Stonehenge is famously aligned to the sunrise on the mid-summer solstice. However there is more archaeological evidence that in prehistoric Britain, people gathered at Stonehenge at sunset to celebrate the shortest day of the year, after which everything gets lighter and warmer, on the winter solstice. People often think of the winter solstice as being 21st December, however it varies between the 20th and the 23rd depending on the motion of the Earth and whether it is a leap year or not. This year English heritage will provide open access to Stonehenge on the 22nd December. The trouble is, it is often not possible to watch the sun setting from inside the stones for a number of reasons. It is often cloudy, and there are often thousands of people all trying to get inside the stone circle at sunset. Also of course, half the stones at Stonehenge are missing or fallen, compared to the prehistoric version of the site. Add to this parking problems, and the cold of the exposed countryside, and one might wonder if there were a warmer way to experience the solstice at Stonehenge.
Interactive iphone app developers Ribui, working with Researchers at the University of Huddersfield, have come up with an intriguing alternative. They have produced an iphone app that you can download, that includes models of Stonehenge. A computer model of the site has been created which allows you to see what the site would have looked like in prehistory. Advanced digital modelling has been used to provide an accurate reconstruction, an interpretation of what it may have been like to be at Stonehenge in prehistory. If you are actually at Stonehenge, the app uses Augmented Reality (AR) to work out where you are standing, and when you hold up your phone, it shows you what the site would have looked like, from your exact position, but as if you were there thousands of years ago.
You can navigate interactively around the site, and explore it at will, without seeing fences or paths, allowing the user to fly over the top of the site, or zoom towards it. You can also see how the site developed over the years, how different arrangements of the stones were set up, drawing on the latest archaeological research. You can even stand virtually in the middle of the stones, and as you move your phone around, you can look around, with no other people present, and with all the stones intact and upright. At the same time you can put headphones in your ears, and hear how the echoes from the stone surfaces would have affected your voice.
The computer model was originally created by project leader Dr. Rupert Till at the University of Huddersfield, in order to carry out acoustic analysis of the site, using architectural software. However, as the model produced by Dr. Ertu Unver and Andrew Taylor looked very accurate, the project decided to create multimedia files that reconstructed Stonehenge virtually. Commercial company Ribui, approached the University to develop the model into an interactive iphone app, and the final result is now released to the public.
Smartphone apps offer a way to explore heritage sites like Stonehenge from anywhere, and also provide information to visitors to the site, as they are walking around it. This app also features a model of the wooden circle at nearby Woodhenge, as well as information on other sites related to Stonehenge, like Durrington Walls, the Cursus and the so-called Bluestonehenge. It also allows one to dig out other archaeological finds on your iphone, and see and hear information about the archaeology of the whole surrounding landscape.
Project leader at the University of Huddersfield Dr. Rupert Till told us, ‘the interaction of Science and Heritage, and the use of digital interactive tools in this way, allows someone anywhere in the world to connect with the thousands of years old tradition of people traveling to Stonehenge, especially on the winter solstice. People have always gone to Stonehenge to connect with the ancestors, to connect with the past, but also to look forward on the shortest day to a sunnier future. They want to celebrate the return of the Sun, the ultimate source of power and light for our world, as we know we are at the darkest point of the year, but that things will look a little brighter from now on. It’s a place of ritual and spirituality, and we hope that this app will help people understand and appreciate Stonehenge in a different way, offering a window into the past, as well as an experience that can bring optimism for the future.’
The Stonehenge Experience app is available on the Apple App Store