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Interactive ‘iBook’ concept that gives readers ‘triple-A’ pass to remote archaeological sites


An overhead picture showing an archaeological site in Scotland

Concept was ‘highly commended’ in recent awards

An interactive ‘iBook’ which allows ‘users’ to virtually walk around otherwise inaccessible historical sites has been shortlisted as a finalist in a major award.

The Shetland in the Iron Age: Interactive iBook gives anyone an ‘access all areas’ pass to three distant archaeological sites and has been highly commended in an industry awards ceremony.

The iBook was developed by Archaeological and Forensic Sciences PhD student Li Sou from the University of Bradford and offers a no-holds barred tour of three ‘brochs’, Iron Age drystone hollow-walled structures found in the Shetland Islands, Scotland. The resource has been designed so that anyone aged nine and above can easily use it.

The iBook includes 360° virtual ‘walkable’ maps of the interiors, enabling virtual visitors to wander around their inner workings, exploring different buildings, access staircases and corridors, as though they were there in real life.

In addition, the iBook includes clickable information hotspots that link to a wealth of associated data, including historic photographs and videos from experts in the field.

The iBook was shortlisted in this year’s Association for Learning Technologists Awards and was highly commended, with judges describing it as an “incredibly varied, engaging and accessible digital educational resource”, and adding the project “has excelled in developing a range of versatile digital assets to aid in learning about complicated archaeological and academic themes.”

Historic Environment Scotland have been developing iBooks for use at other historic properties in their care and these will launch next year, both on site and freely downloadable online.

Speaking after the awards, Li said: “This is the culmination of a six-month project and brochs are complicated archaeological sites to understand and are not physically accessible to everyone. The iBook format is not very well known in the heritage sector, so the project was an excellent opportunity to design a resource that gives readers a chance to explore the sites as if they were there in real life, with integrated accessibility features to make them accessible to all.

“It carries a wide range of dynamic interactive features which offers so many different opportunities to engage and learn in different ways, helping to humanise archaeological remains so people can better understand how they have been used and not just see them as ruins today.”

The Shetland in the Iron Age: Interactive iBook was developed with a working group from Historic Environment Scotland, in partnership with the Visualising Heritage group within the School of Archaeological and Forensic Sciences, University of Bradford and Shetland Amenity Trust and was funded by UKRI under the AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Partnership, Student Development Fund and Scottish Cultural Heritage Consortium (links).

Other contributors included Dr Lyn Wilson, Digital Documentation Manager, Historic Environment Scotland (HES); Al Rawlinson, Head of Digital Innovation and Learning , HES; Gavin Glencorse, Interpretation Officer, HES; Jennifer Farquharson, Content Officer, HES; James Hepher, Surveyor/Spatial Analyst, HES; Dr Val Turner, Shetland Archaeologist, Shetland Amenity Trust; Prof Andrew Wilson, Chair in Forensic & Archaeological Sciences, University of Bradford; Dr Stephen Dockrill, Reader in Archaeology, University of Bradford and Dr Julie Bond, Senior Lecturer in Archaeology, University of Bradford.

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