Experiencing the lost and invisible

Project: Externally funded research

Project Details


This project will use innovative and disruptive augmented reality (AR) to immerse members of the public in their prehistoric heritage. This proof-of-concept project will deliver an immersive audio-visual experience allowing visitors to encounter the hidden history at one of the most important prehistoric sites in Britain. We will combine innovative approaches to archaeological narratives and artistic representation, enabling people to walk back through time at Bryn Celli Ddu Neolithic chambered tomb. Visitors will use their smart phones or tablets to experience the site over the course of its history, peeling back the layers to discover the history of the place and landscape, through which they can move, stop and engage with digital archaeology.

Bryn Celli Ddu is a late Neolithic passage tomb, excavated in 1929, now partially and perhaps unsatisfactorily, reconstructed. It is one of the most important prehistoric monuments in northwest Europe, and attracts c.10 000 visitors annually, with considerable implications for the quality of archaeological interpretation provided to members of the public, and significant economic value to Anglesey. The monument and its landscape - the subject of this AR representation - is unique in the complexity of its archaeological remains. The landscape has over 10,000 years of human activity: ranging from Mesolithic hunter gatherers; a causewayed enclosure raised by the earliest Neolithic farmers; a later Neolithic henge, stone circle and passage tomb; associated ceremonial deposition of pottery and polished stone axes; a series of burial cairns; and a landscape of at least 12 prehistoric rock art panels. The complexity of the Bryn Celli Ddu landscape has rightly led to comparisons with Stonehenge.

AR, creative visual reconstruction, and sound-art will allow visitors to experience the changing development of this important monument from the deep time of prehistory to the present. It will allow them to interact with three-dimensional textured models of the artefacts from the site whilst standing in the burial chamber, and pull back layers of soil to reveal the buried archaeology. This project will develop and refine the digital technologies and data to provide a rich, textured, immersive experience, within which members of the public can encounter a prehistoric monument in the full complexity of its time-depth and landscape connections. This project will place Bryn Celli Ddu at the centre of the circle of place-memory-performance: the physical remains of the past in its landscape; the cultural memory of artefacts now in museums; and the experience of multi-sensory immersion in the environment.

Heritage is often presented to a non-specialist audience as static: the protected site, the conserved object, or the listed building. As a result, both the time-depth of physical heritage, and the connections between artefacts, monuments, places and landscapes are made invisible. Digital technologies allow us to re-immerse monuments and artefacts in their past contexts, and to do so in a manner that provides maximum accessibility to public stakeholders - the very people on whose behalf this heritage is preserved. The project will be delivered bilingually in English and Welsh, targeting one of the Welsh Governments areas of exclusion, and will emphasise visual narratives and audio representations, as ways of telling that move beyond simple dialectic forms of public engagement.

By developing the necessary technology and connections between specialists, this project will serve as a proof-of-concept that will be scaled to an appreciation of prehistory nationwide in phase 2 of the call. We will produce a prototype app-based AR system and online VR version to allow access for those who cannot physically visit the site. Evaluation and testing of the system will provide essential information on the challenges and rewards of scaling up the technology to wider applications.
Effective start/end date31 Jan 201830 Sept 2018


  • Arts and Humanities Research Council (Funder reference unknown): £23,063.00


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