17th-Century Dutch Smugglers' Shipwreck Comes to Life in Virtual Reality

livescience.com | 10/16/2019 | Mindy Weisberger - Senior Writer
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In the depths of the cold North Atlantic near the coast of Iceland lies the wreck of a Dutch ship that sank 360 years ago while pretending to be Danish.

At the time, the Netherlands (and all European nations) were barred from trading with Iceland by the country's ruler, the king of Denmark. But Dutch smugglers skirted the ban by sailing to Icelandic ports in ships that flew a false Danish flag.

Smugglers - Ships - Melckmeyd - Milkmaid - End

One of the smugglers' ships, named "Melckmeyd" ("Milkmaid") met a violent end, smashed by a storm on Oct. 16, 1659. The sunken vessel lay forgotten on the sea bottom for centuries. But recent efforts by archaeologists and digital modelers have made the long-lost shipwreck accessible through a virtual reality (VR) "dive." As a digital model, Milkmaid can be explored by VR users through a headset or as an interactive video on YouTube.

Local divers found the Milkmaid wreck in 1992 near a small island called Flatey, off Iceland's western coast. There, the frigid waters preserved much of the ship’s 108-foot-long (33 meters) lower hull in exceptional detail, representatives with the recent digital reconstruction project said in a statement.

Reconstruction - Ship - Melckmeyt - Archaeologists - Vermeer

A digital reconstruction of the flute ship Melckmeyt. Archaeologists have used Vermeer’s famous painting of The Milkmaid, painted just a year before the ship was lost, for the stern design.

A digital reconstruction of the wreck of flute ship Melckmeyt as it might have appeared the morning after the storm.

Scene - Dive - Divers - Wreck - Today

A scene from the virtual dive, showing virtual divers swimming over the wreck as it appears today, with areas of the wreck labelled in yellow.

The ship sank with a full cargo of fish, and one crew member died during the escape, project leader Kevin Martin, a doctoral candidate at the University of Iceland, reported in July at the 23rd International Conference in Information Visualization in Paris.

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