Communicating Hidden Archaeological Monuments and Heritage Landscapes to Different Audiences through Advanced Digital Technologies

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bradford
Department Name: Sch of Life Sciences

Abstract

The aim of the Network of UK-IRL researchers and partners is to address the challenges of uncovering hidden archaeological landscapes, buildings and monuments through digital documentation and visualisation. Heritage landscapes may remain hidden because their significance is simply not recognised or because knowledge of them is specific to specialists and not conveyed to the public. The transformative effect on knowledge exchange will be seen through communicating new knowledge to a socially inclusive public audience.

The network includes archaeologists and heritage scientists from the University of Bradford, University of Aberdeen, NUI Galway and University College Cork. The UK partner is Historic Environment Scotland. IRL national partners include the National Monuments Service, the National Museum of Ireland and the Discovery Programme. The Burren and Cliffs of Moher UNESCO Global Geopark, the Burren College of Art, the Caherconnell Centre, Clare County Council, Wicklow County Council and the Carlow Archaeological and Historical Society are the regional and local partners, with key input from independent artist Sarah O'Connor. Researchers, partners and participants will develop the project through three workshops and a public symposium.

Five discrete archaeological landscapes, in Rathgall, Co. Wicklow and the Burren, Co Clare, have been selected to showcase the project. A range of digital documentation and visualisation technologies will be trialled on hidden elements of (1) the unexplored settled landscape of Rathgall hillfort linked with a new Bronze Age social elite; (2) a large enclosure/ long cairn on Turlough Hill, a highly significant place for ritual gatherings in Neolithic and Bronze Age Burren; (3) artefacts from archaeological excavations at the medieval settlement enclosure of Caherconnell/ its multi-period landscape setting; (4) the unknown northern extent of the Chalcolithic - Early Bronze Age landscape of farms, field walls, and ritual monuments at Roughan Hill; and (5) a late medieval building which may have a hidden identity as a brehon law school, at Toomullin on the Atlantic coast of Burren.

The narratives that we can generate about the material remains of human activity in the past is often limited by partial and broken views of the places in which individuals and communities once went about their lives. Digital technologies have the potential to extend and develop existing stories of places and can bring new narratives to bear on established views of the meaning of past built environments. Encouraging people working in different fields, especially in the creative industries to respond to and use 3D imagery and visualisation produced through the activities of this network will be an important dimension of the project. The National Museum of Ireland, the Burren College of Art (BCA) and independent artist, Sarah O'Connor will contribute to this creative process of reimagining the past in landscapes of the Burren and Wicklow. The project will also be a training opportunity for postgraduate students from Irish universities and QUB who will be invited to attend the technology trials and the public symposium.

The use of digital documentation within archaeology and the humanities has the potential to stimulate interest from new and under-represented user groups - including young, disabled or otherwise disadvantaged sections in society - using dynamic, flexible and accessible delivery modes. Economic opportunities for heritage and tourism enterprises may also be promoted by the use of engaging/ immersive mixed (virtual and augmented) reality content of local monuments/ landscapes and by the creation of replicas and 3D prints of associated artefacts. The network will share knowledge through an interactive website, film and other artistic media together with 3D visualisation, mixed reality, and 3D prints of monuments and artefacts and a peer-reviewed journal article.

Planned Impact

The impact of our Network will be monitored from the outset as we deliver three workshops, numerous focussed events and these culminate in a public symposium. We will trial digital documentation and visualisation for heritage to the public and specialist managers/ deliverers of heritage assets. Specifically, the outcome is to make the public aware of, and participate in, recording digital imagery of varying types for enhancing heritage resources. Local case studies empower the public and non-HEI specialists to direct the trajectory of the outcomes after the network's endpoint. The partners themselves represent key International, UK/IRL and regional interfaces between the research and the public; the network's impact will reach to both partners and the public. Via promotion and outreach of the network the partners will drive change in public understanding of heritage and the choices society makes to promote and record these assets. In doing so they will engage in the discussion regarding longer term investment that will take advantage of the emerging digital technology.
Public Benefit: The Public symposium will reach out to stakeholders across a broad spectrum. However, the route to this event is punctuated by impactful delivery that will be monitored through feedback; Interactive websites, film and other artistic endeavours, public lectures and field trips all provide the opportunity for the public to better understand and use emerging technologies. This change is radical and long-term. With delivery largely virtual we will reach new audiences who previously have been unable to participate in landscape scale heritage, including young audiences and those less physically/ mentally able. Wide participation will deliver citizen-science based interpretation at a community scale. The resulting case studies will allow the public to influence local outcomes beyond the network. One public benefit is an increased 'sense of place' that is provided by focussing on local case studies. It is anticipated that there will be wellbeing outcomes as individuals participate in walks/ guided tours around the highlighted case study areas and these will be followed up by questionnaire.
Partner Benefit: The outputs of the Network are immersive in the broadest sense, delivering accessible content in both web and physical space. While the former advances accessibility issues (e.g. disability, distance from landscape, visit cost) that some have, the latter provides benefit to our key local/ regional partners. 'New' content will provide a demonstrable boost in visitor numbers thus accruing economic benefit. This is in step with our commitment to fruitful, energised and sustainable artistic/ creative partnerships; our approach will spin-out long-term IRL/ UK partnerships where heritage is the basis of cultural and artistic endeavours with clear societal impacts. Widening of access via planned events has numerous impacts for Network Partners beyond weaving digital heritage into the cultural mix - the economic impact of greater participation in questions surrounding digital heritage will in turn provide additional financial resilience to the partners. Better engaged local support will help prioritise new agenda.
Service Benefit: A key beneficiary is the public services sector. By delivering cutting edge digital recording and outputs, museums and heritage centres will be exposed to emerging technology. The Network will result in new discoveries and these will change the narrative provided in Museums/ Heritage Centres. The Network will provide access to new data and views to future digital delivery. In itself this allows the providers to discuss how the emerging data will affect their own strategies, particularly guiding future decisions on hardware purchases to support the delivery of digital discoveries, or recording of heritage assets. Overall, service providers will be able to make informed decisions based on real data discovered in the case studies.

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