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21st Century 3-D Virtual Reality Saves Ancient Scottish Stone-Age Art

3D Reconstruction of Ancient Rock Art
3D Reconstruction of
Ancient Rock Art
Originally published 14 April 2003

3-D modelling at the University of Warwick is set to revolutionise how we learn about history by digitally recreating archaeological sites and ancient monuments around the Kilmartin Valley, Argyll, Scotland’s most spectacular and richest prehistoric landscape.

Researchers from e-lab at the University of Warwick, have begun applying virtual reality technology - a high-tech tool more often associated with entertainment than archaeology - to the recreation of ancient rock art. But, e-lab have only received funding to reconstruct two of 298 ancient monuments around the Kilmartin area, and a question hangs over the future recreation of important standing stones, cairns, stone circles, gravestones and Celtic crosses. Unless funding is secured to digitally rebuild the relics, their history will remain unexplored, and their significance lost.

The researchers are reconstructing the past by producing dynamic 3-D models of evocative historical artefacts, such as ancient carved cup and ring marks made by prehistoric artists on rock outcrops. Although they are a significant part of Scottish heritage, the meanings of the extensive carved patterns remain uncertain. Now, researchers are using virtual reality to recreate historically accurate reconstructions of ancient rock art to help shed light on their past and present significance.

The virtual reconstructions place the engravings in the wider context of the landscape to show how the art related to its immediate surroundings thousands of years ago. Scotland’s ancient cultural and geographical landscapes from 5000 years ago to today are recreated before your eyes as the state-of-the-art technology demonstrates how the vegetation and landscape has changed through time.

Mr Colin Schafer, Director of Kilmartin House Museum, where the reconstructions will be displayed, said: “Technology’s potential for recreating the past is one way in which history will survive through the 21st century. The computer graphics are already turning the heads of academics, historians, architects, teachers and school kids. This project interprets ancient sites by analysing their landscape situation using Geographical Information System techniques and builds on work reconstructing the vegetation history at rock art sites, and shows how it influenced site location.”

E-lab has also produced a 3-D interactive model of one of Scotland’s best-known ancient sites, Dunadd fort. Established by Scots who emigrated from Ireland in the 5th-6th century AD, the hill fort was once the centre for the long-lost Gaelic Kingdom of Dal Riata. In recent times extensive archaeological investigation has been carried out at this site. The results have now been used to generate a 3-D computer game designed to help viewers experience its panoramic outlook and navigate around the site, as our ancestors did thousands of years ago.

Martin Blazeby, from e-lab, said: “The Virtual reality software has been used in computer games to entertain, but is now emerging as a serious tool for transforming how we learn about our history. This new kit in the tool bag of museum displays has massive potential to bring Scotland’s ancient heritage back to life.

Dunadd fort was reconstructed in 3-D by e-lab under the name of Theatron Ltd, also based at the University of Warwick.

For more information and images contact:
Martin Blazeby, e-lab 3D Visualisation Group, University of Warwick, Tel: 02476 574278
Jenny Murray, Assistant Press Officer, University of Warwick, Tel: 02476 574 255, Mobile: 07876 217740