Assistant Professor Nigel Nayling

Increasingly heritage assets, such as museum objects, built heritage and archaeological discoveries are being captured using three-dimensional digital technologies, such as the University’s Newport Medieval Ship project which has generated the biggest single dataset ever submitted the Archaeological Data Service.  At the same time, museums, galleries and heritage sites have increasingly recognised that static and non-interactive displays present their information in un-engaging and often daunting ways. These fail to make the most of the opportunities afforded by our heritage to play a role in developing and sustaining communities, through generating a sense of involvement and ownership for example.

In place of this however a range of different media and technologies, from web sites,  interactive maps and touch-screens, are presenting new modes of address which allow digital materials to be presented in novel ways. These facilitate higher levels of interaction, understanding, engagement, learning and pleasure from visitors, and benefit the growth of the cultural and heritage industries for our future well-being.

The ShipShape project, a collaborative project between the University of Wales Trinity Saint David (UWTSD) and Newport Museums and Heritage Service (NMHS) funded by AHRC  has capitalised on the three-dimensional digital recording of the recovered timbers from the Newport mediaeval ship. The project has developed effective workflows for the delivery of digital solids of individual timbers for scale manufacture using rapid prototyping technologies. This has subsequently enabled  the assembly of a 1 to 10 scale model of the ship at the at  popular Newport Ship Centre.

The developing model has usefully made visible this aspect of post-excavation research for non-specialist audiences such as the Friends of the Newport Ship (FoNS), a community group which developed out of locally based campaigns to save the ship. This is important for the continued visibility of the ship, and the sustained public interest it has generated, forwhilst the original timbers undergo conservation treatments  they are not visible during open days at the Newport Ship Centre.

The ShipShape 3D Community project sought to build on the computer modelling undertaken so far by exploring the potential of such 3D digital datasets as research tools, and the basis for dissemination, particularly to non-specialist audiences. This allowed the visual nature of the data to transcend the problems inherent in technical terminology associated with shipbuilding and increase visitor engagement and understanding.

Through collaboration with a fellow AHRC funded research project (Suburban Birmingham, University of Birmingham), this project exploited newly developing multi-touch technologies particularly with regard to the usage of three-dimensional composite datasets. In this way composite digital models of the ship were constructed by staff from UWTSD and NMHS. Through collaboration with staff from the University of Birmingham's human computer interface (HCI) group, protocols for interaction with these composite models at 2.5D and 3-D levels by specialist and non-specialist user groups were developed, beta tested, assessed and reviewed.


Both ShipShape and the Suburban Birmingham projects have benefited from high levels of community engagement and this was be extended in through this  project by involving user groups in the evaluation stage. Friends of Newport Ship were the main focus here and were actively involved in trailing and evaluating the multi-touch interfaces as they are prototyped at the University of Birmingham.

  • Arts and Humanities Research Council

Nayling’s work continues to promote best practice in digital approaches in nautical archaeology, extending his contributions to changes in professional standards, guidelines and training. In this Nayling is a founding member of the Faro Rhino Archaeological User Group (FRAUG) which has been developing innovative digital approaches to archaeological ship documentation, analysis and dissemination. Training opportunities for members are aimed at developing their practice, and subsequent deployment of these methods have been seen at numerous ship projects in the museum sector including the Bremen Cog, the Barcode Project, Norway; Aber Wrac'h, France; and Roman Barges of the Rhine, Netherlands.

Nayling, N. and Jones, T. The Newport Medieval Ship Archive. Archaeological Data Service Archive arch-1563-1. doi: 10.5284/1020898

Nayling, N. and Jones, T. 2013 The Newport Medieval Ship, Wales, United Kingdom, International Journal of Nautical Archaeology.

Nayling, N. and Susperregi, J., 2013 Iberian Dendrochronology and the Newport Medieval Ship, International Journal of Nautical Archaeology

The main aims of the Newport Medieval Ship Project are to document, analyse and describe this 15th-century vessel, and its associated artefacts and environmental finds. This archive and publications comprises data gathered on site and during the post-excavation analysis phase. Digital documentation techniques, including contact digitising, laser scanning, digital photography and digital solid modelling have been utilised in order to create a detailed, accurate and versatile data set that lends itself to digital archiving and dissemination. The archive contains primary site records including scans of hand-drawings which have subsequently been digitised, scanned pro-forma records, and scans of pre-digital excavation photographs. During the post-excavation research phase, the hull timbers and artefacts were cleaned, recorded and analysed.

The resulting records (timber drawings, solid models, and digital photographs) were used to create digital and physical models of selected hull timbers. Scaled models were then created and used to determine the original hull form of the medieval ship. The innovative use of digital recording and modelling has been held up as an example of best practice for similar nautical archaeology documentation projects throughout Europe. The archive also contains an extensive series of specialist reports, classified by function/artefact group or material type. These reports contain detailed analysis and, where appropriate, a catalogue. Many of the above-mentioned records contain information that has been entered in the comprehensive project database.