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Research at St Andrews

Digitally enhanced community rescue archaeology

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution


Coastal erosion is causing the destruction of archaeological sites around the world. The problem is particularly grave in Scotland, where storms can cause many meters of land to be lost in a single event. Archaeological researchers
from the University of St Andrews and the SCAPE Trust have worked with community groups to excavate sites before they are destroyed. Video was used to record the progress of the community rescue digs and interviews conducted with local group members. Additionally, photographs and artwork augmented the archaeological record, resulting in a wealth of information about the sites and the process of excavation. The data has been used to make reconstructions of the sites as they were in the past. Visitors control avatars to explore the virtual worlds and to access videos, photographs, laser scans, 3D models and historic documents. This innovative approach to heritage interpretation allows the public to see the evidence behind reconstructions and to learn about the process of archaeological enquiry. For example, clicking on a plate of food reveals a summary of the environmental report which provided the evidence for diet. This allows an archaeological site report to be presented in a 3D environment, with various layers of information accessible to the explorer. The group have set up their first installation in a dedicated room at Timespan Museum, Helmsdale. The evidence for the reconstruction comes from the sixteenth century Brora salt pan, excavated between 2007 and 2011 and destroyed in a storm in 2012 as well as the neighbouring township of Caen. Users manoeuvre the avatar either through a game controller or by body gestures recognised by a motion sensor. Multiple screens have been used to present a wraparound and immersive experience. The systems are built using OpenSource software and commodity hardware. They are designed to enable content to be augmented by non-technical specialists and allows cultural organisations and their participating audiences to create professional quality immersive environments at relatively low cost, and to develop their own interpretations of history and link them to wider narratives. In this way local communities are empowered to engage in the construction and transmission of their cultural heritage.


Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationDigital Heritage International Congress (DigitalHeritage), 2013
Number of pages8
ISBN (Print)9781479931682
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2013
EventDigital Heritage International Congress 2013 - Marseille, France
Duration: 28 Oct 20131 Nov 2013


ConferenceDigital Heritage International Congress 2013

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ID: 75968852