So far the €2.2m Venus (Virtual Exploration of Underwater Sites) project, which involves 11 different institutions across Europe, has created a digital representation of two shipwrecks; one a Roman ship dating from around AD200 off the island of Pianosa near the Tuscan coast and the other, the Barco da Telha, a pre-18th century vessel that sank off the Portuguese coast near Sessimbra.
Dr Paul Chapman, a computer scientist at the University of Hull, said that it was aimed at creating a permanent record of the wrecks. "Because of activities like trawling, these archaeological sites get destroyed," he said. "What we have been focusing on with the Venus project is how to generate a permanent database or record of these sites."
Underwater archaeological sites have also been damaged by divers taking souvenirs. "Our job has been to develop a virtual reality diving simulator that allows the user to dive down and experience the site first hand," Chapman added.
One advantage of the simulator is that researchers can add in elements that are no longer there, for example even if the wooden frame of the ship is partially or completely destroyed it can be superimposed on the remains of the cargo that are
"We can also animate the disintegration of the wreck over time," said Chapman.
The cargo in the 3D simulator – for example, double-handled ceramic vases called amphorae in the case of the Roman wreck – is in precisely the same arrangement as in the real wreck. To achieve this level of accuracy the researchers conducted sonar surveys from ships on the surface before adding information from a robotic submarine called the Phantom S2. This provided more detailed sonar data plus images of the wreck itself.
The Roman site off Pianosa was first
discovered by sport divers in 1989. In Roman times, the island off the Tuscan coast was home to the nephew of Augustus Caesar who was exiled there to the Villa di Agrippa where
he was later murdered.
The ship itself has rotted away, leaving a mixed cargo of amphorae. The archaeological puzzle is why there are vases that date from several different periods of Roman history. Lying at just 36 metres and in excellent visibility, the wreck provided an ideal initial proving ground for developing the 3D mapping techniques.
Within two to three months [simulator software] will be available for download from the project's website
and will run on a standard PC. - Video