Virtual reality turns 360-year-old shipwreck into sunken treasure
An Australian-based maritime archaeologist has brought Iceland’s oldest known shipwreck back to life in a 3D reconstruction.
Flinders University PhD candidate John McCarthy has constructed a virtual reality dive of the Dutch trading vessel Melckmeyt, which sunk off an Icelandic atoll on October 16, 1659.
The well-preserved ship was discovered near Flatey Island in 1992 and in 2016 University of Iceland maritime archaeologist Kevin Martin conducted a highly detailed 3D survey of the wreck.
McCarthy used Martin’s survey and a scanned model in Rotterdam to create a three-and-a-half-minute, 360-degree journey that takes viewers across the ship’s 33-metre-long remains and a recreation of the Melckmeyt.
Based in South Australia, McCarthy is an international leader in maritime archaeology and is the leading editor of the recently published book 3D Recording and Interpretation for Maritime Archaeology.
McCarthy and the University of Iceland’s digital and maritime archaeologists used contemporary virtual sciences and photogrammetry to remodel and animate the ship.
“3D technologies have only really become practical underwater in the last decade or so [and] it’s completely changed the way that maritime archaeologists work,” said McCarthy.
“We can take cameras underwater now and get 3D scans of shipwrecks in a single dive.
McCarthy said although he had been privileged to actually dive on the Melckmeyt wreck, his VR recreation allows anyone with YoutTube to view the site.
“Archaeology is all about communicating your results to the wider public and helping them engage with their own heritage,” he said.
“The people who lived on the island have never seen the shipwreck but we were able to take it to all of them, every single inhabitant, [and] show them what their own shipwreck looks like.”
The ship was originally built as a Dutch whaling ship (flute) but was repurposed as an illegal trading vessel by Netherland merchants. It sunk while trading unlawfully with Iceland.
“We know, for example, that because it was built as a whaling ship, then it should follow the specifications of a ship like that,” said McCarthy.
“They don’t have some of the fancier features other Dutch ships would have had at the time because they were working in such harsh conditions; things like beakheads would just break off and it would have this very solid compatible build.
“We have even based the stern painting on a real contemporary Dutch painting, Vermeer’s’ famous Milkmaid, painted just one year before the ship was wrecked.”
The animation is currently being exhibited at the Reykjavik Maritime Museum to mark the 360th anniversary of the wreck.