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Century-old shipwreck vanishes back into Mississippi River; researchers preserving history through 3D recreation

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BATON ROUGE - Months ago, the 19th-century shipwreck was a sight to see along the banks of the Mississippi in downtown Baton Rouge. Now, a 3D prototype designed by a Baton Rouge research and design company is the only way you can see it. 

"One day, she was no longer there," State Archaeologist Chip McGimsey said.

McGimsey watched as water levels gradually rose and swallowed up the ship, first spotted by a passerby in early October.

It's something that was the subject of weeks of research from the state's archeology department. Thanks to an engineering company here in Baton Rouge, they can preserve that history through technology. 

"The digital model will always be there for researchers and the general public," McGimsey says. 

Forte and Tablada, the company behind the model, was inspired to expand beyond its normal operations after first seeing reports on the Brookhill, which sank more than 100 years ago. They started with some ground-level work, and after teaming up with the state, they were able to capture weeks of research in a few short hours.

Taking pictures of the shipwreck was only the start of its plans. High-resolution images of the ship aided the creation of a 3D laser scan, that data, was then used to create a unique visual experience, allowing viewers to explore almost every inch of the Brookhill.

"Preserving that data in a way that you couldn't beforehand," McGimsey explained.

More than a special viewing experience, it's preserving pieces of the past that may not be the same once water levels drop again.

The work they've completed will let them explore findings while avoiding the drawbacks of archeological excavations.

"In the process, we sort of destroy what was there before, you know? Take the dirt out, take the artifacts away," McGimsey said. "These digital technologies, you can preserve a digital version of it still in the ground."

It's something Forte and Tablada and the state's archeology department hope to utilize again for future discoveries.

You can take a look at the shipwreck on Forte and Tablada's website, as well as the archaeology department's homepage. 


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