Exploring protected shipwrecks

Using 3D mapping and digitisation technology to create virtual dive trails for historic shipwreck sites.

In UK waters, there are 57 protected historic shipwreck sites, likely to contain the remains of a vessel or its contents, and which are of historical, artistic or archaeological importance. Archaeologists and researchers are carrying out much important work on many of these sites.

For example, London was a ship built at Chatham Historic Dockyard in 1654-1656, and it formed part of a convoy sent in 1660 to collect Charles II from the Netherlands and restore him to the throne. It sank in March 1665 following a gun powder explosion. Historic England and external specialists have undertaken an extensive program of research on the London wreck site, analysing and conserving over 700 artefacts. These have been used in several outreach programmes, including the objects now on permanent display in the Tudor and Stuart Seafarers Gallery and at Southend Museum.

To keep improving public access to these fascinating and historically significant shipwrecks, Historic England commissioned the creation of 'virtual dive trails' for a number of these sites, including the London. Using new technologies such as multi-image photogrammetric recording and virtual reality techniques, this project created interactive 3D images of the wreck sites. These bring maritime archaeology to life for the non-diver, and are much easier to interpret than more traditional geophysical survey techniques or photographs taken in poor visibility. They can even aid archaeologists' work on land by allowing measurements to be taken and analysis to be carried out post-dive. Since the project's launch, thousands of people from across the world have visited an English protected wreck site through a virtual dive trail.

View the virtual dive trails here.

This impact case study has been produced with support from the Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC).

Image: A fragment of a tinglazed tile with central figure of a fox. © Historic England Archive. Photographer credit James O Davies.