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Maritime archaeology redefined with the Artec Leo

Challenge: A maritime archaeologist researching Viking-era ships needed to capture ancient ship timbers large and small, with all their surface details present, including tool marks, carvings, and discolorations, despite their dark and occasionally very shiny characteristics.

Solution: Artec Leo, Artec Studio

Results: Using Artec Leo, the researcher has quickly and easily 3D scanned hundreds of ship timbers and other objects in museums, repositories, as well as in the field, using the resulting 3D models to advance his work and reach some history-changing conclusions.

Why Artec: No other handheld 3D scanner offers the degree of pick-up-and-go freedom that the Leo does: submillimeter-accurate color 3D, no cables, external battery, or laptop to get in the way, and no targets or markers needed, which is critical when working with priceless historical artifacts.

Maritime Archaeology

Onboard the Skidbladner, a life-sized replica of the 9th century Gokstad ship, built during the reign of King Harald Fairhair, unearthed in 1880 from a Viking burial mound in Norway

In the year 1886, a farmer plowing his field in the tranquil Norwegian countryside struck something hard beneath the soil. Little did he know that his unexpected discovery in Karmøy would pull back the curtain on an elusive chapter of Viking history, seafaring, and ship burials. It has overturned numerous understandings of the Viking way of life itself, and opened up the strong possibility that this ship may be the oldest Viking sailing vessel ever found.

The Storhaug ship, its oak timbers dendrochronologically dating back to the year 770, once sliced through the seas and rivers, its masterfully handcrafted form filled with hardy Viking explorers. The ship’s hull was built for speed and maneuverability with its hand-cut timbers, carefully fitted and fastened together with iron nails and wooden pegs.

Maritime Archaeology

Artist’s rendition of the Storhaug ship in 779 at the moment of its burial. Image credit: Eva Gjerde, Museum of Archaeology, University of Stavanger

From measuring tapes and rulers to 3D scanning

Archaeologists in the years that followed unearthed what remained of the ship to reveal a vessel that, even in its deteriorated state, was an elegant masterpiece of human ingenuity and artistry.

Entombed within the ship was a trove of ancient belongings: a boat, oars, a small sleigh, the skeleton of a horse, two Frankish swords, two spears, an ax, a gold arm-ring, a shield, a helmet, a comb, a knife, two board games, and various other items.

Fast-forward to the present day. The narrative of the Storhaug ship and its Viking occupants is being skillfully unraveled by some of the brightest minds in maritime archaeology today, including one man, Massimiliano Ditta.

Maritime Archaeology

Maritime archaeologist Massimiliano Ditta scanning a ship stem top possibly from the late Viking age with Artec Leo at the University of Stavanger. Image courtesy of Massimiliano Ditta, Arkeologisk Museum /UiS

A seasoned researcher and PhD candidate at the Museum of Archaeology / University of Stavanger, Ditta has dedicated his career to breathing life into our nautical past, piece by intricate piece. His efforts have not been without their unique challenges.

Through years of research and discovery, including the use of 3D scanning, Ditta has come to a working hypothesis that despite the long-held belief that the Storhaug was a rowing ship, it could have in fact been a sailing ship.

Various elements of the ship offer up strong evidence of this, including the keel and a possible yard for the sail. Many experts believe that Ditta’s findings will eventually become established as facts in the narrative of the Storhaug ship, proving that Viking nautical engineering had become sophisticated enough by the 8th century to harness the power of wind to their advantage, giving their ships greater range, with far more speed and maneuverability than rowing alone.

Maritime Archaeology

Leo HD Mode 3D scan of the stem top with Artec Studio phototexturing applied for full detail. Image courtesy of Massimiliano Ditta

Close by this intrepid researcher’s side has been the revolutionary Artec Leo 3D scanner, an innovative tool that has set new standards of precision and flexibility in the arena of maritime archaeology.

Ditta said, “Artec Leo has amplified the quality of my work, as well as the size of projects I’ve been able to accomplish. It dismantles the traditional boundaries of 3D scanning, letting me devote my energies to my ultimate focus – documenting and understanding our rich nautical heritage.”

Maritime Archaeology

Artec Studio screenshot showing camera positions used for phototexturing the stem top. Image courtesy of Massimiliano Ditta

Embracing new horizons: making the leap from Eva to Leo

After transitioning from using the Artec Eva scanner in his previous work, Ditta’s workflow has markedly accelerated, bringing his fascinating approach into sharper focus.

With its wireless design, portability, and built-in battery, the Leo makes fieldwork far less restrictive, enabling Ditta to dive deep into every scanning project without any concerns about wires getting in the way, rapidly draining power sources, or needing a laptop nearby.

The 3D scanner’s improved accuracy with HD Mode and its scan-after-scan precision have also been pivotal in Ditta’s work.

“What amazes me about the Leo,” said Ditta, “is its unwavering dependability, its solid accuracy. In HD Mode, ship timbers and other relics of the past are always captured with such remarkable authenticity, making these scans brilliant for documentation and preservation.”

Precision unveiled: Leo’s HD Mode

The Artec Leo’s HD Mode significantly heightens the quality of every scan, particularly when it comes to complex organic objects, such as the Storhaug ship timbers and the many objects found onboard.

Under Leo’s structured-light gaze, myriad details arise in vivid, submillimeter-accurate color 3D, including various tool marks, decorative lines, incisions, and other aspects that were previously elusive to capture.

Maritime Archaeology

Photo showing a Viking ship timber’s shiny surface, which is no hurdle for the Artec Leo. Image courtesy of Massimiliano Ditta

Maritime Archaeology

Artec Studio screenshot of the same ship timber, showing full geometry capture despite the shininess of the surface. Image courtesy of Massimiliano Ditta

Maritime Archaeology

And now with Artec Studio phototexturing applied, the ship timber is reborn in lifelike color 3D. Image courtesy of Massimiliano Ditta

Capturing ship timbers in all their 8th century glory

By Ditta’s estimate, Leo has slashed the scanning time by almost half compared to when he was using the Eva.

“What sets Leo apart from other 3D scanners I’ve used is not just its precision or touchscreen interface,” said Ditta. “But also its ability to accurately capture complex objects under challenging conditions means I can rely on it completely. To Leo, a dark, centuries-old ship timber is never an obstacle.”

Maritime Archaeology

Combined Artec Leo scans of assembled Storhaug ship timbers, each scan having a separate color. Image courtesy of Massimiliano Ditta

The onboard screen and improved tracking control also mean fewer disruptions during the scanning process, which can often take place in crowded museums or archaeological repositories.

Shareable, research-quality 3D models

For Ditta, an essential part of his work is not simply unearthing these historical treasures, but communicating his findings and often sharing the resulting 3D models with other researchers, museum specialists, and the public.

Leo has enriched this avenue of his work, greatly enhancing the level of detail in the final 3D models, thus opening up a variety of possibilities for further research, VR/AR museum exhibitions, and educational opportunities.

Maritime Archaeology

Archaeology catalog output from Leo 3D scans, phototexturing applied, unfinished Viking-era ship stem found in a wetland in Rogaland. Image courtesy of Massimiliano Ditta

Ditta’s work with the Leo, along with his ardent recommendation of the device, has convinced several colleagues and institutions to adopt it as a standard documentation method, showcasing the transformative impact of the Leo throughout the archaeological community.

In his words, “The Artec Leo’s portability is its silent strength. Its autonomy from cables, a laptop, and a battery pack makes it a welcome companion for documentation work in the museum or out in the field.”

Reconstructing ancient nautical masterpieces in 3D

In the world of maritime archaeology, the past is a puzzle with its pieces scattered beneath the landscape, under the sea, at the water’s edge, or perhaps in various museums.

Countless other fragments of our rich nautical heritage are still waiting to be found, studied, and shared with the world. For Ditta, each discovery is a piece of that puzzle, one step closer to unraveling the mysteries of humanity’s seafaring past.

Maritime Archaeology

Massimiliano Ditta preparing to scan a ship stem blank timber with Artec Leo at the Haugalandmuseet in Haugesund. Image courtesy of Massimiliano Ditta

With Artec Leo at his side, his quest continues with renewed vigor, precision, and potential, making each project even more impactful than the last. And while the sea will always hold secrets of the past, with Leo in his tool chest, Ditta believes that the future of 3D scanning in maritime archaeology seems clear and promising.

“Throughout my career, I’ve faced many challenges. Diverse environments, heavily deteriorated and disintegrating ship timbers, and always the need for repeatable precision and lifelike textures. The Artec Leo has proven to be more than just a tool. It’s been my steadfast partner in this journey through time,” said Ditta.

Ditta’s current PhD project is part of a larger project titled, Avaldsnes – Maktens Havn (Avaldsnes – The port of power).

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