specific monuments in the WHS. Indeed, an unexpected impact of the VA public participation phase was the strong interest we received from a wide range of representatives from heritage and other allied organisations, both in the UK and overseas. We received repeated requests from this group of professionals to provide them with advice and support with respect to the use of immersive technologies across a very broad range of potential applications. Stakeholders included National Parks, Local Authorities, and World Heritage Sites.
First Year Of Impact 2018
Sector Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Policy & public services

 
Description Evidence to the DCMS Parliamentary Committee on Immersive and Addictive Technologies - Findings from the Virtual Avebury Project
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Gave evidence to a government review
URL https://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/digital-culture-media-an...