Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site is an archaeological park located in Collinsville, Illinois, and is administered by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. The site preserves 2200 acres of a pre-Columbian city dating to c. AD1050-1300 and is designated a US National Historic Landmark and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The augmented reality (AR) project Back to the City of the Sun was conceived in 2018 when I was then the Executive Director of the Cahokia Mounds Museum Society (CMMS). I knew that visualizing what was once on the landscape 1,000 years ago was the biggest challenge our visitors faced. I found an opportunity to produce an interpretive product with the National Endowment for the Humanities Digital Products for the Public grant. CMMS first received a $100,000 prototyping grant followed by a $250,000 development grant. We worked with St. Louis development firm Schwartz Associates Creative to develop both products. With this AR application, available in late 2021, visitors can look through the lens of their smart device and images and short video of what the area looked like during its occupation populates the screen. Here is a modern image of Monks Mound, the geographical center of the site, and an image of what the area looked like bustling with activity at c. AD1050. The AR experience includes walking ‘inside’ a virtual temple that once stood atop the mound where the eternal flame burns bright and embers float before your eyes.
This project will dramatically enhance the visitor experience, bringing ancient culture to life, a challenging feat for any archaeological site.
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