The Power of 3D Laser Scanning Services: Studying a 1,200-Year-Old Canoe

"Documenting the labor is a fantastic use of 3D laser scanning services."

In March, the 1,200-year-old dugout canoe discovered in Lake Mendota last October visited Wisconsin’s State Archive Preservation Facility, marking the next step in its journey to becoming the world’s most studied watercraft.

How 3D Laser Scanning Services Are Aiding RESEARCHERS

Lennon Rodgers, who directs UW-Grainger Madison’s Engineering Design and Innovation Laboratory and oversees the College of Engineering Makerspace, scanned the canoe and created 3D laser scanning renderings to preserve its legacy and allow researchers to study it. At the same time, it undergoes a two- to three-year preservation process. The Wisconsin Historical Society wants a high-resolution model constructed for this reason.

A call from James Skibo, a Wisconsin State Archeologist, triggered Makerspace’s experience in scanning strange relics – from Formula 1 vehicle components to artwork to fragments of an ancient wooden bowl. According to Rodgers, the boat caught his curiosity.

He stated, “I truly appreciate working in multidisciplinary contexts.” “I spent some time with these archaeologists and historians, and it was clear to me that they think differently than engineers.” That’s why I’m drawn to these initiatives. They offer a unique perspective on issue solving, and we as engineers can beneficially collaborate with them.”

Crew members gently pulled the ship from its special soaking tank and placed it on an inspection table to do the scan. Rodgers initially used his iPhone’s built-in lidar sensor and photogrammetry to make a lower-resolution color scan.

He then utilized the Creaform Handyscan 700 3D laser scanning services at the maker-space, which doesn’t record color but has a sharper resolution of 0.05 millimeters. The scanner employed two cameras to measure how the laser pattern distorted as it went over the boat. Then, on a computer screen, this 3D scanning data was utilized to rebuild the canoe’s 3D scanning shape in real-time.

Rodgers completed 20 scans, each of which took 15 to 20 minutes. The great resolution of the scanner caught minute markings and textures that would be invisible to the human eye, and software can be used to further study the surface by capturing cross-sections and concentrating on certain aspects.

Rodgers then stitched the images together with software to produce a digital 3D scanned boat model. “We now have a fantastic three-dimensional scan of this thing.” Rodgers stated, “You can see down to the tool marks.” Skibo said he’s considering asking Rodgers and his pupils to 3D-print a copy of the canoe so he can figure out why it sank. In the future, the scan may be used to produce life-size reproductions that visitors to the Wisconsin History Center could sit in.

“This canoe is an intricate form that was handcrafted,” he explains. “So, 1,200 years ago, there was a guy, an engineer, who created this.” He or she was most likely one of the first makers.’ Documenting that labor, in my opinion, is a fantastic use of 3D scanning services.” 

Skibo says he’s thinking of scanning additional delicate stored items in the future and employing drones to survey Wisconsin woods and fields for buried effigy mounds and other historic sites. Rodgers also stated that further collaboration with the historical organization and possibilities to include engineering students in learning and utilizing the technology would be welcomed.

It is intriguing to know that there are technologies to determine the age of long-lost artifacts of all kinds. For more interesting stories and unique tech and scientific findings, stay tuned with us to check some topics and stories below.

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