Australia’s oldest colonial boat unearthed for museum display by 3D scanning and printing. - Image Magazine

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Australia’s oldest colonial boat unearthed for museum display by 3D scanning and printing.

Australia’s oldest colonial boat unearthed for museum display by 3D scanning and printing.

A 19th-century boat discovered in Barangaroo, Sydney has been brought back to life for display at the Australian National Maritime Museum by 3D scanning and 3D printing.

Called the Barangaroo Boat, the vessel was unearthed in the vicinity of a shipyard during excavations by Sydney Metro for a new Barangaroo Station, and is expected to date back to around 1820. The site was taken over by Silentworld Foundation, an Australian non-profit focused on marine archaeology, history, culture, and heritage.

While the original boat is being prepared for display, the Silentworld team turned to Luxembourgish 3D scanner developer and manufacturer Artec 3D to digitise each piece of the boat and record any information they could. From the scan data, a replica of the boat is to be 3D printed and assembled as a test run before the team attempts the real thing in two to three years time.

“It was a development project that Sydney Metro was undertaking at several locations in Sydney city,” said Renee Malliaros, Project Manager and Maritime Archaeologist at Silentworld Foundation. “So, of course, they came across all sorts of maritime-related objects, including a little boat. Eventually, it was deemed safer for the object to be taken apart and to have each piece removed, recorded on-site, wrapped up, stored, and transported in refrigerated shipping containers.”

The Barangaroo Boat is thought to have been pulled up on shore at the end of its life, where it remained until it was unearthed during the excavations by Sydney Metro for the new Barangaroo Station.

Once the boat had been excavated from the site, the team embarked upon digitally recording the vessel in order to find out everything they could from it, and to digitally recreate it while the original boat was prepared for display.

To do this, they brought in the expertise of Artec 3D to 3D scan every piece of the boat and produce a digital 3D model from which the boat could be printed at scale. The team used the company’s flagship Artec Eva 3D scanner for the job, a lightweight, portable 3D scanner capable of producing accurate, textured 3D scans of small to medium-sized objects.

“I have spoken with Renee many, many times over the last few years, and have been up to visit them once the initial shipwreck was delivered,” said Ben Myers, Director of 3D scanning at Artec 3D’s gold-certified partner Thinglab. “This is a particularly interesting and exciting project; not only for the fact the ship is the oldest colonial Australian-built craft ever to be excavated but also for the way that this has been managed. Using Eva to record each piece to then digitally rebuild this is fascinating.”

Due to the detailed and complex nature of the task, the team brought in Belgian 3D recording specialist and maritime archaeologist Thomas Van Damme who has substantial experience in digitally recording ship timbers in this way. The team were able to scan the pieces of the boat far quicker and more accurately than they could have done with other methods, such as 2D drawings or 3D contact tracing.

“With 3D contact digitisation, you’re only tracing the features that the archaeologist thinks are important, but you’re missing some features,” said Thomas. “What Artec Eva gives you is an objective 3D reproduction of the timber itself having both geometry and colour.”

The ability to digitally record each piece of the boat – of which there were nearly 300 – was vital to the project’s success, as the pieces needed to be scanned as soon as they were unwrapped to avoid being spoilt.

“Scanning with Artec Eva, some of the pieces were so little I’d just zip around it once, flip it over, zip it round again, and that was it,” said Renee. “I was actually getting dizzy because I was walking so fast. The capture was so good and quick, I set it to real-time fusion, so it was like painting it as I was going along.”

Once the scan data had been collected, it was imported into 3D modelling software Rhino where the team could highlight major features of the pieces. Scientific analyses of the fabric of the boat and the surrounding sediment are also underway.

“It is really important that we highlight the patterns – tool marks, nail-hold patterns, grain direction, compression marks, etc – because that’s all going to be really crucial data for later on,” continued Renee.

Through Rhino, the team was able to convert the scan data into 2D drawings of each of the 300 pieces in the space of one month, a far quicker process than the organisation’s former tracing method, which would have taken around a year.

From this, scaled versions of each piece will be 3D printed and assembled as a practice run for the real reconstruction of the boat, which is expected to be attempted in two or three years’ time.

“Before work starts on the actual pieces of the boat, there will be a practice run just to see how all the pieces are going to fit together, and also what kind of support cradle system will be needed,” Renee added. “There will be a scaled-down jigsaw puzzle version of the boat, and once that is put together – cool! Now to do it for real.”

Since the Barangaroo Boat, Renee has scanned three more shipwrecks, bringing the total number of boats discovered and 3D scanned by Silentworld Foundation to four.

“We look forward to building on our relationship to assist the Foundation with exploring how they can possibly utilise more of the Artec range,” said Ben. “We are hugely honoured to have helped out in a small way to assist the Silentworld Foundation in recording and using the 3D data.”

Scans are processed into a clean 3D model of the timber using Artec Studio. The 3D models can then be used by the archaeologists to record detailed information about each piece in Rhino by closely inspecting the physical timber and then annotating the 3D model.


Maritime Archaeologist Renee Malliaros scans a boat timber from the interior hull planking layer of the Barangaroo Boat. (Photo via Heather Berry/Silentworld Foundation/Sydney Metro)

Thomas van Damme demonstrates the scanning technique for the long, thin timber planks of the Barangaroo Boat. (Photo via Irini Malliaros/Silentworld Foundation/Sydney Metro)

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