Dunbar Cave State Park is preparing to launch a virtual reality project that will allow visitors to visit the cave even if they cannot physically be there.
Earlier this month, officials were in town with cameras, lights and other equipment.
This was an exciting step in a project originally conceived in January 2020 by Park Ranger John Ball. His idea was to create a virtual reality film that would allow anyone to visit the historically and archaeologically interesting cave in Clarksville.
Amanda Blount is a member of the Friends of Dunbar Cave and one of the group members who worked to make the project a reality.
“We had a grant team that wrote the proposal for Humanities Tennessee,” Blount said. “Once we got the grant, we launched a public request for quotes from qualified filmmakers. In August of this year, we took a tour with interested groups, and the team won the auction. We are very excited about this project.
Sydney Harris is part of the Arch Media group of Nashville.
She is the assistant producer on the project.
“So we’re doing a 360 ° stereoscopic shot of the cave, which will be really nice for people who can’t enter the cave due to the accessibility limitations for people with disabilities,” Harris said. “They will be able to watch it online. They can put on a virtual reality headset, and it will almost be like they’re in the cave.
Harris says this is certainly a unique project, due to the 360 ° and stereoscopic visuals, and that there might even be something next level with the audio.
FODC members, Park Rangers, screen participants and the eight-member film crew took a weekend to shoot the footage. The premise was simple, just a guided tour of the cave, with an emphasis on cave paintings and markings, some 1,000 years old, others from the 1700s and 1800s. Experts will explain the meaning and significance. importance of drawings, marks and landmarks inside the cave.
Demetrius Hnarakis is the director / filmmaker of the project.
“We’re working on this production with FODC to bring the idea of Park Ranger John Ball to life,” Hnarakis said. “Park rangers Dr Jan Simek and archaeologist Beau Carroll followed on a cave tour using relatively new technology. This technology is finally becoming affordable.
“I have two 360 ° cameras on a platform, each has a lens on the front and one on the back, and they are mounted in such a way that they allow for stereographic 3D images. With a VR headset, you’ll see everything as if you were in the center of the action.
Hnarakis and his team planned to walk through the cave twice with this setup, and also shoot additional footage with a standard video camera.
Park Ranger John Ball has worked at Dunbar Cave for about three years.
“I pitched this idea and kind of publicly funded it,” Ball said. “I wanted to be able to offer a tour for people at that time of year when the cave was closed, and also create something that was accessible to people who cannot physically participate in one of our cave tours. We thought it would be cool to do it as a real virtual reality cave tour.
“I decided to try and make this happen in April 2020. I contacted FODC in January of this year and encouraged them to apply for the Humanities Tennessee grant. We got it in May, and then we put out a call for tenders. We met filmmakers interested in the project and we had the chance to involve Demetrius.
Ball says pieces of the project will end up on Dunbar Cave’s website, and others will be shared with educational institutions, for their use.
Once all the gear is acquired, people will be able to take a virtual cave tour at Dunbar Cave State Park, something that will hopefully be offered year round. Ball says it’s possible the program will be up and running by summer 2022, and more grants have been requested, to help cover the cost of this very expensive technology.
Dr. Jan Simek of the University of Tennessee was delighted to be back at Dunbar Cave.
“I am an archaeologist and I was involved very early on in the discovery and the first documentation of the rock art that is here, in 2006,” Simek said. “There are a lot of things that make this cave really cool from an archaeological point of view, two things in particular. What brought me here and continues to bring me here is that there are cave paintings that were done about 1,000 years ago, so during the Mississippian era. There are also later Native American inscriptions and writings on the wall. Then there is a very extensive archaeological site in front of the cave, which was tested when the state acquired this property in the 1970s.
“Since then, it has been sealed. It is one of the most complete archaeological sequences we have in the eastern United States. It goes back to the Ice Age, basically. It is a stratified series of occupations that begins about 500 years ago and dates back 12,000 years. This cave has been used several times during this period, so you have a representation of almost every cultural phase defined by archeology, this is very rare.
“At UT, we have been involved in the documentation of rock art for twenty years. We use a more scientific three-dimensional modeling process. We actually use two processes, one is LIDAR, which creates very high resolution scans, and we also often use photogrammetry to document these rock drawings. It’s very exciting.”
Find updates on this project on Friends of Dunbar Cave on Facebook or on the Dunbar Cave State Park website www.tnstateparks.com.