In this blog, written exclusively for the Festival of Archaeology by research assistant, Beth Darlington, we invite you to explore the fascinating connection between archaeology and creativity through visualisation technologies and how they can provide access to prehistoric landscapes.

I’ve been working at Wessex Archaeology for just over two years and when I am not working, I am a part time PhD research student at Bournemouth University. My PhD research focuses on how visualisation technologies can provide access to prehistoric landscapes. This essentially explores different interpretation methods and how they can be used to provide both physical and virtual access to archaeological sites. A key part of the research is testing these interpretation methods, so in 2022, as part of the Festival of Archaeology an event at Badbury Rings in Dorset (supported by the National Trust), was conducted to trial some of these methods. 

Before I go any further, a little context about Badbury Rings and why this site was chosen as my test site. Badbury Rings is located in the 8,500-acre landscape of the Kingston Lacy estate, which was gifted to the National Trust in 1981. The actual ‘Rings’ refer to the Iron Age Hillfort, however, immediately surrounding this archaeological monument are Bronze Age barrows, the footprint of a Romano-Celtic temple and Roman Road. In the 1800s, Bronze Age rock art and a solid bronze rapier (similar to a long dagger and made before swords) were rediscovered – this made Badbury Rings the perfect site for me! 

Now back to interpretation methods and how this research overlaps with my work at Wessex Archaeology. One method of interpretation I enjoy exploring and have a passion for are replicas and reconstructions. I think replicas are fantastic as they can provide a sensory experience, allowing audiences to touch and feel the material and object, as well as show an audience what an object could have looked like before it was buried. It can often be hard for everyone (including archaeologists) looking at a mud covered green copper alloy blade fragment and trying to envision what it was like as a complete, sparkling bronze coloured sword. As mentioned above, Badbury Rings was the find spot for a Bronze Age rapier, but Bronze Age rock art was also found within the landscape.  

Badbury Stone Replica Badbury Stone

Badbury Stone replica, and Badbury Stone. 

The Bronze Age barrow known as the Badbury Barrow has been reported and appears in journal articles, but the location of the Barrow is disputed - all we know is it is near the rings. In the 19th century It was excavated by antiquarians, and capping the barrow was a large block of sandstone. A chunk of this sandstone was ‘cut-off’ as it had some strange markings. The stone became known as the ‘Badbury Stone’ and moved to the British Museum, where it continues to reside. The Badbury Stone was a key piece in the 2022 ‘The World of Stonehenge’ exhibition due to the fact that the ‘strange markings’ mentioned earlier are in fact believed to be carvings of Bronze Age axes; the only other known example of these carving found on rock within the UK is on stone 53 at Stonehenge.  

Until the exhibition the Badbury Stone lived in storage (it is now on permanent display) and it appealed to be a great object I could use to tell the story of the landscape and give people an experience of this amazing artefact. So, whilst it was in-situ in its museum stand for the exhibition, Will Foster, an illustrator and 3D artist at Wessex Archaeology went and took an SLS scan of it. SLS means Structured Light Scanning and is a very fancy piece of machinery which can scan an object and provide a perfect 3D image / model of said object (after some wizardly on Wills part!). The 3D model was then uploaded on Sketchfab, and this digital model, alongside a small 3D printed version, was put on display at the 2022 event for the public to explore. It had great reviews (even though the technology failed a couple of times due to the extreme heatwave and the laptop being placed in the middle of a field) and gave visitors a chance to explore an artefacts they might not have known about prior to the visit. 

Now as exciting as this was, it seemed more could be done! So, recently the 3D model was sent to a specialist printer who has turned this into an actual 3D printed full scale model of the stone and the results are fantastic! This replica needs a little more work, as it needs to be colour matched to the original, and then it will be ready to be displayed at my next event in September 2023 at Dorset Museum. The event will explore the site of Badbury Rings and this model will be presented alongside the scan so visitors can feel the carvings and see the size of the original. Even though the material is not stone, it still gives visitors a chance to have a level of experience with this model.  

This is not the only model that will be on show alongside other interpretation methods that will be examined. However, with the support of Wessex Archaeology, Bournemouth University and other organisations including the British Museum, National Trust and Dorset Museum, my research continues and will hopefully find more ways of accessing prehistoric landscapes and bringing these to life.