Latest News


Archaeocast 10 now online

The latest edition of our archaeology podcast, Archaeocast, is now online.

Archaeocast 10 was recorded during the excavation of a Saxon cemetery in the Wiltshire village of Collingbourne Ducis, where over 70 graves including some rare cremations and spectacular grave goods were uncovered.

Listen to Archaeocast 10 over at our Events Blog, or subscribe to the Archaeocast RSS feed.

Archaeocast 10: A Saxon Cemetery at Collingbourne Ducis

Archaeocast visits the site of a Saxon cemetery as it is excavated in the village of Collingbourne Ducis, in Wiltshire UK.
Listen to Project Officer Kev Ritchie explain how archaeologists use machinery to help us strip off the topsoil and identify hard-to-spot graves. Sue Nelson explains what it is like to dig a skeleton, and Neil Fitzpatrick talks about Saxon cemeteries and what one might find inside a Saxon grave.
Periglacial stripes revealed by the machinery stripping the topsoil. The yellow paint marks the location of a possible grave.Periglacial stripes revealed by the machinery stripping the topsoil. The yellow paint marks the location of a possible grave.
This podcast really reflects what it is like to work as an archaeologist on a busy building site, and the recording contains louder sections where machinery is used nearby.

26:34 minutes (24.33 MB)

Discoveries dredged up from the Low Countries

The BMAPA/English Heritage Finds Protocol applies to aggregates dredged from UK waters and landed on the Continent. Following a number of useful reports, the ALSF Protocol Awareness Programme has been extended across the North Sea to Holland and Belgium.


The Stonehenge Landscape in 3D

We have recently finished creating a short animation for the exhibition “Making History: Antiquaries In Britain, 1707–2007” at the Royal Academy in London. The three minute video demonstrates “Stonehenge revealed through digital technologies”.

It incorporates a fly-through of the Stonehenge landscape in 3D, based upon Environment Agency LIDAR (airborne 3D scanning) data, high resolution panoramas, and a new animation of the prehistoric dagger and axe carvings on Stone 53 at Stonehenge itself, from data collected by Archaeoptics Ltd.

During production of the animation, we turned the LIDAR data into a solid 3D model of whole landscape surrounding Stonehenge. Aerial tours of the most famous sites and monument groups were animated in HD (720p) resolution. What is exciting is that much of the upstanding archaeology, from well-preserved barrows to the subtle earthworks of prehistoric field systems, are clearly visible.

To do this, we had to work out how to use the data at 1:1 for our animations (for this kind of task it is often necessary to reduce the complexity of the data by half or quarter (1:2 or 1:4) due to enormous memory and processing requirements). This we achieved, and using lighting techniques we have been able to show the archaeology of the Stonehenge World Heritage Site as it has never been seen before.

An often asked question about the animation is about why the landscape is a neutral colour rather than a photorealistic texture. This is because we need to see the underlying form of the ground and natural colour can detract from what we are interested in seeing: the subtle features where people once 'worked' the ground into burial mounds, pathways, fields, etc. It is because many archaeological features are hard to see on the ground in normal daylight that we do the reverse (unusual lighting positions on a non-naturalistic textured landscape) to see the shadows and highlights of the earthworks themselves.

This video focusses on the LIDAR data of the Stonehenge World Heritage site, including all footage as shown in the Royal Academy plus some of the footage that didn’t make the final cut. The version below is low resolution; to watch the footage in HD, head over to Vimeo.

Read more about Wessex Archaeology's work in and around the Stonehenge World Heritage Site, and view a zoomable version of the LiDAR. Find out more about the Stonehenge WHS LiDAR dataset on the English Heritage website.

A Virtual Stonehenge Landscape from Wessex Archaeology on Vimeo.

The ss Great Britain

Brunel’s ss Great BritainBrunel’s ss Great BritainWhen she was launched in 1843 the ss Great Britain was the largest ship in the world and the first screw-propelled, ocean-going, wrought iron ship.

Designed by the famous engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the ss Great Britain was built for the luxury passenger trade between Britain and America. She could carry 252 first and second class passengers and 130 crew. Her first career lasted for 94 years. In this time she sailed round the world many times; and in many roles.

Her career as a transatlantic liner was cut short by accident. After this she was converted to a clipper taking emigrants to Australia, before serving as a troop ship in both the Crimean War and the Indian Mutiny. She then became a cargo ship and, finally, a coal store in the Falkland Islands where she was scuttled in 1937.

In 1970 she was made seaworthy and towed back to Bristol where she was painstakingly conserved and transformed into the centre piece of a museum. Today the ss Great Britain is seen an icon of innovation in the heyday of the British Empire

The Great Western steam factory

The home of the ss Great Britain today is where she was built between 1839 and 1843; the Great Western Dockyard. Excavations ahead of the creation of the new Brunel Institute Conservation and Learning Centre provide an opportunity to discover about the world’s first purpose-built integrated iron steamship works.

The Great Western Steamship Company bought the site in 1839 and built the dry dock and the large Steamship Engine Works. The excavations are on the site of the Engine Works.

While the revolutionary iron hull of the ss Great Britain was taking shape in the dry dock, her enormous engine and transmission gear were made in the Engine Works. Nothing as large or powerful had been built before and the machinery in this building represented cutting edge technology.

Brunel had wanted to contract out the building of the engine, but the directors of the Great Western Steamship Company overruled him, stressing the advantages of fitting the boilers and machinery on the ship before floating her out of the dry dock. They intended to make money refitting and repairing other ships after the ss Great Britain was launched.

The Steam Factory was built on a monumental scale to accommodate the massive machinery required to construct the ship’s massive engine, propeller and transmission. It was an impressive building and in February 1840, the Mechanics Magazine referred to the “most excellent erecting shops fitted up for the engines with foundry, cranes and other conveniences”.

The archaeology of construction

Although we have information about some of the machinery installed in the Engine Works, we know little about how it was set up. Heavy plant was located on the ground floor, as was the smithy and foundry.

Pattern making and light turning operations could be carried out on the upper floors. The investigations will tell us more about what took place on the ground floor of the factory.

The two stacks visible in the photograph probably indicate the locations of the smithery, foundry and boilersThe two stacks visible in the photograph probably indicate the locations of the smithery, foundry and boilers

The Great Western Steamship Company was officially wound up in 1852 and the factory was sold to the Great Western Tannery. Tanning, the turning of animal hides into leather is a long and complex process which involves many stages. It involves soaking animal hides in pits that contain different liquids for several weeks. At the Great Western tannery, large vats were built on the ground floor of the Engine Works and a new, raised, floor was built around the top of the vats, tuning them into pits.

The building was extensively damaged in the air raids of winter 1940/41The building was extensively damaged in the air raids of winter 1940/41

Later the site was used as a timber yard, a granary, and then a warehouse during the Second World War the building was badly damaged in an air raid by the Luftwaffe in 1941. It carried the scars from this until most of it was demolished down to the level of the floor of the tanner. Below this, though, the tannery pits survive and they rest on the floor of the Engine Works. A few of the original walls also survive and they will incorporated into the new Brunel Centre.

Link: Visit the official website of the ss Great Britain

Making a Splash

Welcome to Splash, Wessex Archaeology's new portal for its coastal and marine web pages. photo-02-08-2005-15-53-11_41.jpg

HMS Drake, Rathlin Island

HMS Drake was built at HM Dockyard at Pembroke, between 1899 and 1902. HMS Drake was a Drake Class armoured cruiser, based on the Cressy Class cruisers. Cruisers were a class of warship developed in the 19th century designed for scouting, commerce warfare and showing the flag, roles previously taken by frigates, corvettes and sloops. Although cruisers could be powerful ships (HMS Drake was a 14,000 ton vessel capable of 21-23 knots) cruisers were not intended for duty in the battlefleet.

Marker buoy over HMS Drake site

The construction of HMS Drake did not run entirely smoothly. Captain John Jellicoe commanded the ship while it was fitted out, and letters from him to the Captain Superintendent of the dockyard describe his concerns about doors not closing below decks and numerous leaks. In one passage Jellicoe mentioned how his description of the problems with the ship to the Commander in Chief made "... his hair stand on end".
HMS Drake was finally completed in 1902, and following trials and home duties it was finally commissioned by the King at Portsmouth in March 1905. It then travelled to various destinations in the Mediterranean and elsewhere for ceremonial duties, receiving the Kings and Queens of Spain, Portugal and Greece, and it also hosted a ball by Prince Louis in New York.
HMS Drake was variously the Flagship of the 2nd Cruiser Squadron of the Atlantic Fleet, then the Flagship of the 1st Cruiser Squadron, before being transferred to the 5th Cruiser Squadron, Home Fleet. By 1913 HMS Drake was nearly a decade old, which during this period of rapid naval development made her as good as obselete, and so the cruiser was reduced and placed on the reserve list.
The outbreak of World War One however, put so much pressure on the Royal Navy for capital vessels that HMS Drake was recommissioned in 1914, just in time for test mobilisation and the Fleet Review. HMS Drake was given escort duties and its first escort run was taking the Olympic, sister ship of the Titanic into Liverpool after the Olympic had travelled from New York.
HMS Drake joined the 6th Cruiser Squadron of the Grand Fleet in 1915, and was refitted in October. from 1916 the ship continued its escort duties but it still required another refit. A major design flaw of the Drake Class cruisers were their 6-inch lower casement guns. The guns were so low on the side of the vessels that they could only be fired in the calmest sea conditions. The 1916 refit removed the lower 6-inch guns, and replaced them with four 6-inch guns in shields on the shelter deck, port and starboard.
On October 2nd 1917 HMS Drake had just finished escort duties for convoy HH24 from America, near Rathlin Island off the north coast of Ireland. The convoy dispersed at 08.03 am , but just over an hour later HMS Drake was torpedoed under the second funnel by U-79 under the command of Lieutenant Commander Otto Rohrbeck. The U boat was on patrol in the area and had laid a string of 11 mines between Rathlin Island and the mainland only a few days before.
HMS Drake's Captain, Captain Radcliffe, reported that the torpedo hit the ship by the number two boiler room on the starboard side. The boiler room was instantly flooded, killing everyone there except one man who was blown onto the upper deck and landed there unhurt, and another who climbed up through the stokehold hatch. The crew man who was fortunate to be blown unhurt from the boiler room, immediately reported for duty in the number three boiler room where he remained until the ship was abandoned.
From surviving naval records, details of the last hours of the cruiser can be pieced together. We know Captain Radcliffe initially thought he might be able to take the stricken vessel into Belfast where the ship could be repaired at the Harland and Wolff Shipyards, but after a discussion with his engineer, he realised that this was impossible, so he decided instead to make for the nearest anchorage at Church Bay, Rathlin Island.
HMS Drake had lost the use of its steam steering gear in the attack and had to try to steer using only propellers, until this could be repaired. With such limited manoeuvrability however, HMS Drake collided with the cargo ship Mendip Range at 10.37 am. HMS Drake it seems did not receive much damage from the collision, but the Mendip Range was forced to beach at Ballycastle Bay on the mainland.
HMS Drake and the Mendip Range were not the only casualties of the day, at 11.30 am HMS Brisk, one of the escorting destroyers of the convoy was either torpedoed by U-79, or more likely struck one of the U boat's recently laid mines. Another ship from the convoy, the Lugano, also sank at around this time, probably after hitting another mine.
HMS Drake managed to anchor in Church Bay by 11.46am. Most of the men on board were taken off by launched from the destroyers and sloops that were laying a submarine screen around the ship. Captain Radcliffe now hoped to keep the ship afloat until salvage vessels could arrive, but the list of the ship continued to increase. At this point HMS Martin and HMS Delphinium then came alongside to remove the remaining crew. Captain Radcliffe wrote of HMS Drake's final hours that 'Nobody but the dead remained on board the Drake when I left her for HMS Delphinium, the mess decks, boiler rooms, Engine room had all been searched and reported clear. Ship was abandoned at 2.05 pm."
Captain Radcliffe ordered HMS Delphinium to anchor close to HMS Drake, so he could go back aboard when the salvage vessels arrived, but the ship continued to list and finally capsized at 2.35 pm with part of its port side out of the water.
Salvage of the wreck began in the 1920s and continued sporadically over the years. In 1962 a Fleetwood steam trawler the Ella Hewett, en route for the cod fishing grounds off Iceland collided with the remains of HMS Drake and sank on top of it. Then in the 1970s divers from the Scottish and Northern Ireland Bomb and Mine Disposal Team started clearance operations on HMS Drake. When the clearance operation was completed, both the remains of HMS Drake and the Ella Hewett were ringed with depth charges. These were exploded with the intention of blowing down the upstanding parts of both wrecks, to reduce the possibility of more vessels running aground on them. By 1978 fuel oil was leaking out of the vessels causing pollution problems in Church Bay, so another salvage operation was made to remove the remaining fuel oil from the wrecks.
HMS Drake is now one of the most popular dive sites in Northern Ireland, thanks to its relatively shallow depth of less than 20 metres and the good visibility in the waters of Church Bay.

Wessex Archaeology's Diving Investigations

In 2006 Wessex Archaeology was asked to carry out an undesignated site assessment of HMS Drake for the Environment and Heritage Service of Northern Ireland. The undesignated survey was intended to examine the condition of the wreck, assess if it was under threats in any way and see whether the wreck was a good candidate for protection under the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973.
Before diving fieldwork in the summer of 2006, Wessex Archaeology staff sought out records relating to the loss of HMS Drake and found detailed records of the court martial that followed the loss of the ship in the Public Records Office at Kew and letters and documents relating to its construction at the at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich. The examination of the records raised an important question about the wreck. Captain Radcliffe's report on the sinking makes it clear that 18 men died in the torpedo attack and were left on the ship when he abandoned it, but dive guides to the wreck say that the bodies were removed although none give any reference to when this occurred. To date Wessex Archaeology has not found any record of the bodies being removed. The final resting place of the 18 crew is still unclear.
Wessex Archaeology divers visited the wreck in July and August 2006. Despite the obvious damage done to HMS Drake by the torpedo attack and the blasting of the ship with depth charges in the 1970s, the wreck is still in a reasonable condition and our divers were able to identify many different features on the wreck.
The distinctive ram bow of HMS Drake is still visible, although the hull plating has come off it in places, and attached to the bow is a paravane skeg, an attachment fitted to many ships to allow them to drag mine sweeping wires from their bows. Just south of the surviving bow structure, the divers found the remains of the Ella Hewett, heavily broken up, but still lying on HMS Drake on the north east part of the site. Paravane skeg onthe bow of HMS Drake
Divers also recorded part of a propeller shaft showing signs that the propeller had been blasted off, probably during salvage on the ship. Some remarkable features were found towards the stern of the ship, including the rudder and part of the steering gear, and at the stern a central hawse hole was found along with a large section of the gallery on the stern of the ship. Wessex Archaeology divers also made searches of the seabed around the main wreck to see what kind of material lay away from the main wreck site, and during one of these dives found a large Martin type anchor from HMS Drake.

The stern of HMS Drake

Wessex Archaeology's assessment of the wreck showed that while HMS Drake is extensively damaged, some parts of the vessel are remarkably intact and recognisable. HMS Drake is clearly an important ship as it represents a period of rapid naval development when vessels often became obsolete very quickly as new designs and advances were made. No cruisers of this period are afloat today, all were either lost in action or scrapped. The HMS Drake is the only vessel of its class easily visited by divers.
While investigating the wreck our divers discerned few obvious threats to the wreck apart from the occasional pilfering of material by irresponsible divers. In some cases this has included ordnance not already salvaged from the site. Due to the absence of major threats to the wreck and its clear popularity among divers, the wreck has not been designated, but instead it is hoped it can be managed with the help of the diving community so that any changes to it are noted and people are made aware of the dangers of the remaining munitions on the site.
A full copy of Wessex Archaeology's investigation of HMS Drake can be downloaded as a PDF: HMS Drake, Undesignated Site Assessment, Full Report
[Update July 2011] A book about HMS Drake is now available.
Javascript is required to view this map.

Mingary Castle, Sound of Mull

In 1999 Phil Richards was diving near Mingary Castle off Ardnamurchan at the Northern end of the Sound of Mull. Through thick kelp he spotted four guns lying end to end and a number of small artefacts lying scattered on the seabed.

Cannon on the Mingary Castle site

Among other finds he found a fifth gun lying to the north west of the other guns, a stoneware Bellarmine jug, a copper kettle and a possible lead vent apron with what appeared to be the date 1638 inscribed on it. Unfortunately, once it was discovered, there was an immediate threat to the site from possible looting.
As the evidence seemed to point to a 17th century wreck, of possible historical, archaeological or artistical importance. As a result any artefacts still undiscovered at the site could prove invaluable to identifying the site. As a result the Mingary Castle site was designated under the Protection of Wrecks Act (1973) in 2000.
The site was featured in the Channel Four series 'Wreck detectives'. Research carried out for the programme suggested that the site is the remains of a Dutch ship that was lost near the Castle in 1644, based on an account of the event written in the diary of John Weir, a puritan who was being held in the castle at the time.

Wessex Archaeology's Investigations

Historic Scotland requested Wessex Archaeology visit the site to record and position any exposed remains using simple tracked diver and metal detector surveys. We were also asked to find the full extent of the site and to carry out a topographic survey. To inform the ongoing management of the site, we offered an assessment as to whether a Visitor Scheme would be appropriate and whether a nearby fish farm was having any visible effect on the site environment.


Wessex Archaeology divers noted a number of small finds from the area such as pieces of lead sheeting and brick which strengthen the hypothesis that this is a ship wreck site, rather than an area where a ship may have jettisoned its guns.
The local igneous rock produced several of natural metal detector hits, making it difficult to locate metal artefacts using this method. However, the distinct seabed types identified and the plant life resident on this site are indicative of a relatively dynamic seabed environment and few artefacts remain which are visible on the seabed surface. However, some wood has been found beneath the guns or within pockets of sediment and other artefacts may remain buried in places.
You can download the full report of Wessex Archaeology's investigations as a PDF: Mingary Castle, Designated Site Assessment, Full Report

Map showing the location of the protected wreck at Mingary Castle

Javascript is required to view this map.

HMS Campania, Firth of Forth

Few ships can lay claim to a career as eventful as that of HMS Campania. The ship began life as one of Cunard's first great liners. Constructed by Fairfields at Govan, and launched in September 1892, at nearly 200m long and displacing 18,000 tons the Campania was an enormous ship by the standards of the time. Campania was the first Cunard ship to completely dispense with sail and have twin propeller shafts.
In 1893, after an impressive maiden voyage from Liverpool to New York, the Campania broke the record for the passage from New York to Queenstown (now Cobh in the Republic of Ireland), making the journey in 5 days 17 hours and 27 minutes. Later that year it took the Liverpool to New York record. Intense rivalry meant these records did not stand for long and the Campania's sister ship Lucania took the record for itself not long after.
After little more than a decade of Atlantic crossings the Campania was due to be scrapped, but the First World War (1914-1918) saw the ship brought back into service to replace the more modern Aquitania, which had been requisitioned by the Admiralty. After three more return crossings, the Campania was sold to a breaker's yard in 1914, its working life seemingly at an end.
However, the pressures of the war led the Admiralty to buy the ship, and they converted the liner into a seaplane carrier and armed merchant cruiser. After a conversion at Cammell Laird's in Birkenhead, HMS Campania was commissioned in February 1915.
The first of the Royal Navy's large carriers, the original passenger accommodation was converted into a huge hold to carry 14 folded-wing seaplanes. The planes were hoisted out of the hold using cranes, their wings unfolded and they were then placed in the sea.
Shortcomings were noted with the ship after manouevres in Scapa Flow, and it was returned to Cammell Lairds where it had a forward flightdeck fitted. The flightdeck allowed the Campania to launch an aircraft directly from the ship into a headwind. In May 1915, back in Scapa Flow, the Campania successfully launched a Sopwith Schneider seaplane from its deck into a force 4 wind. This was the first time this had been done, and the event heralded the advent of the modern aircraft carrier.
After further trials the ship underwent a third refit to lengthen the flight deck. The forward funnel was replaced with two smaller funnels and its after-deck was was cleared to carry an observation balloon. The ship was now ready to join the war.
The Campania sailed with the Grand fleet for Jutland, where it was intended to provide spotting aircraft for the Fleet. However, the ships age now began to tell and it was unable to keep up with the 27 knot speed of the Fleet, HMS Campania was ordered to turn about, and so missed possible destruction at the Battle of Jutland.
The Campania was mostly stationed in Scapa Flow for the remainder of the war, but only six days before the armistice it was anchored off Burntisland with several other warships in the Firth of Forth. A gale struck the anchored ships early on the 5th November, and one of Campania's anchor chains broke. The ship began to drag along the Firth out of control and it struck some of the other vessels anchored nearby. The bow of HMS Revenge pierced the port side of the Campania and slowly it began to settle by the stern.
All of the crew were able to abandon ship, but at 08:35 am one of the ship's boilers exploded and Campania sank. The ship's masts were visible for the next five years, until the Admiralty decided the ship presented too great a navigational hazard. A salvage company placed charges on the wreck of the ship and it was blasted to a safe clearance depth.
For a long time after the wreck was cleared, it was thought the Campania lay broken in two on the seabed, but a survey of the wreck in 1999 showed the wreck has remained in one piece and survives as a large upstanding structure.
HMS Campania was designated as a protected wreck under the Protection of Wrecks Act (1973) in 2000.

Wessex Archaeology Investigations

In 2004 Historic Scotland asked Wessex Archaeology to undertake a new geophysical survey of the Campania. Wessex Archaeology geophysicist Paul Baggaley, working with a team from St Andrew's University, surveyed the wreck with sidescan sonar equipment to produce a single properly positioned image of the wreck and any material from it that lay on the seabed around it.
The team also used sub-bottom profiling survey equipment on the wreck site to see what the seabed around the wreck was like.

Sidescan image of HMS Campania

The sidescan survey showed that despite the clearance of the wreck to make it safe for navigation, the wreck has survived in a good condition. The images obtained from the survey showed that some of the upstanding features removed from the wreck during clearance like the main mast now lie at an angle from the deck to the seabed. The experimental and distinctive lobe shaped forward flight deck still survives on the vessel and parts of the ships cranes are still in place.
You can download the full report of Wessex Archaeology’s investigations as a PDF: HMS Campania, Designated Site Assessment, Full Report.

Map showing the location of the protected wreck HMS Campania

Javascript is required to view this map.

Iona II, Lundy

The Iona II was lost in 1864 on its way to America where it was to embark on its new occupation as a Confederate blockade-runner during the American Civil War (1861-1865).
The Iona II started life as a fast ferry paddle steamer for the Clyde. When it was built in 1863 it was fitted with a specially designed twin cylinder oscillating engine that was reputed to have given it a top speed of 24 knots.
The ship was bought by Charles Hopkins Boster of Richmond, Virginia, but on its way to cross the Atlantic it sank east of Lundy on the 2nd February 1864. Following its loss the wreck was reported to have been heavily salvaged, although it is still unknown what the salvors were looking for and what they may have recovered.
The Iona II was discovered in 1976 by John Shaw, a local dive operator, who had been looking for another wreck, MV Robert, which lies nearby. Shaw undertook some small-scale excavation at the site.
The wreck site sits upright on the seabed, and it is thought that a large amount of the hull may survive buried in the seabed. The bow and stern sections of the vessel now lie mostly flush with the seabed although the boilers and paddle wheel crankshaft amidships stand approximately 1.5m above the seabed.

The Iona II’s boilers

The site was investigated by the Archaeological Diving Unit in 1989, and the site was subsequently designated under the Protection of Wrecks Act (1973) in 1990, the wreck also lies within the Lundy Marine Nature Reserve.
A number of individuals hold visitor licences for Iona II.

Wessex Archaeology's Diving Investigations

In 2004 English Heritage commissioned Wessex Archaeology carry out a designated site assessment of the Iona II as part of our contract for archaeological services in relation to the Protection of Wrecks Act (1973). Our divers measured the wreck and its key features in detail and made a photographic survey of the wreck that can now be used to monitor the condition of the wreck for the future.
Wessex Archaeology divers also identified a number of key areas around the wreck site that can be used to monitor sediments around the wreck and the structure of the wreck itself. Together with information gathered by other divers who have permission to dive the wreck, any deterioration of the wreck can be identified.

Crankshaft to drive paddle wheels, Iona II

During our work Wessex Archaeology found that parts of the Iona II lay outside the area afforded statutory protection. Our observations of the Iona II were used to alter the restricted area to ensure the whole of the wreck lies within the protected zone.
You can download the full report of Wessex Archaeology's Investigations as a PDF: Iona II, Designated Site Assessment, Full Report.
Map showing the protected wreck Iona II's location
Javascript is required to view this map.
Syndicate content