Bringing ancient Uist history to virtual life – Stornoway Gazette

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Uist Unearthed is a mobile phone app for virtual archaeological exploration in the Outer Hebrides and last week brought the exhibition to Stornoway
The first of its kind in the UK, “Uist Unearthed” allows any person with a mobile phone to step back in time and experience ancient Uist archaeological sites as far back as the bronze age, putting Uist and the Outer Hebrides at the forefront of the archaeological – and technological – frontier.
Leading the project is coordinator Dr Emily Gal and project manager Dr Rebecca Rennell, both lecturers at the UHI Outer Hebrides.
Uist Unearthed has been shortlisted for two Archaeological Achievement Awards from the Council for British Archaeology and since its launch in January 2020 has been gathering wide attention from around the world for its pioneering design approach, using Augmented Reality.
Cladh Hallan, a bronze age settlement in South Uist is the first AR site which launched in 2021. Users can go to the ancient spot, open the Uist Unearthed app, and have the whole site brought to 3D life on their mobile phone and be able to explore the settlement.
Whilst immersed in the site, there are information points where users can learn the etymology of Norse and Gaelic place names; uncover finds from pottery to mummified remains; listen to local stories; discover the daily lives of ancient Uist’s communities and be able to step inside a mixture of AR reconstructions from roundhouses, grand halls or a longhouse.
During the exhibition at UHI in Stornoway, guests were able to put on a Virtual Reality headset which was linked to the Uist Unearthed app. The headset then totally immersed users and they were able to explore the reconstructions of the ancient settlements.
It should be noted that users must be on the official Hebridean Way in order to be able to explore the AR reconstruction, which aims to promote tourism across Uist. Local businesses are also on the interactive map built into the app, which is free to download on any platform and it is encouraged that everyone in the Outer Hebrides should get it.
Other sites that users can explore is Bornais in South Uist, which is a grand Viking Age Hall, where you can step inside its banqueting chamber and learn about the discoveries made there. Another site is Cill Donnain, South Uist, which is an impressive Iron Age wheelhouse.
Dr Rebecca Rennel said: “The AR reconstruction is the new and innovative bit about the project. No one in the UK has done that before. The important thing is that other people are using Augmented Reality; we are not the first to put AR itself out in the world. But it is about it being life-size reconstructions and location triggered, it’s the fact that you can walk around the different sites.”
Speaking at the event at UHI in Stornoway, HIE Director of External Engagement and Growth, Joe MacPhee, said: “It’s a project that has evolved from a very strong partnership we have through the archaeology strategy and unlocking our potential. The potential is huge and the Uist Unearthed app demonstrates just what an asset archaeology is to the outer Hebrides and what cutting edge innovation can do.”
“The project has been shortlisted for two awards by the Council for British Archaeology. It is up against some top level organisations no less than the British Museum. So that is where we want to be. I think to be on the same platform as the British Museum speaks volume about the hard work and professionalism of the team.”
He added: “I think it is very significant that it started in Uist, a place where there is so much creative activity happening in terms of archaeology, music and the whole development of the creative sector. This project is seeking to make people realise what a great place this is. The whole of the island is a great place to learn, and it is important for us to promote that in whatever we do.”
Two future sites that will be coming soon to the Uist Unearthed app is Dun Torcuill, North Uist, an iron age settlement in the middle of Loch an Duin that can only be reached at low tide by a causeway. The second site is Dun an Sticir, North Uist, a medieval settlement within the remains of an Iron Age Broch, with a bloody story tied into its past: the downfall of the notorious Hugh ‘The Skulker’ Macdonald.
The Uist Virtual Archaeology project is delivered in collaboration with Comhairle nan Eilean Siar and part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund, the National Lottery Heritage Fund, the comhairle and Storas Uist.
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