Project Background

During the preparation of an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), several data sources are consulted to gauge the quantity and character of known archaeological remains within an area. Sources consulted during the preparation of EIAs dealing with the marine and coastal environment include:
While this data forms the core of an assessment of the potential maritime archaeology of an area it is generally biased towards wrecks from the mid-eighteenth century onwards. This bias primarily stems from the emergence of official records of shipping losses from the 1730s onwards and from the greater visibility to hydrographic survey techniques of metal vessels from the later 19th and 20th centuries.
Archaeological investigations and hydrographic surveys over recent decades have allowed the identification of exposed ship structure at many locations around the coast of England. Amateur divers often discover wreck sites by chance or find them when investigating snagged fishing gear. Recent historical wrecks are easier to detect than those dating to the prehistoric or medieval periods. The increasing use of metallic elements rather than wood and other organic materials facilitates the identification of more recent sites through remote sensing. Thus the record as a whole reflects only a fraction of the maritime activity that has taken place in UK waters throughout history.
Before the 18th century, evidence for maritime activity is restricted to rare and often fragmentary archaeological data and, from the early medieval period at least, a wide range of disparate primary and secondary sources. Access to many of these sources is often difficult and time-consuming which generally prevents any significant study of such sources in formulating baselines for EIAs.
The England’s Shipping project proposed to temper these biases and facilitate a fuller appreciation of maritime archaeological potential through the development of a digital atlas of historic shipping patterns. Data from primary and secondary documentary sources about pre-1730 shipping was used to map the intensity of traffic along particular routes and at particular locations, including ports, anchorages and battle sites. It was proposed that using such data alongside archaeological evidence for known wreck sites would assist seabed developers, their archaeological advisors and heritage curators with the identification of potential maritime sites and finds within defined areas for the purposes of marine aggregate licence proposals.