Come and explore a rock art site in South Africa! Using digital imagery from the African Rock Art Image Project at the British Museum, this interactive mobile app uses VR technology optimized for Cardboard headsets (https://vr.google.com/cardboard/) to allow you to explore the famous rock art site of Game Pass Shelter in South Africa via an immersive 360° tour with embedded 3D models.
This app will take you to Game Pass Shelter, one of the most well-known rock art sites in South Africa. Situated in the Drakensberg mountains, the shelter is a sandstone recess atop a steep slope exhibiting vibrant rock paintings of people and animals. The interactive experience is a 360° tour and panoramic view of Game Pass, creating the backdrop of the context of the valley from the photography available, with interactive ‘hotspots’ with embedded 3D models and additional information from the Rock Art archive.
This app uses images from the African Rock Art Image Project, the largest archive of digitised images (also known as ‘born digital’ artifacts) recording rock art sites across Africa. Over 25,000 digital photographs of rock art from across Africa have been catalogued – originally from the Trust for African Rock Art (TARA) – through generous support from the Arcadia Fund. The central remit of the project is to ensure global open access to the TARA archive by developing new and innovative ways of engaging with the archive.
Using innovative digital technology and photogrammetry in combination with our extensive archival photographic collections, we started experimenting with making 3D models of rock art solely using 20-year-old digitised, archival photographs of the rock art sites. Building on this work, we realised it would be possible to use these techniques to further contextualize rock art sites in their landscape environment, combining archival images and records with satellite imagery and 360° images of a site – a technique which proves hugely important for possible reconstructions of heritage sites largely using historical photos!
Working closely in collaboration with the African Conservation Trust (ACT) (http://www.projectafrica.com/), our colleagues in South Africa, and Soluis (http://www.soluis.com/heritage/), our technology partner, we were able to develop the Rock Art VR mobile app by combining our archival photography with additional 360° imagery and mapping of the site of Game Pass Shelter provided by ACT. Rather than simply using modern 3D scanning and regular VR methods, Soluis developed innovative solutions in order to combine the archival imagery, 360° photos, and satellite videos to create an immersive VR tour of Game Pass Shelter that would be still be accessible on widely-available smartphone technology and simple cardboard headsets. By using widely-available mobile technology, it will be possible for ACT and our other project partners in Africa to easily use the app for education and outreach purposes, in particular at rock art centres (Kamberg, Didima, and KZM museum) in South Africa where local custodians teach school children about rock art and its importance.
The app begins (after the title page and instructions for using the cardboard viewer) with an automated opening sequence showing the location of Game Pass Shelter in the Drakensberg National Park in South Africa from a satellite view of the park down to the site itself, with audio narration describing the history of the site (see user experience diagram below).
The interactive portion of the app then begins, with users following a path up the hillside to Game Pass Shelter, experiencing six places en route with 360° panoramic views (see example below).
This interactive tour is self-led and culminates with the user discovering two key rock art panels at the shelter site. When the user clicks on the highlighted rock panels, the user is presented with the option to view each in detail via 3D models whose key features are highlighted and described by connected audio narration. After visiting the rock art panels, the user can revisit any part of the tour or choose to leave via the exit screen and credits.
The desired user’s outcomes for using the app include: 1) to gain a first-hand experience exploring an African rock art site virtually; 2) to learn about the African Rock Image Art project and the TARA rock art digital catalogue/website; 3) to increase awareness of the importance of African rock art, in connection to its endangered nature, artistic heritage, and importance to indigenous groups; 4) to introduce creative digital resources within the British Museum, and increase interest in our web resources and Collections Online.
We lauched the app in November 2016 with an event in the Great Court at the British Museum, where over 150 visitors used the app for the first time and provided us with valuable user feedback. Most people seemed to enjoy their experience of using the app and saw the huge potential that this technology could have for experiencing heritage in exciting, new ways and gaining new audiences! The overall positive feedback has inspired us to further develop new projects using similar techniques to reconstruct rock art sites destroyed in recent conflicts using our historical collection of photos.
Additionally, we hope to continue to work with our project partners in Africa to further develop educational resources and DIY digital technology to make African Rock Art Image archive accessible to both communities and researchers globally.
The Game Pass Shelter Rock Art VR app can be downloaded here:
This app is made available as an educational resource under an Attribution-Non Commercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) license. Images copyright ©TARA/David Coulson & African Conservation Trust