Archaeologists Use New Technology to Record Old Shipwreck

Posted on 1/2/2016 2:14:34 PM

Anthropology’s Ben Ford and graduate student Jonathan Crise recently recorded the remains of Royal Savage, one of the oldest U.S. warships, utilizing a 3D laser scanner.

The Continental Navy schooner Royal Savage was part of an American squadron under the command of Benedict Arnold that successfully stalled a British attack from Canada during the summer of 1776, giving the American forces much-needed time to organize during the first year of the American Revolution.

Royal Savage was sunk during the primary battle of this campaign, the Battle of Valcour Island, on October 11, 1776.

After more than a century and a half on the lakefloor, the shipwreck was salvaged in 1934 and stored in a barn before it was sold to the city of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania as part of former Harrisburg Mayor Stephen Reed’s proposed museum of the Old West. However, as a warship, Royal Savage falls under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Navy and was transferred from Harrisburg to the Navy in 2015.

Royal Savage Timbers
Photo: Timbers of the Continental schooner Royal Savage being recorded with a 3D scanner at the Navy History and Heritage Command, Washington, D.C. The scanner is visible at the left of the frame.

IUP Anthropology partnered with the Navy History and Heritage Command to record and reconstruct the remains of Royal Savage. After being roughly salvaged and then stored for more than 80 years in less than ideal conditions, Royal Savage has been reduced to several dozen disarticulated timbers and a partially intact stern assembly. However, using 3D laser scanning it is possible to create a highly accurate digital model of the timbers and then reassemble them in virtual space. Crise and Ford scanned the timbers from December 16–17, 2015 and are currently building 3D models of each timber. Once complete, the timbers can be printed using a 3D printer to piece the ship back together. The Navy History and Heritage Command also has plans to utilize a digital reconstruction of this important naval vessel in future museum exhibits.

The IUP 3D scanner was acquired as part of a 2012 National Science Foundation Major Research Instrumentation grant titled “Acquisition of Instruments for 3D Digital Mapping of Historic Structures and Archaeological Sites.”