Uist Unearthed helps to transform archaeology tourism across the Outer Hebrides

A new VisitScotland survey shows that visitors to archaeological sites across the Outer Hebrides have more than doubled since 2017. This growth has been supported by the multi award winning Uist Virtual Archaeology Project created and led by the archaeology team from UHI North, West and Hebrides in partnership with Comhairle nan Eilean Siar.

The Uist Unearthed app has now been downloaded over 6500 times since its launch in 2021. The project enhanced five archaeological sites along the Hebridean Way with innovative digital interpretation. It directly engaged more than 11,000 people via the Uist Unearthed app, exhibition or through engagement activities and pop-up events. The app uses a GPS map that highlights and promotes other heritage sites and visitor attractions.

Dr Emily Gal said; “We are delighted to see that new statistics from VisitScotland show that the Uist Virtual Archaeology Project has contributed to a growth in visitor numbers and enjoyment of the islands”.

“One of the project's key aspirations was to increase the number of people visiting archaeological sites across the islands, with the aim of establishing the Outer Hebrides as a key destination for sustainable heritage tourism”.

This new report supports the project’s own evaluation, which found:

  • 90% of app respondents said that they had learnt something new about the islands’ archaeology
  • 96% of respondents agreed that the project has provided more things to see and do for visitors.
  • 48% of respondents stated that using the Uist Unearthed app inspired them to visit other archaeological sites across the Outer Hebrides.

The app has also become an important community asset, used regularly by schools and community groups. Working with and supporting local communities is a key part of the work of UHI North, West and Hebrides. The archaeology project team, based at Cnoc Soilleir in South Uist, work with lcommunities to highlight the world class archaeology of the Outer Hebrides.

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Victoria Harvey, Development Manager at VisitScotlandidentifies Uist Unearthed as a key archaeological attraction: “ It’s great to hear that visiting an archaeological site came out on top of activities undertaken as we are spoiled in the islands for stone circles, remnants left by the Norse and of course our brochs and crannogs, including most famously, the Calanais Standing Stones, the Uig Chessmen in Museum nan Eilean and the incredible finds of Cladh Hallan and exploring through Uist Unearthed.”

Building on the success of the Uist Virtual Archaeology Project, the archaeology team at UHI North, West and Hebrides are now planning to extend the approach and thinking to develop similar digital heritage interpretation for archaeological sites across neighbouring Hebridean islands. The new project, Barra and Harris Unearthed, has already been awarded £155,000 of funding from Highlands and Islands Enterprise and is supported by Comhairle nan Eilean Siar. The team are awaiting outcomes of remaining funding applications that if successful will enable the project to start later this year.

Joanna Peteranna, Director of Area Operations, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, said; “The Uist Unearthed project has already been hugely popular with local residents as well as visitors to Uist and is contributing to the wider visitor economy by creating another compelling reason to spend time in Uist. HIE are pleased to be supporting this next phase of development which will bring archaeology and technology together for the benefit of Barra and Harris.”

Kirsten Makins, NatureScot’s NCHF Fund Manager, said: “It’s wonderful to see the boost this project, funded in part by our Natural and Cultural Heritage Fund, has had on visitor numbers in the Outer Hebrides. We wanted to help create new and sustainable tourism projects – and this award-winning app is a great example of that, with little impact on the ground but a huge impact on the experience of visitors. Using cutting-edge, innovative technology, the Uist Unearthed app brings the amazing archaeology of the Uists to life for locals and tourists alike.”

In the meantime, the team are working on a book about Uist’s archaeology due to be published in 2025. The Uist Unearthed book will showcase the five archaeological sites featured in the Uist Virtual Archaeology Project. The book will invite readers to dig deeper and discover Uist’s unique archaeology through colourful and creative mixed media including illustrations, infographics and photography, enhanced with state-of-the-art augmented reality that bring the book to life with roundhouses and animations springing from its pages. The book has been created with funding and support from the Stòras Uibhist, Bòrd na Gaidlig and Crown Estate Revenues Fund administered by CnES.

The five sites reimagined by the app are:

  1. Bronze Age Cladh Hallan, South Uist
  2. Iron Age Cill Donnain, South Uist
  3. Viking Bornais, South Uist
  4. Iron Age Dùn Torcuill, North Uist
  5. Multiperiod Dùn an Sticir, North Uist

Plan their visit to the sites