Making the invisible visible: Underwater Malta—a virtual museum for submerged cultural heritage

Timmy Gambin, Kari Hyttinen, Maja Sausmekat (Lead / Corresponding author), John Wood

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Abstract

The seabed can be considered as the world’s largest museum, and underwater sites explored and studied so far provide priceless information on human interaction with the sea. In recognition of the importance of this cultural resource, UNESCO, in its 2001 Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage, determined that objects/sites should be preserved in situ, whilst also advocating for public access and sharing. The implementation of these principles is not without difficulties. Some states have opened up underwater sites to the public—mainly through diving, yet the vast majority of the world’s population does not dive. In Malta, 7000 years of human occupation is reflected in and on the landscape, and recent offshore surveys show that the islands’ long and complex history has also left an indelible mark on the seabed. Besides difficulties related to their protection and management, these sites also present a challenge with regard to sharing and communicating. Recent advances in underwater imaging and processing software have accelerated the development of 3D photogrammetry of submerged sites and the idea for a virtual museum was born. The virtual museum, UnderwaterMalta, was created out of a need to share the plethora of underwater sites located on the seabed of the Maltese Islands. A multitude of digital tools are used to share and communicate these sites, offering visitors a dry dive into submerged sites that would otherwise remain invisible to the vast majority of the public. This paper discusses the basic principle of the sharing of underwater cultural heritage and the difficulties that beset the implementation of such a principle. A detailed explanation and evaluation of the methods used to gather the raw data needed is set in the context of the particular and unique working conditions related to deep water sites. The workings of this paper are based on first-hand experiences garnered through the recording of numerous wrecks over the years and the creation and launch of The Virtual Museum-Underwater Malta—a comprehensive virtual museum specifically built for “displaying” underwater archaeological sites that are otherwise invisible to the general public.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1558
Number of pages20
JournalRemote Sensing
Volume13
Issue number8
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 16 Apr 2021

Keywords

  • 3D modeling
  • 3D reconstruction
  • Public access
  • Public outreach
  • Underwater cultural heritage
  • Underwater cultural heritage management
  • Virtual museum

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