Virtual submarine that will allow access to Europe's sunken wrecks

By James Randerson

Archaeologists are creating a permanent digital record of shipwrecks around European coasts.

By recording the precise 3D arrangement of timbers and cargo from the wrecks the researchers aim to preserve the information they contain about past civilizations even if the wrecks are damaged or destroyed.

Scientists and members of the general public would in future be able to float over the wrecks in a virtual submarine from the comfort of their own desks. For researchers, this would allow them to explore the wreck and make decisions about future excavations without spending large amounts of money going out to sea.

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.

There are already plans to begin mapping another Roman wreck off Marseilles.


France submarine

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