Jersey Heritage is employing a hi-tech solution to the challenge of enabling people to explore one of Europe’s most significant Palaeolithic sites. La Cotte de St Brelade is a globally important heritage site, but access is strictly restricted to protect the significant ancient artefacts and due to its hazardous location.
As work begins on stabilising the rock face and constructing a gabion wall across the seaward entrance to the cave, Jersey Heritage is using state-of-the-art technology to create ‘virtual’ access to the site. The project is part of Jersey Heritage’s strategy to improve access to sites and working towards a broader use of digital technology.
Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality and 3D photography are changing the way cultural organisations are presenting historic sites and environments. The global trend is to preserve sites at risk of damage or destruction, or give access to sites that would otherwise not be possible or practical to visit. La Cotte de St Brelade is an example of this due to the precarious nature of its location.
Using data obtained from previous excavations at La Cotte, and recent 3D laser mapping and photographic material, a Virtual Reality (VR) environment has been created by Virtual Reality Jersey. By wearing a VR headset, the user can experience La Cotte 250,000 years ago, traveling back to a time when Jersey and continental Europe were connected. The innovative approach will help raise awareness of La Cotte’s importance and raise funds for future work on the site, without risking further damage.
Chris Shield, Project and Programme Manager at Jersey Heritage said, “This is a ground-breaking move by Jersey Heritage. The organisation is no stranger to using new technology to help people engage with our heritage assets, but this project will showcase one of the most important Palaeolithic sites in Europe to a global audience without putting it at risk.”
Users will be able to view the 3D rendition of La Cotte using a VR headset to receive the full experience at Jersey Museum, where, two of the latest VR headsets will be available as part of a refreshed La Cotte exhibition. La Cotte is at the heart of Jersey’s Ice Age Island project, a major archaeological investigation that has brought together a team of internationally renowned experts and has gained global attention.
The La Cotte Digital Project has been made possible through joint sponsorship by Virtual Reality Jersey and Geomarine, and with support from Digital Jersey who will host a private launch event on 5th March.
Tim McGuinness of Virtual Reality Jersey said “This is a major project and we were delighted to be asked to support Jersey Heritage in the creation of this amazing experience. This is an excellent example of how Jersey’s digital industries can connect our future with our past. We are really excited to showcase what we have created and going forwards hope to inspire other projects like this one across this island.”
Phil Horsley of Geomarine added, “La Cotte de St Brelade is a complex and sensitive site. We are proud to be able to offer the specialist engineering and planning required to protect the site from further damage by the sea and from rock falls . Once complete, not only will the site be more secure but it will allow archaeologists to continue their work in a safer environment. It is fascinating to be working alongside ‘digital engineers’ to make the site more accessible to the general public than it has ever been.