Reconstructing a 16th Century Warship With 3D Modeling

Fagjun | Published 2017-10-11 20:21

Archaeologists are reconstructing a well-preserved Swedish warship with the help of deep-sea scans and 3D modeling.


There's a diver around there somewhere. [Photo by Tomasz Stachura, Ocean Discovery]



Once, the warship Mars was the most fearsome vessel plying the seas. She should have been, given that she was named after the ancient Roman god of war. She was also the flagship of the famed King Erik XIV of Sweden, who was known to have sunk into madness, and was later deposed and likely poisoned with arsenic.


However, his flagship was quite the accomplishment. Unfortunately, in 1564, the Mars burned and sank as a violent battle raged around her. She took up to 900 Swedish and German soldiers—as well as a treasure trove of gold and silver—with her to the depths of the Baltic Sea.


Luckily for archaeologists, conditions in the Baltic are perfect for preserving the ships that have sunk to its depths. In fact, the Mars has been declared to be the best-preserved vessel of her kind—her kind being the first generation of Europe's three-masted warships.



Revisiting History With 3D Modeling


Photo by Tomasz Stachura, Ocean Discovery



The Mars must have been impressive or terrifying to behold, depending on which side you're on. She was 200 feet long and capable of carrying over 100 cannons and hundreds of soldiers. However, she was said to have been cursed, and she had been the stuff of legends ever since. The ship was apparently doomed to destruction because confiscated church bells had been melted down to create her cannons. Legend also has it that discovering the Mars had been difficult because a specter guards the ship from ever being found.


A diver swims over the ship's lower gun ports. [Ingemar Lundgren, Ocean Discovery]



If that's true, then that specter wasn't very good at its job. Södertörn University's Johann Rönnby and his team discovered the remains of the ship in 2011. The ship was lying 250 feet below the surface, amid slow currents and cold, dark waters—waters perfect for preserving the wood of the ship.


It would have been difficult to move the ship without dealing damage to her hull. Thus, archaeologists decided to use photogrammetry and multibeam sonar scans to get accurate information about the wreck. Their scans are accurate within 0.8 inches, which is certainly satisfactory. 3D modeling would be able to help researchers get a better idea of what the ship looked like, as well as an idea of how the battle raged on board.



The Curse of the Bells


Studying a bronze cannon, which may or may not be cursed [Photo by Ingemar Lundgren, Ocean Discovery]



Perhaps there's something to the ship's alleged curse after all. The Mars was a war machine in the best sense of the word. She was up to her gills with guns and cannons, and she had almost unbelievable firepower. However, these cannons would prove to be her demise. The Mars began to burn as enemy soldiers pelted her with fireballs. The gunpowder on board fueled the flames, and eventually the heat grew so intense that the cannons began exploding. These explosions brought down the ship that was said to be the product of a king's arrogance.


Researchers report detecting the scent of charred wood from a piece of the ship's hull that they brought to the surface. Perhaps with the help of laser scans and 3D modeling, we'll get a better sense of what transpired on that fateful May 31st in 1564.

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