May 24, 2016 | By Alec

3D printers are known as truly futuristic manufacturing tools, but they can also be extremely useful for archeologists and historians as well. This has just been proven by Wessex Archaeology. The British archeological institute has used 3D printing technology to reconstruct two shipwreck sites in British waters: one of a 17th or 18th century trading vessel, and another one of a WWI steamship. The technology can not only be used to develop very useful educational models, but these 3D printed replicas are also giving them access to more information than any diving mission could unearth.

This is by no means the first historical or archeological project to rely on 3D printing. In 2015, an Irish archeologist developed a 3D printed replica of a bronze age artefact to prove that it wasn’t actually a spear butt, while UNESCO is using the technology to preserve Middle Eastern archaeological sites. But to our knowledge, it’s the first time 3D printing was used to reach previously inaccessible submerged sites.

Both shipwrecks have fascinated archeologists for some time. The first, a late 17th or early 18th century wreck of a northern European ship, is especially enigmatic. Submerged at a depth of 12 meters in Eddrachillis Bay near Sutherland and complete with three canon, two anchors and some cargo remains, it is still quite well preserved. The ship was discovered by two local residents in 2013 while diving for scallops. While its identity is unknown, the ship could be the Crowned Raven, a Dutch trading vessel that was lost during the winter of 1690/1691 while trying to make its way from the Baltic Sea to Portugal with a cargo of timber and hemp. The wreck site has been designated by the Historic Environment Scotland as a Historic Marine Protected Area (HMPA).

The second wreck is much larger, and is of a large steamship that was requisitioned during the First World War to serve as a floating hospital. Built in 1900, it was lost in November 1915 off the south coast of England, near Folkestone. The unfortunate ship, which was carrying 164 people from Calais to Dover, hit a mine and was quickly brought down. Most of the people aboard were wounded soldiers who survived the Battle of Loos.

In both cases, the ships and the wreck sites could hold a lot of interesting archeological information. Both were therefore extensively studied already; the Sutherland wreck has previously undergone sonar, magnetometer and photogrammetry surveys since 2012. The Folkestone wreck, meanwhile, was surveyed with a high resolution 3D sonar in 2014.

In both cases, that data was combined and modified to prepare 3D printable models. Both sites recreations were 3D printed with the help of English and Scottish 3D printing services. For the Folkestone wreck site, the archeologists were even able to add colors based on the depth. They also added an overlay of historical information to their 3D model, featuring an illustration of the ship sinking, which will also help researchers study the incident. The second 3D printed wreck site, which was much larger, was based on multibeam sonar data.

Archaeologist John McCarthy, who led the 3D modelling wreck site initiative, was very pleased with the results and revealed that this is an excellent way to study those hard to reach archeological sites. “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,” he told the BBC. “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.”



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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