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  • 4DHeritage team

Beach forensics: unravelling the mystery of the sudden appearance of a wreck

Updated: Mar 14, 2021

In February, a series of the storms on the East Coast of Britain changed the shoreline revealing large fragments of wrecks. What story might they tell?

High resolutions images taken with a smart phone, 360 imaging taken with a compact camera and drone based photogrammetry have enabled the site and the woodwork to be shared with local historians and leading specialists from around the world.

This has been done in high resolution 2D as an 'orthomosaic image' created from individual images knitted together to make a single flat image. Tiny details such as burring in the wood or the grain of the trenails can be seen in the full resolution image.

At the same time we have also used 3D using drone based photogrammetry to create a model of both the wood, but also the shape of the beach.

This photogrammetry can be used for detailed measurements. Crucially these are 3D volumetric measurements which can provide much greater detail of a location and how it may be changing. Increasingly this approach is being used to scale up mapping, modelling and monitoring in a more cost effective way than traditional survey techniques. See this ELRHA blog on topographical analysis and risk assessment.

Such digital documentation has transformed the speed and detail of insights from the wreck - from the workmanship of the trenails to a crack in the timber, transforming virtual collaboration not just in the UK, but worldwide. This is particularly significant in a time of Coronavirus which makes physical travel and meetings impossible.

Such details illustrate both the craftsmanship as well as intimate understanding of the oak that was being worked.

Key to exploring the hidden history of this wood is bringing together different disciplines from art experts to boat builders to archaeologists and geographers monitoring the dynamics of the coastline itself. This multidisciplinary approach opens up new avenues for research.

However the digital documentation has also allowed the wreck to be accessible to explored by anyone interested in this coast from teachers of geography and history, to local heritage and history organisations. An immersive experience can also create a richer learning experience.

This has allowed all kinds of stories potentially linked to the wreck to be captured, bringing the power of citizen science to the investigation, and particularly engaging young people interested in exploring the history of the wreck and sharing their ideas in class, with their families or in the community.

For a gull's view of the beach click here.

For an immersive beach walk click here.

For the Smithsonian Magazine article click here.

Special thanks to the expert insights from:

Dr Charlotte de Mille Sail Britain promote cultural exchange and ocean literacy through exploration and education under sail Ocean Ambassadors brings together people who are passionate about the importance and continued well-being of our oceans – from the shoreline to the deep sea.

Andrew Hadley, Director of the Centre for International Learning and Leadership

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