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Scottish Maritime Museum joins Smithsonian in global public access project

Marta Pilarska, 3D Digitisation Project Manager at the Scottish Maritime Museum, 3D scanning a ‘Cat’s Head’
Marta Pilarska, 3D Digitisation Project Manager at the Scottish Maritime Museum, 3D scanning a ‘Cat’s Head’

The Scottish Maritime Museum has joined 28 museums and cultural organisations around the world in giving the public free and uncopyrighted access to 3D scans of historical artefacts, fossils and works of art.

Through open access site Sketchfab, everyone from artists, filmmakers and teachers through to hobbyists and students can download and re-imagine 1,700 pieces from collections including the famed Smithsonian Institution.

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 on Sketchfab.

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

The Museum is one of the first of such size in Scotland to embark on a major 3D scanning project to digitalise a whole collection.

SY Carola

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.

The Scottish Maritime Museum is one of only two Sketchfab ‘launch collaborators’ in Scotland, alongside the University of Dundee Museum Collections, and three from the UK.

David Mann, Director of the Scottish Maritime Museum, said: “We are excited to officially launch our new and growing collection of 3D scans and virtual tours as part of the worldwide Sketchfab initiative and also on our own website as part of the Year of Coasts and Waters celebrations.

“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.

“As well as online, they also have great potential for enhancing the visitor experience within the Museum itself. We hope to build on Scanning the Horizon, for example, by enabling visitors to manipulate 3D models on a large touchscreen and digitally explore the inaccessible sections of our most important vessels.”

Marta Pilarska, 3D Digitisation Project Manager at the Scottish Maritime Museum, added: “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’.

“So, 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’s 3D models and virtual tours can be found online at and at