First Image Emerges from Orkney Maritime Archaeology Survey

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Initial image of the Markgraf collected using a multibeam echosounder. Copyright UHI Archaeology Institute. With thanks to Dr Kieran Westley, Ulster University.

New images showing the German High Seas Fleet scuttled in Scapa Flow are now emerging from the data collected from the maritime archaeology project fieldwork completed last week in the waters surrounding Orkney.

This exciting project, led by Sandra Henry, ORCA (Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology), University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute and Kevin Heath of SULA Diving, has brought together universities, commercial companies and government bodies including Historic Environment Scotland, Marine Scotland, Ulster University, Heriot-Watt University, University of Dundee, and Seatronics – an Acteon company.

This is the first image to emerge and was created by Dr. Kieran Westley, Ulster University who worked on the raw data collected through a multibeam echosounder. The image shows the German Battleship Markgraf lying in thirty metres of water on the seabed of Scapa Flow, Orkney and clearly shows the ships upturned hull with propeller shafts and rudders still in place nearly one hundred years after being scuttled in 1919.

The ship itself was commissioned in October 1914 and took part in the majority of the German High Seas Fleet actions during the First World War. She was damaged at the Battle of Jutland where she sustained five hits and eleven men were killed. Following the Armistice she was scuttled in the deepest part of Scapa Flow and so has escaped the attentions of salvage operations in the 1930’s.

For more information on the ship see the Scapa Flow Historic Wreck Site. For more information on the Maritime Archaeology Project see our previous blog post.


  • The project lead is Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology (ORCA), University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute.
  • Sula Diving website
  • Marine Scotland vessel MV Scotia will be the work platform for data collection. Data collection will involve Marine Scotland undertaking MBES survey, providing calibrated unprocessed raw data and camera equipment for the acquisition of data.
  • Seatronics – an Acteon Company will provide ROV, positioning and 3D modelling and spatially cross referenced video inspection equipment
  • Historic Environment Scotland will provide guidance on marine historic assets, survey targets and specialist knowledge on the wreck sites.
  • Ulster University will provide input into the specifications for data acquisition for the geophysical and ROV surveys and provide input into maritime archaeological assessment and analysis.
  • Heriot-Watt University will provide input into the specifications for data acquisition for the ROV survey and undertake marine biological studies on the submerged cultural heritage assets.
  • Ministry of Defence will provide input into the specifications for data acquisition for the geophysical and ROV surveys, and specialist knowledge on the wreck sites being investigated and environmental studies of the wreck sites.
  • The University of Dundee will process MBES and ROV survey data and work to produce visualisations based on the collected data. This will involve the production of 3D models of the wreck sites from the multibeam echosounder and photogrammetric data.
  • The project will be conducted under licence from the Ministry of Defence.
  • The data and project archive will be deposited with the project partners, including Historic Environment Scotland, the MoD, and Orkney Islands Council in accordance with the standards established by the Marine Environmental Data Information Network (MEDIN).

Maritime Project Underway in Orkney

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MV Scotia. Permission of Marine Scotland

Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology (ORCA) is pleased to announce a collaborative maritime archaeology project surveying shipwrecks of the German High Seas Fleet and the war graves HMS Hampshire, HMS Vanguard and HMS Royal Oak.

This exciting project, which began on Sunday, is led by Sandra Henry, ORCA (Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology), University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute and Kevin Heath of SULA Diving has brought together universities, commercial companies and government bodies including Historic Environment Scotland, Marine Scotland, Ulster University, Heriot-Watt University, University of Dundee, and Seatronics – an Acteon company.

The survey is using a suite of geophysical equipment, ROV and diver survey to collect data that will accurately record the wrecks as they sit on the seafloor today. The data collected will be used to continue to monitor, protect, conserve and promote these impressive ship wrecks. Visualisations of the wrecks by Chris Rowland, University of Dundee 3D Visualisation Research Lab (3DVisLab), will bring the wrecks to the surface and to life as he employs the latest technologies available to create these models. The project commenced on the 23rd July 2017.

Looking down into the Scapa Flow anchorage from the island of Hoy
Looking across Scapa Flow from Lyness.

The High Seas Fleet was the battle fleet of the German Imperial Navy in World War One. On 21st June 1919, Rear Admiral Ludwig von Reuter gave the order to scuttle the 74 ships of the High Seas Fleet located in Scapa Flow.  52 vessels were successfully scuttled, although during the interwar period salvage operations lifted 45 of these vessels from the seafloor. Today the wrecks of three battleships and four light cruisers remain on the seabed of Scapa Flow (http://www.scapaflowwrecks.com/wrecks/).  A project funded earlier this year by Historic Environment Scotland (HES) and led by Sandra Henry from ORCA, University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute and Kevin Heath of SULA Diving tells the story of these salvage operations,

HMS Hampshire was an armoured cruiser that was assigned to transport Field Marshal Lord Kitchener, to Archangel in northern Russia for a meeting with Tsar Nicholas II. During this assignment, the ship struck a mine, off Marwick Head, on the west coast of Orkney. She sank in twenty minutes with a loss of 737 men including Lord Kitchener (https://kitchenerhampshire.wordpress.com/ ).

HMS Royal Oak was a revenge class Battleship. The Royal Oak under command of Captain Commander W.H. Benn sat at anchor when struck by torpedoes fired from U47 under the command of Kapitanleutnant Günther Prien resulting in the loss of 833 lives.

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HMS Vanguard. Kind permission Orkney Library & Archive

HMS Vanguard was a St. Vincent class dreadnought battleship destroyed at her mooring by a series of explosions before midnight on Monday, 9 July 1917.  843 men were lost out of the 845 people on board.

Paul Sharman, ORCA Senior Projects Manager, added that, “We are proud and feel privileged to be involved with this important project. We are pleased to be working collaboratively with such a wide range of specialists to provide high quality data which will contribute to the understanding of these important marine archaeology sites and commemorate the sacrifice made by the personnel who were on board HMS Vanguard, HMS Hampshire and HMS Royal Oak.”

The archival research and archaeological remote evaluation surveys that comprise this project will lead to a full understanding of the condition of the wreck sites, contribute to enhanced heritage displays, provide data for academic research and support activities and material for public engagement.

Alistair Coutts, Business Development Manager, Seatronics, said “We are delighted to be collaborating again with ORCA & UHI and we look forward to working with the collected specialists on this exciting project. Our aim is to use our Predator inspection class ROV and integrated cameras with 3D modelling technology to provide accurate models and detailed video footage of the current condition of the wreck sites.”

Andrew Fulton, Historic Environment Scotland, said, ‘We are pleased to see this next stage of survey work on the underwater wartime remains of Scapa Flow. The results will help update existing records of the wrecks, guide their management and contribute to the commemoration of momentous events in wartime history .’

It is planned that this project will contribute to the centenary commemorations of the scuttling of the German High Seas Fleet in 2019.


  • The project lead is Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology (ORCA), University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute.
  • Marine Scotland vessel MV Scotia will be the work platform for data collection. Data collection will involve Marine Scotland undertaking MBES survey, providing calibrated unprocessed raw data and camera equipment for the acquisition of data.
  • Seatronics – an Acteon Company will provide ROV, positioning and 3D modelling and spatially cross referenced video inspection equipment
  • Historic Environment Scotland will provide guidance on marine historic assets, survey targets and specialist knowledge on the wreck sites.
  • Ulster University will provide input into the specifications for data acquisition for the geophysical and ROV surveys and provide input into maritime archaeological assessment and analysis.
  • Heriot-Watt University will provide input into the specifications for data acquisition for the ROV survey and undertake marine biological studies on the submerged cultural heritage assets.
  • Ministry of Defence will provide input into the specifications for data acquisition for the geophysical and ROV surveys, and specialist knowledge on the wreck sites being investigated and environmental studies of the wreck sites.
  • The University of Dundee will process MBES and ROV survey data and work to produce visualisations based on the collected data. This will involve the production of 3D models of the wreck sites from the multibeam echosounder and photogrammetric data.
  • The project will be conducted under licence from the Ministry of Defence.
  • The data and project archive will be deposited with the project partners, including Historic Environment Scotland, the MoD, and Orkney Islands Council in accordance with the standards established by the Marine Environmental Data Information Network (MEDIN).

Marine Archaeology Paper to be Presented at CIFA Conference

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Rysa Little Site. SS085: Bridge Cabin Structure. Copyright: UHI Archaeology Institute

Mark Littlewood, Geomatics Officer Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology, will be presenting his paper – Protecting Accessible Marine Tourism Sites: The Case of Scapa Flow – at the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists conference which is being held at Newcastle University on 19th-21st April 2017.

Marks abstract continues….Scapa Flow is one of a number of marine anchorages which possesses a rich palimpsest of twentieth-century shipwrecks. Since the signing of the Armistice on the 11th November 1918, the interned ships of the High Seas Fleet were viewed within the perspective of the military knowledge that they could impart to the Allied powers, a factor that played a key role in the scuttling of the fleet. Following their scuttling the German High Seas Fleet and also the lesser known block ships that protected Scapa Flow during the First and Second World Wars then became a source of direct revenue as they were then subject to partial or full salvage activities.

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Rysa Little Site SS069: Searchlight Control Platform. Copyright: UHI Archaeology Institute.

This paper will examine how attitudes to these wrecks have changed over the years; how the development of marine tourism has both benefited the preservation and investigation of these wrecks, but also poses new challenges. More particularly this paper will compare the palimpsest of Scapa Flow to other similar sites around the world that have undergone salvage activities. Are the wrecks of Scapa Flow perceived differently than other massed wreck sites around the world? Are they seen as more accessible and more well-known and are the levels of protection, both present and proposed, for Scapa Flow necessary or adequate?

The paper will go on to highlight the level of further investigation and dissemination required to protect and make accessible such maritime sites and how the experience protecting wreck sites in Scapa Flow could be applied worldwide.

Thanks to Bob Anderson for underwater photography.


Our Islands, Our Past-Connectivity and Communications

Wide Firth
The ferry to the northern islands of Orkney entering the Bay of Kirkwall.

The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute conference, ‘Our Islands, Our Past’, is being held in Kirkwall, Orkney from 14th September to 17th September 2017.

Over the next few months, we will explore the exciting and interesting themes of the conference in a series of blog posts. In this blog post we explore the theme of Connectivity and Communications within our island environment.

Living on an island in the North Atlantic in the 21st Century is an experience. It is almost universally accepted by most people living in the UK that they can communicate and connect to anyone else on the planet. The internet, rapid transit systems, motorways and the ever increasing capacity of airliners means that people take these things for granted.

There are no railways on Orkney. The nearest motorway is 200 miles to the south. The rapid transit system is the X1 bus which traverses the length of the Mainland on an almost hourly basis (amazingly there is even a night bus that runs at 2am on a Sunday morning).There are frequent ferries and flights that link us to the mainland of Scotland and beyond. And there is internet.

Even though I have spent most of my life living in an urban or semi-urban environment far to the south, I do not feel unconnected to the world – despite living in South Ronaldsay which is connected by four causeways to the main Orkney island.

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Barrier 4 linking the island of Burray with the island of South Ronaldsay.

But what was life like on South Ronaldsay before the building of the Churchill Barriers? How connected were the people in our islands in our past?

We are lucky in that we can still ask older residents who still remember the days before the Churchill Barriers. It would seem that connectivity between islands and people was by boat. Innumerable piers and jetties facilitated movement between the islands. The relatively sheltered waters of Scapa Flow allowed people, goods, news and ideas to move between the islands.

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Remains of piers in St Margaret’s Hope, South Ronaldsay

In the village of St Margaret’s Hope itself, even now, the houses on the shoreline each possess their own pier. And along the shoreline of South Ronaldsay itself, each house seemed to possess its own jetty. So perhaps we can say that the islanders of South Ronaldsay, in particular, did enjoy connectivity through the use of small boats and their individual piers and jetties and this perhaps led to the survival of the island before the barriers were built.

Almost all of these piers and jetties have fallen into disuse as the residents prefer the connectivity offered by the bus, car and the road over the barriers.

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Remains of the old ferry pier connecting South Ronaldsay and Burray

It will not be long before even the function of these strange lines of beach stones stretching out to sea, will be lost and they in themselves will become future archaeology.

Many thanks to Terry and Sandy Cuthbert-Dickinson at Ayre of Cara for their help in making the photograph of Barrier 4 possible.


Paul Sharman and Julie Gibson are working on a paper entitled ‘Prospecting for Orkney’s medieval harbours and landing places’ which they will explore at the conference as part of the wider connectivity and communications theme.

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Diving on the German High Seas Fleet Scrap Sites – Scapa Flow, Orkney

Last Friday marine archaeologists from Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology (ORCA), the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute and colleagues from SULA Diving completed a dive on the German High Seas Fleet scrap sites.

Under a clearing blue sky, the team sailed out into Scapa Flow, Orkney on board the MV Halton to complete the second phase of the German High Seas Fleet Scrap Sites project.

Concentrating on sites located through side scan sonar survey completed in phase one, the archaeologists recorded and documented extensive remains of the First World War fleet that still lie on the seabed. The conditions underwater were perfect and visibility was good, allowing the divers to take some excellent photographs and video footage while recording and surveying the wreckage left behind following the inter-war salvage efforts on the scuttled German High Seas Fleet.

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Archival research will shed further light on the debris itself and will identify from which ships the wreckage originated.

rpa_0682The salvaging of the German High Seas Fleet in the 1920s-40s raised battleships, battlecruisers and destroyers from the seabed for scrapping at dockyard sites further south such as Rosyth. Today the remains of these ships and their associated salvage lie on the seabed, continuing to tell the story of the High Seas Fleet in Scapa Flow, and providing an exciting and interesting heritage resource.

The project is designed to showcase the significant wreckage of the scrap sites of the German High Seas Fleet and was conducted on behalf of Historic Environment Scotland.

All photographs copyright UHI Archaeology Institute and courtesy of Bob Anderson.

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German High Seas Fleet Scrap Site Survey in Scapa Flow

sdrThis weekend, to a wintery backdrop, maritime archaeologists from the Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology (ORCA), the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute and colleagues from SULA Diving continued a high-resolution side scan sonar survey of Scapa Flow.

The project is designed to showcase the significant wreckage of the scrap sites of the German High Seas Fleet and was conducted on behalf of Historic Environment Scotland.

 

mast-and-searchlight-platform
Mast and searchlight platform from an unknown ship

The salvaging of the German High Seas Fleet in the 1920s-40s raised battleships, battlecruisers and destroyers from the seabed scrapping at dockyard sites further south such as Rosyth. Today the remains of these ships and their associated salvage lie on the seabed, continuing to tell the story of the High Seas Fleet in Scapa Flow, and providing an exciting and interesting heritage resource.

 

Analysis of the sonar data will be undertaken to identify what is present on the seabed and from which ships. Archival research and diver ground truthing are assisting in this phase of the project.


A University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute Side Scan Sonar course is now enrolling for 18th and 19th March. The course is being held in Shetland. More details available from studyarchaeology@uhi.ac.uk

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Two Day NAS GIS Maritime Archaeology Course now enrolling in Orkney.

Learn about the use of GIS in maritime archaeology for the amazing cost of £75.

The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute are now enrolling for a Nautical Archaeology Society (NAS) Maritime Archaeology (MAC) Course: GIS in Maritime Archaeology at Orkney College on 25th and 26th February 2017

  • Duration: 2 Days
  • Venue: Orkney College, Kirkwall
  • Dates: 25th-26th February 2017
  • Tutors: Sandra Henry, Mark Littlewood
  • Qualification: The Nautical Archaeology Society (NAS) Maritime Archaeology Course (MAC) – QGIS
  • Cost: £75

A Geographic Information System (GIS) is frequently used to create accurate maps with data attached that can be viewed, analysed and published for dissemination.

This two-day introductory course will provide an overview of features in QGIS – a freely available GIS software package commonly used by archaeologists. Although focussing on this particular programme, the skills and procedure students are introduced to can be used in other GIS programmes (such as ArcGIS, gvSIG, GRASS GIS). Comparisons will be made with these other programmes during the course.

During the two-day course, students will be introduced to:

  • Why do we use GIS?
  • How to set up a GIS – map, projections, file-paths, toolboxes and other house-keeping
  • Data sources-where to find accessible maps and other resources
  • How to add these datasets to the GIS
  • Geo-rectifying -providing spatial references for images and maps
  • Other common GIS tools
  • Digitising features through the creation of points, lines and polygons
  • Attach data to these features within an attribute table
  • Interrogation and analysis of spatial data through querying
  • Linking databases
  • How to display data – creating figures for publication and research dissemination

Students will be provided with datasets and will gain experience using the programme through a series of practical exercises.


To reserve a place on this course please contact:

The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute, Orkney College UHI, Kirkwall, Orkney, KW15 1LX. E-mail: studyarchaeology@uhi.ac.uk  or Tel: +44 (0)1856 569 225

Or download an application form GIS Booking Form and e-mail to studyarchaeology@uhi.ac.uk or send to the address above


Supported by Historic Environment Scotland funding.