Case Study: Laser Scan Survey and Historic Vessels

In the last few years the development of hi-tech laser scanning techniques have highlighted the worth of the application in helping with the recording, conservation, and management of historic vessels of all sizes – from ocean going ships to smaller inshore craft. Two recent surveys in Scotland help to illustrate the benefits of the technique, both of which satisfied the differing nature of the project requirements.

The emigrant clipper ship City of Adelaide, currently slipped at Irvine under the care of the Scottish Maritime Museum, was earmarked for controlled deconstruction. As a Category A listed structure a condition required the full non-intrusive survey of the vessel prior to intervention to provide a complete and highly accurate archaeological record of the entire vessel. The laser scanner collected 3.5 billion points in a ‘point cloud’ which creates the 3D image of the object accurate to within 2mm. A photomontage is then ‘stitched’ to the 3D product to create a manipulative photographic model. In addition to the creation of a highly accurate archaeological record, the technique also enabled data to help inform engineering strategies for possible deconstruction or removal of the vessel from the site and to guide the museum in the characteristics of sections of the bow and stern which were to be retained in the museum collections.

The second example involved the survey of the Zulu sailing herring drifter Research housed in the permanent collections of the Scottish Fisheries Museum. The vessel is displayed undercover in a museum gallery and has begun to show signs of hull movement and deterioration. The purpose of the survey was to create an accurate record of the vessel to establish a ‘control’ from which to monitor any subsequent movement or deterioration in the hull shape and integrity. In addition, the control element was provided by scanning the builder’s half model of the Carolina, a Zulu drifter built at the same yard as the Research. The resultant survey data from the Research was then transposed onto the half model data and compared. The results were fascinating and showed quite clearly the parts of the hull of the Research that had altered in shape. The results will help to closely manage the conservation of the hull and fabric and ultimately inform aspects of a proposed Conservation Management Plan to secure the vessel’s long term future.

Figure 30: The emigrant clipper ship City of Adelaide. The complicated management and conservation issues of an internationally significant vessel have resulted in innovative high-tech applications to provide a long-lasting archaeological record and management tool for the presentation and future prosperity of the vessel, ©Headland Archaeology.

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