Heritage Key – An ancient history virtual community environment

General information

Domain: People’s heritage and cultural participation
Title: Heritage Key
Launch: 2009
Country: United Kingdom
Website: http://rezzable.com/rezzable-experience/heritage-key

Project focus

Heritage Key is a virtual environment that allows users to explore ancient history sites, contribute own content, and share experiences with like-minded people. At the heart of the environment are the 3D interactive areas with recreations of ancient sites and objects. Most of the environments include role-playing and other interactive features. By creating an avatar, users can visit a virtual environment, join up with others, and communicate about the environment, objects and activities. Furthermore Heritage Key provides a media rich website featuring commissioned and user-generated content on historical topics.


  • Rezzable, http://rezzable.com
  • The community of users who explore the virtual environments and contribute own content
  • Heritage experts are interviewed or provide commissioned contributions


Heritage Key has been developed by Rezzable, a UK-based creative industry company that produces 3D environments for games, role-playing and learning. Through social media channels users have been invited to visit the virtual environments and share own content with others. Indeed much content on Heritage Key has been contributed by the user community.

Financing / funding

Previously a site developer in Second Life since 2007, Rezzable in 2009 moved to the OpenSim platform to develop Heritage Key and other products. Rezzable is financed by angel investors who in 2010 invested 1.5 million euros in the company for hiring more developers and expanding the marketing and sales activity.

Content & IPR / licensing

At the heart of the environment are the 3D recreations of ancient history sites. These include Stonehenge, the Tomb of King Tutankhamun, the excavated Terracotta Army in Xi’an (China), Life in the 18th Dynasty Egyptian city of Amarna, and The Museum in which significant artefacts are displayed virtually. Most learning opportunities are offered in the Amarna environment where users can find out what animals lived in the area, what people ate, and learn how to make ancient Egyptian bread.

According to Rezzable the content of the 3D interactive areas and other Heritage Key sections comprises some 10 hours of virtual areas to explore, 100 videos and 10,000 articles, the copyrights of which remain with Rezzable and/or the individual authors. Content contributed by the user community is mostly licensed under a Creative Commons license. Some content can also be accessed on the social community platforms Flickr (photographs and imagery) and YouTube (videos).

Technologies used / innovative features

Heritage Key is a virtual environment that invites users to access and explore ancient history sites and share their ideas and own content with others. It offers 3D interactive areas, a wealth of content (articles, imagery, videos), and community forums for discussing topics. By creating an avatar, users can visit ancient sites virtually, learn about them, role-play and interact with others.
To allow for these experiences, Rezzable uses the 3D simulation software OpenSimulator (open source) and the Unity3D game engine; for managing the Heritage Key content Drupal (open source). In addition, some own proprietary software is deployed.

Target users

Heritage Key is targeted mostly at young people interested in ancient history sites and communicating with others on related topics. Users are invited to explore virtual recreations of some sites, role-play and learn about the sites. As Heritage Key aims to be a community-driven environment, participation and contributions by users is pivotal. According to Rezzable, Heritage Key has some 10,000 registered users and receives 500,000 monthly page views.

Lessons learned

Cooperation: By providing an online environment and utilizing social media (e.g. Flickr, YouTube, Twitter), the developer has been able to activate and involve users who share own content. As a result, many articles, imagery and animations have been made available to complement and enrich the core 3D interactive areas.

Content: Heritage Key is an example for the interest younger people take in ancient and other historic sites when provided as 3D environments with features for interacting with others. The virtual sites are not authentic reconstructions, but the role-playing can motivate users to learn about the actual sites and historic contexts.

Technologies used / innovative features: Heritage Key uses mainly open source technologies to allow people to virtually visit and explore recreations of ancient sites. While in this case the purpose is not a scientifically correct virtual reconstruction (like in the case of the Roman gladiator school in Carnuntum), environments like Heritage Key can promote the interest in sites, their history and current state.

Sources and links