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Underwater wreck sites recreated by 3D printing

Wessex Archaeology's Scottish Office has been involved in recreating two British wrecks using 3D printing. The two shipwrecks are of an 17th/18th century cannon wreck in Scotland and a large requisitioned WWI steamship in use as a floating hospital off the south coast of England. The use of 3D printing adds to the suite of existing 3D techniques such as virtual reality and digital reconstruction that archaeologists are increasingly using to share wreck sites with the public, and for carrying out analysis of the remains.

Underwater wreck sites recreated by 3D printing
A diver surveys two cannon at the Drumbeg wreck site [Credit: Wessex Archaeology]
The first of the wrecks to be printed was the Drumbeg shipwreck. This enigmatic site is believed to be a late 17th or early 18th century wreck of northern European type. The wreck lies at a depth of 12 metres in Eddrachillis Bay in Sutherland and consists of three cannon, two anchors and partial hull remains preserved on and below the seabed.

The wreck was discovered and reported by local residents Ewen Mackay and Michael Errington while scallop diving (BBC link March 2013). Archaeologists are still working to confirm the identity of the wreck but one intriguing possibility is that it is the Crowned Raven, a Dutch trading vessel known to have been lost in the bay the winter of 1690/1691 during passage from the Baltic Sea to Portugal with a cargo of timbers and hemp. The wreck has had undergone several surveys since 2012 including sonar, magnetometer and photogrammetry, data from these combined data sets was used to prepare model ready for 3D printing. The wreck site has been designated by Historic Environment Scotland as a Historic Marine Protected Area (HMPA).

Underwater wreck sites recreated by 3D printing
The 3D model of two cannon at the site of shipwreck in Sutherland [Credit: Wessex Archaeology]
The second and much larger site was 3D printed using multibeam sonar data. Sonar techniques cannot capture the colour details but are suitable for recording the shape of the wreck in 3D over a wide area. The wreck was the HMHS Anglia – a 100 m (329 feet) long steamship built in Dumbarton in 1900 and lost off Folkestone just over 100 years ago in 1915 during WWI. At the time of sinking the ship was in use as a hospital returning wounded veterans to the UK.

Over 164 people lost their lives after the ship struck a mine on its return journey from Calais to Dover. A high resolution 3D sonar survey of the site was carried out by Wessex Archaeology on behalf of Historic England in 2014 (BBC link October 2014). Using 3D printing the archaeologists have been able to add colours based on depth to the 3D print and also overlay historical information on the print such as an illustration of the ship sinking, to assist in the interpretation of the model.

Underwater wreck sites recreated by 3D printing
The 3D print of the hospital ship HMHS Anglia [Credit: Wessex Archaeology]
Archaeologist John McCarthy, who undertook the 3D modelling of the sites, said: "It’s been a fascinating process to transform the light captured in the photographs and the sound captured by the sonar sensors back into solid objects through the 3D printing process. We are very excited about the potential for this technology to help us to show the wider community what it’s like to visit the site without having to learn to dive or even get your feet wet! We hope that future surveys by our team can result in more models which can be used in local and national museum displays and at talks and open days".

Author: Karen Nichols | Source: Wessex Archaeology [May 24, 2016]

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