Virtual Avebury: exploring sense of place in a virtual archaeology simulation

Liz Falconer, David Burden, Rosamund Cleal, Ralph Hoyte, Phillip Phelps, Neil Slawson, Nicola Snashall, Kate Welham

Abstract

This paper describes and discusses creating and evaluating a virtual reality simulation of Avebury Stone Circle and Henge complex as it might have appeared and sounded circa 2300 BCE. Avebury is a Neolithic heritage site in the UK which is part of the Stonehenge, Avebury and associated sites UNESCO World Heritage Site. The overall aim of the project was to better understand the sense of place and presence that visitors can experience in virtual simulations of heritage sites. We investigated how virtual spaces might become experienced as places by visitors through their exploration, active participation, sensory stimulation and communication with other visitors in the simulation. More than 1200 members of the public experienced the simulation, both at Avebury itself and at three public exhibitions. The specific objectives of the project were to explore if and how the believability of a simulation was associated with feeling a sense of place in the virtual landscape, and if some personal characteristics, viz. age, disability, sex, immersive tendency, familiarity with IT and frequency of playing computer games, were associated with levels of enjoyment in, and learning from, the simulation. We analysed the data from a detailed questionnaire completed by 388 of the 702 visitors to Avebury from June to September 2018 who experienced the simulation, supported by observational data from all participants at all events. We found that believability was associated with a sense of place in the simulation, i.e. that the more believable the simulation appeared, the greater the sense of place experienced by the participants. We also found that personal characteristics had very little influence upon visitor reactions to the simulation, suggesting that such simulations might have wide appeal for heritage and museum visitors, regardless of age, gender or familiarity with technology.

Highlights

  • More than 1200 members of the public experienced a 3D, fully immersive simulation of Avebury Henge, Wiltshire, UK over a nine-month period.
  • We found patterns of use and familiarity with information technology (IT), and using mobile technologies for gaming, that did not follow age and gender stereotypes.
  • We found little correlation between age, gender and IT familiarity with reactions to Virtual Avebury, suggesting that such simulations might have wide appeal for heritage site visitors.

Keywords

public engagement in heritage; sense of place; virtual reality (VR); henge monuments

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References

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