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Archiving Archaeology

2003 All images © Crown Copyright

...to help monitor wrecks for the future 
 
Wessex Archaeology has recently commenced a project for English Heritage to archive the Archaeological Diving Unit’s collection created from 1986 to 2003 while investigating wrecks in British waters.
 
In 1986, the Archaeological Diving Unit (ADU) at the University of St Andrews, Scotland was awarded the government contract to investigate shipwrecks in need of legal protection within the 12-nautical mile limit of the United Kingdom coastline. For the next 17 years the dive team monitored changes, caused by both human and environmental influences, to wrecks designated under the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973 and surveyed undesignated wrecks to determine if they needed legal protection. During this process, a large archive of paper documents, video and cassette tapes, slides and photographs was created relating to the archaeological investigation of British shipwrecks.
 
When the contract was transferred to Wessex Archaeology in 2003, the ADU collection was divided up and appropriate sections of the archive were lodged with the relevant heritage agencies in England and other Home Countries for safe keeping. Recently, funding has been made available to catalogue the English component of this archive and make it more accessible to researchers. The plans, photographs and reports in this archive provide significant baseline information on the condition of wrecks investigated during the 1980s to early 2000s and can track any degradation due to human or environmental factors in recent times. The archive also provides a social history insight into the early development of marine archaeology in this country including the development and implementation of the Protection of Wrecks Act and the changing relationships between the government, archaeologists, recreational divers and other sea users.
 
Cataloguing of the 5373 items has started, with information about each archive item being added to the English Heritage archive database AMIE. Conversion into digital format of over three hundred video tapes of underwater investigations will be undertaken next. Once completed in 2015, the ADU archive will be available to researchers through English Heritage’s online catalogue with viewing of the archive items at their Engine House facility in Swindon.
 
By Peta Knott
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