This international research network aims to promote collaboration in the digital documentation and interpretation of archaeological shipwrecks. Research Network funding from the UKRI Arts and Humanities Research Council is supporting this work over the next two years.

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Ships were both complex machines and the embodiment of the aspirations, ambitions and hopes of the maritime communities which built and sailed them. Understanding and interpreting the archaeological remains of such ships, through the practice of nautical archaeology, can be a challenging process requiring specialized excavation, documentation and reconstruction of often incomplete and deformed material evidence. In recent decades, adaptation of 3D digital means of data-capture has become central to these processes and enabled a wider audience to engage with the research process and the outcomes of this research in both physical and virtual spaces.

Most recently, a new generation of 3D digital tools have become available for nautical archaeology including multi-image photogrammetry (increasingly employed for survey of underwater excavations where time-constraints make more traditional forms of recording problematic), structured light scanning for documentation of recovered ship structures and individual timbers, and combined approaches synthesizing high resolution laser scanning with photogrammetrically derived textures.

As with the adoption of any new digital technology, standards and guidance for the use of these new approaches are urgently required if they are to be applied appropriately. A previous informal network (Faro-Arm and Rhino Archaeological Users Group - FRAUG) proved instrumental in developing consensus, paradata (such as manuals and workflows) and broadly compatible data layering at an international scale for nautical archaeology during the first two decades of the 21st century.

As computational power within standard graphics workstations and especially mobile laptops has grown, so the use of co-ordinate measurement machines (CMMs) has increasingly been supplanted by laser and/or structured light scanning in post-excavation studies, or multi-image photogrammetry during survey and excavation. The FRAUG network, associated with CMMs, has become dormant in the last difficult couple of years. The renewal of an international network to test and develop new digital approaches is now urgently needed.

The Digital Network for Nautical Archaeology recognises the fundamentally international and interdisciplinary nature of this endeavour. The ships that form our core study material were often designed to operate internationally, often crossed borders as they travelled across the seas (e.g. Mediterranean/ Atlantic/ North Sea/ Baltic) transporting people and cargoes, ideas and knowledge, power and diplomacy. During the initial two years for which AHRC financial support has been provided, the network will focus on this European scale (reflected in the international make-up of its steering committee and the inclusion of an international Co-Investigator) but will also reach out to potential partners and projects on a global scale including the Eastern Mediterranean, Middle East, Africa, India, Asia, Pacific and American regions.

The benefits and challenges of digital approaches to understanding our maritime cultures through nautical archaeology are applicable globally and indeed can transcend problems of technical terminologies of spoken/written language through an international graphical language. These benefits also extent beyond / cross disciplinary boundaries bringing potential authenticity to 3D reconstructions and computer visualizations in museums and the creative industries, making our research visible to an enthusiastic international audience. In developing and sustaining this network, we will combine web-based communication platforms for regular international seminars with annual workshops where participants can experiment with, and test recently developed 3D hardware and software. Early-stage researchers will be encouraged to participate through provision of travel and subsistence bursaries.

This work is supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council [grant number AH/X010538/1].