Scottish Maritime Museum shares 3D scans of historic vessels

The Scottish Maritime Museum has joined with 28 museums and cultural organisations across the world, including the famed Smithsonian Institution, to give the public free and uncopyrighted access to enjoy, download and re-imagine 3D scans of some of the world’s most incredible historic artefacts, fossils and works of art.

Through the open access initiative on Sketchfab (, people can download, manipulate and use 1,700 3D scans commercially or non-commercially for free and without seeking permission or giving credit.

These include SY Carola, the oldest seagoing steam yacht in the world (from the Scottish Maritime Museum); the Apollo 11 Columbia command module and Abraham Lincoln Life Mask (Smithsonian Institution); a Tyrannosaurus Rex skull (Digital Atlas of Ancient Life) and a fourth century B.C. sculpture (Minneapolis Institute of Art).

The Scottish Maritime Museum, which is based in Irvine, Ayrshire, has shared 3D models and 360° virtual tours of almost 50 of Scotland’s most important historic vessels, maritime artefacts and shipbuilding tools.

The museum began creating the 3D scans last year through Scanning the Horizon, a museum project to help preserve and increase public access to Scotland’s national maritime heritage collection.

The first 3D scans captured include MV Spartan, the only surviving Scottish-built ‘puffer’; the 1898 built SY Carola; and the 1898 RNLB Jane Anne, a rare surviving example of a double-ended, self-righting lifeboat which is of huge importance to the museum’s local community of Irvine.

The Scottish Maritime Museum’s scans also include a ‘Cat’s Head’ carving from the Cutty Sark; a steam hammer built by RG Ross & Sons for the 1907 opening of the Clyde Port Authority (Clyde Navigation Trust) repair workshops in Renfrew; and the stern of SS Rifle.

The complementary 360° tours of MV Spartan and SY Carola allow virtual visitors to ‘step on deck’, enjoy high-resolution panoramas and imagine what it would have been like to sail aboard.

“Digital advances like this help our curators preserve and monitor the objects in our care and enable us to engage audiences with our outstanding maritime heritage collection in fresh and dynamic new ways,” says David Mann, Director of the Scottish Maritime Museum. 

Marta Pilarska, 3D Digitisation Project Manager at the Scottish Maritime Museum, adds: “We’re really excited to make the vast majority of our 3D collections downloadable.

“Although the 3D models are under CC0 License, we would love to hear how they develop as they start to ‘live their own lives’. We’re asking all those who may be interested in playing with this data to tag us on social media (@scotmaritime) and use #ScanningTheHorizon so we can see their amazing projects.”

The Scottish Maritime Museum and Sketchfab have used the non-profit organisation Creative Commons License, which gives organisations across the world a free and easy way to grant copyright permissions for creative and academic works.

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