Precolonial Virtual Realities

Wits City Institute Honorary Research Fellow Steven Sack launched an innovative virtual reality exhibition making use of cutting-edge technology to ask questions about human origins. The show is located at the Tshimologong Precinct and at the Origins Centre, both at the University of the Witwatersrand.

14 September 2017 / Tshimologong Digital Innovation Hub, Braamfontein

25 September 2017 / Origins Centre, University of the Witwatersrand

The history of where we come from and what makes us human is brought to life at the Origins Centre’s new virtual reality production that was on view at the Tshimologong Precinct, and at the Origins Centre.

The production, which brought together cutting-edge digital technology with stories of ancient stone age technologies of our 2,6-million-year history, tells a complete story of our development into society, by using the same visual materials that are used by scientists in the research process.

‘This is the first time that VR has been used in Origins Centre at Wits, and the first production of the archaeology and palaeontology stories that are told in the museum, using photographs, text panels, casts of human ancestral skulls and real stone tools,’ says Wits City Institute Honorary Research Fellow Steven Sack, previously Director of the Origins Centre.

The production was made possible through a collaboration between Sack and Professor Barry Dwolatzky, Director of Tshimologong, and has been facilitated by the Rock Art Research Institute, the Evolutionary Sciences Institute and the South African Rock Art Digital Archive, all located at Wits University. The National Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences has supported two young researchers, Dr Tammy Hodgkiss and Lara Mallen, to lead the content development.

‘The VR experience immerses viewers in a journey through time, from the African early hominin fossil skulls, significant changes in ancient tool use, and the innovations of the Middle Stone Age, to the captivating spirit world of southern African San rock art. You will follow in the footsteps of the researchers who are solving the mysteries of Africa’s rich past,’ says Dr Tammy Hodgskiss of the Evolutionary Studies Institute, and an expert in this field of research.

The Origins VR production updates the material currently on display at the Origins Centre and will assist in bringing younger voices and women researchers into the story of what we know about rock art and the early modern human ways of living.

‘Tshimologong is Wits University’s exciting new digital innovation precinct in Juta Street, Braamfontein. The VR production was developed by Alt-Reality, one of the start-up companies we are incubating. It will be launched as part of the annual Fak’ugesi Festival we host in Tshimologong,’ says Dwolatzky, who has personally funded part of the production.

About Origins Centre

The Origins Centre is the world’s only museum dedicated to exploring and celebrating the history of modern humankind. The museum offers visitors a unique experience of Africa’s rich, complex heritage and boasts an extensive collection of rock art from the Wits Rock Art Research Institute. Exhibits take visitors on an extraordinary journey of discovery, which begins with the origins of humankind in Africa.

About Fak’ugesi

The Fak’ugesi African Digital Innovation Festival is an annual event in Johannesburg held to celebrate technology, creativity, collaboration and innovation from across the African continent. As well as showcasing digital innovations and exhibitions, the initiative hosts a Fak’ugesi Resident Artists programme attracting practitioners from the SADC region.

About Tshimologong

Setswana for “new beginnings”, Tshimologong, an initiative of the University of the Witwatersrand, is Johannesburg’s newest high-tech address in the vibrant inner-city district of Braamfontein, where the incubation of start-ups, the commercialisation of research and the development of high-level digital skills for students, working professionals and unemployed youths take place.