The recovery operation of the Dornier 17 bomber, the last of its type, has been prominently featured on national television. Graham Scott of Wessex Archaeology’s Coastal & Marine team tells us about Wessex Archaeology’s involvement with this world class aviation archaeology discovery:
"It was reported to us by a local diver. We took up the reins and, after considerable time and effort spent promoting the site, a highly successful geophysical survey commissioned by English Heritage led to the brave decision by the Royal Air Force Museum to try to save it. Subsequently we were involved in the initial stages of the recovery project, carrying out a diver survey of the site for the museum.
I look forward to renewing my acquaintance with the aircraft when it goes on display at Hendon."
For the latest news from the RAF Museum blog click here.
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The latest edition of the Scottish Diver Magazine includes an article on Project SAMPHIRE, a Coastal & Marine archaeology project for the west coast of Scotland. The project brings together local communities, divers and professional underwater archaeologists to support the identification, investigation and understanding of Scotland’s marine heritage.
Paul Baggaley has just returned from Bremerhaven, Germany, where he spent the week giving a practical course in marine geophysics to staff of the National Maritime Museum of Germany and students from the MA in Maritime Archaeology course from the University of Southern Denmark.
The course used equipment owned by the German National Shipping Museum to demonstrate the application of sidescan sonar and magnetometer surveys to investigating wreck sites. Following a couple of days fieldwork, the course was completed by a day of lectures and practical sessions discussing the interpretation and processing of geophysical data.
Following a well-received presentation on “The role of archaeology for Offshore Developments” at the Society of Underwater Technology conference in 2012, Paul Baggaley (Head of Geoservices) has been invited by the Offshore Engineering Society to give a lecture on May 1st 2013.
Paul will be presenting a longer overview on the work which Wessex Archaeology has undertaken for the Offshore Windfarm sector over the last ten years. By working on a wide range of over 100 offshore development projects, Wessex Archaeology has had a unique opportunity to interpret data and identify sites which would have otherwise remained inaccessible.
For more about this event please visit the OES website.
New work on the wreck of the SS Mendi, one of the most famous shipwrecks of the First World War, moved a step closer when the South African Government announced its intent to make the ship a flagship project in their war graves policy.
The Mendi and over 650 men, mainly members of the South African Native Labour Corps were lost in 1917 after a collision off the Isle of Wight, England. Infamously, none of the black servicemen on the Mendi or any other volunteers in the Labour Corps received a British War Medal or a ribbon after the war while their white officers did.
Wessex Archaeology undertook the first ever detailed study of the SS Mendi in 2007 when English Heritage funded a desk-based project. A year later a preliminary geophysical survey was supported by the South African Heritage Resources Agency, the UK Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Marine Environment Protection Fund, and English Heritage.
As a result of this work the wreck was given official UK recognition when it was designated by the UK Ministry of Defence under the Protection of Military Remains Act. Despite this status no funds have been available for further work.
Speaking in May in the South African Parliament Thabang Makwetla, the Deputy Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, spoke of the ‘real opportunity to retrieve the full story and gain access to the legendary maritime tragedy of the sinking of the troopship the SS Mendi just five years before we mark the centenary of this occurrence’ in 2017.
In recent months Wessex Archaeology has helped Dr Mothobi Muloaste, the South African playwright, author and publisher, and the British researchers Nick Ward and Jim and Rachel Stapleton in their joint research on the Mendi. This has including a briefing on UK heritage legislations during a visit to Salisbury. Sue Davies OBE, the Chief Executive of Wessex Archaeology said ‘this is a special but tragic story that brings together two nations. At Wessex Archaeology we stan
d ready to work with the South African Government and its people in their quest to give the men of the Mendi the recognition they deserve.’
Last Friday Gemma Ingason and Katie Card joined pupils at Baden Powell and St Peter’s Middle School to each deliver five one-hour workshops on the Tudors for Year 5 and World War Two for Year 6.
The sessions began by introducing how maritime archaeologists find out about the past by using different methods such as diving, research and geophysical survey.
Year 5 became detectives identifying artefacts from a mystery box and trying to work out who their owner was. Children examined coins, medieval pottery, wooden pulley, nit combs and a potato. They discovered the owner was a Tudor sailor. Students discussed what life would have been like on board a Tudor ship.
Meanwhile in Year 6, the children identified fragments recovered from the seabed and tried to work out what they came from. They were excited to discover that the artefacts belonged to a German aeroplane called a Junkers JU 88.
One lucky pupil from each class donned an authentic aviator’s suit. The class discussed the different parts of the uniform, including a scarf map, knife tied to the suit with a string and woolly gloves.
The children were brilliant and very much enjoyed learning about their maritime past.
WA Coastal & Marine team participate in underwater excavation of Neolithic settlement in Eastern Mediterranean
In September two WA Coastal & Marine staff set off for Israel to participate in a seven day course of underwater excavation and training. Dr Jonathan Benjamin and John McCarthy of our Edinburgh office joined a team of eight marine archaeologists with representatives from Ireland, the UK, Norway, Denmark, Bulgaria, Germany and Canada. The training excavation was organised by SPLASHCOS, a European network. The programme was also supported by assistance from the Israel Antiquities Authority, the Leon Recanati Institute for Maritime Studies and the Zinman Institute of Archaeology at the University of Haifa, the Israel Prehistoric Society and the Ecoocean Society. The excavation was led by Dr. Ehud Galili, one of Israel's most respected archaeologists, who first discovered the village.
The full schedule consisted of excavation and recording at the submerged Neolithic village at Atlit Yam combined with a series of lectures and field trips to museums and archaeological sites. Atlit Yam is one of the world's most important submerged prehistoric sites; a world class archaeological site, above or below the sea. The remains consist of the foundations of an extensive village dating to around 9,000 years ago that contain structures, burials, wells and a megalithic monument, all at a depth of around 10 metres below the sea. A published presentation of the site can be found in chapter 22 of Benjamin, J. (ed.) 2011 Submerged Prehistory, Oxbow Books.
Dr Stephanie Arnott and Genevieve Shaw recently returned from conducting geophysical surveys of several wrecks around Shetland, as part of a project for Historic Scotland. Steph tells us about their trip:
“Gen and I travelled to Shetland in late September to survey several wrecks. Our brief was to survey a number of shipwrecks, covering sites from a variety of ages and types. The wrecks ranged from unidentified vessels with a rough location to well-known wrecks that have frequently been dived. Some were situated in deep water whilst others were located close to the shore in shallow waters.
We surveyed eight wrecks in total, seven on the eastern side of Shetland and one just off the Out Skerries.
Collecting the data on the boat could be a challenge, particularly when we surveyed wrecks close to the coastline. For example we surveyed the Wrangels Palais, a sailing ship which ran aground in dense fog in 1687 on the Out Skerries. Its proximity to the cliffs meant that even though the sea was not rough there were still large waves breaking on the rocky cliffs alongside us.
Inside the heart of Lerwick Harbour we surveyed two World War Two wrecks with a tragic story. In 1943, the decks of these two torpedo boats were loaded with extra fuel for a rescue mission to Norway. Somehow, a gun accidentally fired, setting light to the fuel on one of the ships, and destroying both. Sadly, eight crewmembers were lost in the blaze. Today, the engines of one remain above the seabed and there are numerous smaller items at both sites.
Gen has just started to process the data we collected and will be providing detailed interpretations of each of the wreck sites for Historic Scotland.”
Fishermen, beachcombers, divers and local people in the Western Isles are being urged to report anything unusual they’ve spotted at the shoreline or under the sea to a new archaeological project, launched this week.
The project – a partnership between RCAHMS, WA Coastal & Marine, Historic Scotland and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar – is searching for the prehistoric and historic remains of the coastal and marine areas of the Outer Hebrides.
Rising sea levels and coastal erosion make the search for previously undiscovered archaeology in the Western Isles a priority, as there is always the real danger that it could be lost for good.
A key feature of the project is getting local people involved in sharing their knowledge of potential sites of archaeological remains and involving them in research work.
The team hopes to make some discoveries of previously unknown sites as a direct result of 'tip-offs' from the local community.
That’s why they’re inviting local people to a talk this week to find out more [Taigh Chearsabhagh Arts Centre on North Uist at 7pm on 12 October 2011] and holding regular sessions in a local venue to encourage people to come forward with their stories.
By working with local people the project aims to explore the rich coastal and maritime history of the Outer Hebrides which spans thousands of years.
Evidence of the remains of ancient settlements, fish-traps , even tree stumps that may now lie submerged, and other finds and fragments from the inter-tidal zone, are all part of the puzzle that the project wants to hear about, in order to piece together stories of the past.
The sorts of things the team are looking for are often discovered by accident when landing a boat or walking along a shoreline when there’s a particularly low tide.
Speaking on behalf of the project partners, RCAHMS archaeological investigator Alex Hale said:
“The Outer Hebrides have been lived on for many thousands of years and they contain a rich prehistoric and historic legacy.
“Because of the islands’ importance to seafaring over the centuries, many of the remains of buildings and settlements are found around the coastal fringes - including under the sea and in lochs. Due to rising sea-levels and the power of the sea, these remains are now at risk of being lost.
We hope that local people who might live or work on the shore and the sea – and anyone with a good knowledge of the islands – will come forward with stories and information.”
Deborah Anderson from CNE-Siar’s Western Isles Archaeology Service said, “The archaeology of the Outer Hebrides is remarkable in the extent of its survival, however there is considerable pressure on sites from coastal erosion. Over the last 10,000 years a substantial area of land has been submerged by rising tides including areas of prehistoric land surfaces, which could hold early settlement remains.
Recent discoveries of prehistoric sites in the intertidal areas indicate that there are still pockets of preservation in some places. By integrating the land based coastal archaeological evidence and the information we acquire from locals through this project, we will better understand how people lived and worked on our islands over the last 9,000 years.”
Dr Jonathan Benjamin of WA Coastal & Marine added “We have already received a warm welcome in Stornoway and we are looking forward to meeting people interested in the history and archaeology of Uist.”
For more information about the project or to have a chat about getting involved, people can email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the Outer Hebrides Coastal Community Marine Archaeology Pilot Project website.
Notes for Editors
1. OHCCMAPP is a community-oriented project: a partnership between WA Coastal & Marine, the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS), Historic Scotland, CNE-Siar and the communities of the Outer Hebrides.www.wessexarch.co.uk/projects/marine/scotland/outer-hebrides/ohccmapp
2. RCAHMS is the National Collection of materials on Scotland’s built environment that connects people to places across time. It is the first port of call for information about the built environment of Scotland, from prehistory to the present and records the changing landscape of Scotland and collects materials relating to it. www.rcahms.gov.uk
3. WA Coastal & Marine is a non-profit company and a registered charity with offices throughout England and Scotland. In addition to working closely with developers as an archaeological consultancy, as a charity WA is established to promote the education of the public in the subjects of culture, arts, heritage and science through the pursuit of archaeology. www.wessexarch.co.uk
4. The role of Western Isles Archaeology Service is to identify and protect the archaeological resource of the Outer Hebrides, promote a greater awareness and understanding of the Islands’ rich archaeological heritage and encourage a sustainable approach to managing change within the Historic Environment. www.cne-siar.gov.uk/archaeology
5. Historic Scotland is an executive agency of the Scottish Government charged with safeguarding the nation’s historic environment. The agency is fully accountable to Scottish Ministers and through them to the Scottish Parliament. www.historic-scotland.gov.uk
Last week, one of our Learning and Access officers, Sarah Phillips, visited ss Great Britain in Bristol.
The purpose of the visit was to find out how the ship’s educational work developed and grew. Today the ss Great Britain is a popular visitor attraction for schools and the public and a valuable resource for learning about Britain’s maritime history.
The famous engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel designed the ss Great Britain. The ship was a world first when she was launched in Bristol in 1843, a technological marvel in ship design. The ship had a wide variety of roles in her life, from luxury transatlantic passenger liner to transporting Welsh coal.
During the early 20th century, she was damaged and ended up in the Falkland Islands. In 1970, she was brought back home and this marked the start of an amazing project to conserve and restore the ship back to her former glory.
Today, the ss Great Britain resides in the Bristol docks. You can explore the ship, which tells the story of what life was like for passengers when it transported people rather than coal.
We got the opportunity to go aboard, and enjoyed investigating the nooks and crannies of the ship, including the stables! The grand dining room looked like it came straight from an Agatha Christie novel. The visit was extremely useful and Wessex Archaeology thanks the staff at ss Great Britain for taking the time to show them around.
If you are looking for research material, you can also visit the ss Great Britain’s recently opened Brunel Institute, which hosts a fascinating archive and library covering maritime history, archaeology and of course the work of the famous engineer Brunel.