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Umba (Site 5005)

Sidescan sonar - Umba

This wreck is the remains of the Umba, an early 20th century merchant vessel that was torpedoed by a German submarine in 1918. The wreck is also commonly known as the "Gun Wreck" after a Russian 6 pounder gun was found mounted on the poop.
The site is located 5.5nm south of Hastings, just to the east of Hastings Shingle Bank. It is lying at a general depth of 22m C.D.
In 2002 the wreck was surveyed using sidescan sonar and magnetometer. The geophysics results confirmed that the vessel was built of either steel or iron, and although largely buried, its dimensions are 96m x 13m. Sidescan images show the wreck is lying on an even keel and standing about 4.5 metres high. The site was not dived during this year's fieldwork due to hazardous dive conditions.
In the summer of 2005, the site was surveyed using a ROV (remotely operated vehicle). Most of the original wooden decking still remains on the poop, showing how well preserved the wreck is. Examples of the ROV video footage together with underwater photos, a site plan and more information about the Umba (including its construction, vessel type, fittings and machinery) can all be viewed here.
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New Photo Gallery

As detailed in my previous post about our recent server problems, we had to disable our archaeology photo gallery earlier today. I have spent most of the day putting together a new version that would be independent of our "workhorse" content management systems, WordPress and Drupal. If we experience very heavy workloads then we can easily detach the gallery and move it to a different server, without having to move other parts of our infrastructure.

The new Wessex Archaeology photo galleryThe new Wessex Archaeology photo galleryThe new gallery, while more or less identical in terms of functionality to its predecessor, also gave me the opportunity to give it a new look. I have opted for a dark theme on a black background to bring the focus on to the photographs themselves. It is based upon the Satellite Flickr gallery script by Ted Forbes, and thanks to his excellent and clean templates, I was able to rapidly customise and style the gallery into our own theme.

The eagle-eyed amongst you will also note that the URL of the gallery has changed from to - a 301 redirect has been set up to let search engines know that it has moved, and to keep people's bookmarks working for the time being.

Feel free to leave any feedback about the new gallery here. Happy browsing!

Server problems

[Update] The photo gallery is now online again. Fingers crossed this version will last!

Visitors to our website over the past few days will have noticed that all of our websites were either very slow or even unreachable. Some of you may have seen an triumphant error message stating that there had been a database connection error. Well, our poor server has become rather overloaded - one of the consequences of being a popular desitination on the web for all things archaeological..!

A closer look at the load on our server pointed towards the scripts that run our photo gallery. Unfortunately, the database that the scripts connect to had become corrupted, and the tables had inflated to a rather large 2GB, and MySQL (the database engine that runs our websites) began to consume a lot of RAM (memory). In fact, all physical memory on the server was being used, as well as nearly 2GB of swap (virtual memory). This caused the whole server to essentially grind to a halt. For the server-literate folks out there, our server load average peaked at 9302%...

For the time being, I have had to temporarily close our photo gallery while I try and fix it. Since this is one of the most popular sections of our website, I am hoping to return to normal service as soon as I can. I will post here when normal service resumes.


Comments and CAPTCHAs

A blog isn't much of a blog unless it is possible to leave a comment, to enable conversation and debate. While we simply do not have the time to enable (and crucially, moderate) comments on all of our content, you can now leave a comment on all of our blog entries.

It has taken a little while to get comments set up on Drupal in a secure manner, and quite a few lessons were learned along the way. I don't want you all to have to set up an account just to leave a comment - I know I hate doing that myself. It should be simple and quick to leave a comment, and, hopefully, now it is. Click the "Add a new comment" link below to leave one.


While we all get junk (spam) email, those of us who run websites know that spammers don't just stop at email. Any website that accepts comments is also a target for comments containing links to unsavoury websites, dubious pharmaceutical deals etc. To check that you are a human genuinely wishing to leave a comment, as opposed to a computer program trying to leave rubbish, I have installed a CAPTCHA.


All you have to do is type the two words as you see them, as shown in the above image. If the words aren't clear enough, click the little 'cycle' button next to the box. This will hopefully load in a better image. Then, if you get the words correct, your comment will fly through the internet and into our comments inbox, where we'll check it's OK and publish it below the blog post.

The reCAPTCHA scheme also has a hidden agenda. Many of the world's libaries are digitising their collections of printed material. Optical character recognition (OCR) software "reads" the content and converts it into computer recognisable text (like a word processor document). The trouble is, computers aren't (yet) as good as humans at reading, and sometimes they get it wrong, or simply can't read a word at all. This could be because the ink has bled on contact with the paper, or because the type was pressed too hard, etc. The reCAPTCHA system takes the words that computers can't read, and passes them on to humans to decipher. So by leaving a comment you are helping to digitally preserve a book as part of a scheme set up by Carnegie Mellon University in the USA.

Read more about the reCAPTCHA scheme on Wikipedia.

Swash Channel Wreck

The Swash Channel wreck was discovered in 2004 during a geophysical survey by Wessex Archaeology in advance of dredging to deepen the approach to Poole Harbour. The wreck lies in approximately 6-9 metres of water with its long axis orientated north-east to south-west.
The site is part of the side of an unknown vessel, with frames, ceiling and outer planking, possible knees and a fragment of decking, together with other miscellaneous features. It appears that a substantial section of the top timbers, including circular ports and railings, survives in very good condition.

Swash Channel Designated Wreck 7Swash Channel Designated Wreck 5Swash Channel Designated Wreck 3

The site was designated as a protected historic wreck site in 2004. English Heritage now administers the wreck and Bournemouth University are actively investigating the site.

Wessex Archaeology's Diving Investigations

Following the site's discovery it was subject to an initial diving assessment on behalf of Poole Harbour Commissioners.
Swash Channel Designated Wreck 1Subsequently Wessex Archaeology was asked by English Heritage to investigate the wreck as part of our work under the Protection of Wrecks Act (1973) in 2005. The divers produced a photographic survey of the exposed site, prepared a georeferenced plan of the main exposed archaeological features, and made detailed measurements of the features on the site.
Swash Channel Designated Wreck 8Wessex Archaeology was then commissioned to carry out sandbagging of the areas of the wreck deemed under threat and to remove various vulnerable finds from the existing channel slope, in advance of dredging. An ambiguous dendrochronological date was obtained, following the sampling of two pieces of wood from within the ship's structure, which indicated that the timber had been felled in or after 1585 and that the tree grew in Germany or Holland.
From the study of the structure it is thought that the vessel may be longer than 40 metres in length, the large size of the guns supports this view. Pottery from the site implies a date later than 1630 while the limited number of guns suggests it may have been a merchant ship.
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Unknown wreck off Hastings (Site 5003)

Sidescan sonar - metal wreckIn August 2002, Wessex Archaeology carried out a sidescan sonar and magnetometer survey of this unnamed site, south of Hastings, East Sussex. The site was located using data obtained from the UKHO. There was no dive survey due to adverse weather conditions.
The wreck has a significant magnetic signature, suggesting it is constructed from a ferrous material. Sidescan data shows it to be 75m long and 15m wide, standing 4.8m proud of the seabed.
Two masts are evident protruding from the wreck, about 25m in length.
No further work has been carried out to identify the site.
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National Archaeology Week: Stonehenge Spectacular

National Archaeology Week 2008 is almost upon us and this year it comprises a whole nine days of events beginning on the 12th July.

This annual event is organised nationally by the Council for British Archaeology and aims to give everyone the opportunity to learn about the heritage that is all around us by becoming involved in archaeology. Come and join Wessex Archaeology as we celebrate National Archaeology Day at Salisbury Museum and explore our prehistoric past.

Entrance to the museum is free on the 12th July and there are a host of family friendly activities to get involved in.

You can watch displays of flint knapping and bronze casting; build ‘Stonehenge’ on the back lawn with Julian Richards or recreate the face of a Bronze Age person. Why not try your hand at metal detecting or visit Wessex Archaeology’s Time Travelling by Water stand to explore some submerged finds using diving equipment. In the lecture hall we will be exploring the methods archaeologists use to explore our past and inviting you to have a go at becoming an archaeologist yourself!

You can bring your mystery artefacts along to be examined by Wiltshire’s Finds Liaison Officer and see if you can guess what some of her mystery objects are. Whilst you’re visiting, why not view the museum’s displays including the newly opened Inspired by Stonehenge exhibition.

This event is brought to you by Salisbury Museum, Wessex Archaeology, The National Trust, Salisbury Cathedral and Wiltshire County Council’s Conservation Lab who have joined forces to create this Stonehenge Spectacular!

Entrance to the museum on National Archaeology Day is free and the museum is located opposite the cathedral cloisters, in the Cathedral Close. The museum will be open from 10am till 4pm and we look forward to seeing you on what promises to be a spectacular day.

For more information on National Archaeology Week and other activities that will be happening across the country this July, visit the CBA’s National Archaeology Week website.

Follow our news with Twitter

Wessex Archaeology on TwitterWessex Archaeology on TwitterTwitter, the social 'micro-blogging' service that allows users to post short, 140 character updates (or "tweets"), has been very popular amongst members of our IT department. It allows users to 'follow' each other to stay up to date with what they are up to. Updates from your friends can be delivered via the Twitter website, instant messaging, SMS, or via desktop software. It tends to be a very rapid form of communication, with most people seeing updates within minutes of them being published.

I have set up a Twitter account for Wessex Archaeology.  All of our blogs are configured to send a quick 'tweet' whenever new content is posted, so that followers of WA on Twitter can be alerted of new announcements within minutes.

For those who wish to learn more about Twitter, Wikipedia has an excellent article about the service, or of course, head over to Twitter and sign up for a free account to explore it for yourself.


Stone Age House Found

Excavation of a Neolithic House at HortonExcavation of a Neolithic House at Horton

This page was posted in 2008. For the latest information about work on this site please visit the Horton Project Pages.

Archaeologists have found the site of one of England’s oldest houses. The Stone Age house at Horton, close to Windsor Castle, is thought by experts to be well over 5,000 years old.

The single story house at Horton was rectangular, some 10 metres long by 5 metres wide. Dr Alistair Barclay of Wessex Archaeology said ‘this house is not big by today’s standards. But it was a dramatically different from the tents that people had been living in before.’

The walls of the house were probably made of split logs and the pitched roof would have been of reeds or grass. Two partition walls either side of a central passage divided the house into two. These walls could have supported an upper story or attic in parts of the house.

Reconstruction of the Neolithic house at Horton, by Will Foster and Tom GoskarReconstruction of the Neolithic house at Horton, by Will Foster and Tom Goskar

There would not have been a chimney. Smoke would have seeped out through the roof which was high enough to avoid catching fire from sparks flying from the fire.

Other finds of Neolithic date near to Horton include a burial site and a ritual processional way known as a cursus that stretched for 2.5 miles. Because of their size, these burial and ritual sites have been easier for archaeologists to find.

In contrast only about a dozen Neolithic or Stone Age houses are known from England and the Horton house is one of the most complete examples yet found. Pending radiocarbon dating, the house is thought to date to about the 37th century BC. Pieces of pottery and flint tools from the house and some nearby pits are consistent with this dating.

Aerial view of the Neolithic house during excavationAerial view of the Neolithic house during excavation

Dr Barclay added ‘we used to think of the Neolithic as the time when people started to farm. The evidence we now have, shows that hunting and gathering wild foods was still important. Crops were grown, but on a small scale. We can also see that cattle, pig and sheep were herded. It may be that in the river valleys, clearings for grazing came to be used for growing crops.’

Andy Spencer of CEMEX, who are paying for the dig, said ‘we have just installed a high-tech ready mix concrete plant and overhead there are planes taking off and landing at Heathrow. But what these Stone Age people built all that time ago using just stone tools and natural materials is really impressive. They were innovators too.’

Find out about our other discoveries at Horton.

Devon Coast (Site 5006)


Multibeam sonar image - Devon Coast This is the wreck of the Devon Coast, an early 20th century three-masted steamer that sank in 1908 after a collision with another steamer, Jeanie. Locally the site is known as the "Stone Boat" due to the cargo of cement it was transporting. However it has now been identified as the Devon Coast after a diver discovered a builders plate that was inscribed with 'Harkess and Sons Ltd No. 163'.
The wreck lies in 16m of water (CD) south of Cuckmere Haven in East Sussex. It consists of two separate sections; the full extents of which measure 80m x 18m. A large mound between the two sections is thought to be the remains of the cement cargo. A mast measuring 4.8m still protrudes vertically from the wreck.
In August and October 2002 Wessex Archaeology completed a sidescan sonar survey and two dive surveys in order to test the methodology of rapid survey and assessment, and obtain details about the Devon Coast's construction and appearance.
In June the following year, WA returned to the site and completed further surveys, including multibeam, sub-bottom profiler and magnetometer. The main aim was to confirm the identification of the vessel as that of the Devon Coast and to complete a reconstruction of the vessel, since no plans survive. The magnetometer results indicated the site is one large metal anomaly; presumably from the metal hull. The multibeam data provided much more evidence of the surviving structural elements of the vessel including the engine, boiler and frames. Diving fieldwork was carried out in August 2003 and comprised cleaning the site, removing anchor tackle, and identifying and recording the wreck remains.
Underwater photos can be viewed by clicking the red spots on the multibeam image here, together with a link to further information about the vessel's specifications.
Although the dive results showed there was no noticeable change of the condition of the wreck, this site is much more vulnerable to seabed processes due to its close proximity to the shoreline. It is also greatly affected by fishing trawlers - as evidenced by tackle and gear found entwined around the structural elements of the wreck during the diving surveys.
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