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

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


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.


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