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3D models offer a detailed look at Mary Rose artefacts

Engadget Engadget 6/09/2016 Nick Summers
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In 1545, the Mary Rose warship drifted to the bottom of the Solent, a slither of sea that separates the Isle of Wight from mainland England. It was rediscovered in 1971 and carefully salvaged in 1982, triggering a major preservation project in the city of Portsmouth. Now, you can examine some of the vessel's remains -- including the skull of a thirty-something carpenter -- in your browser, for free. The 3D models are part of a project called Virtual Tudors, which hopes to challenge the long-held belief that osteological bone examinations need to be conducted in person.

The new site is split into public and research sections. In addition to the spooky craninum, you can look at some old rope rigging, a leather shoe and a knife handle. Each artefact is displayed in Sketchfab, giving you precise control over the camera's position. You can left-click and drag to orbit the object, or right-click and swipe to pan from left to right. A double-click or pinch triggers a zoom, while a few numbered keys change the set lighting.

The detail is remarkable -- 120 photographs were captured in total, with an effective resolution of 39 pixels per image. The high-res photos were shot with a Sigma DP2 Quattro camera and then stitched together using Agisoft PhotoScan, a specialist piece of photogrammetry software. Each reconstruction was then compressed into a roughly 15-megapixel file, to ensure it could be uploaded and easily viewed by the public.

The project's creators -- the Mary Rose Trust, Swansea University and Oxford University -- hope the quality of the models will appeal to scientists. They've set up a special section with 10 human skulls and challenged researchers to perform an osteological analysis. Normally, these sorts of examinations would be conducted in person, however it's possible the 3D models will be of sufficient quality. Participants will be asked to complete a questionnaire based on their observations -- they'll then be compared with the notes conducted by a set of osteologists in person.

Dr Richard Johnston, a materials scientist and engineer at Swansea University, said: "This technology, and the appetite of museums and researchers to open their collections to larger global communities, including the public, can have huge implications for both the investigations that can take place, and speed that science is done. It also opens valuable resources to researchers from diverse backgrounds."

Even if the models prove to be inadequate for deep osteological research, they're an effective tool for explaining and promoting Tudor history to the public. Even if you've never heard of the Mary Rose, it's undeniably cool to peek inside an eye socket from a nearly 500-year-old human skull.

Swansea University, Virtual Tudors

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