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).

Pictish Carved Stone Discovered in Orkney Cliff

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The Pictish Cross Slab. Photo by Dr Hugo Anderson-Whymark

It has to be said that Orkney is an amazing place to study archaeology. It seems that every month, news of another discovery lands on my desk.

Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology (ORCA) with support from Historic Environment Scotland complete a delicate rescue mission to recover a rare Pictish Carved Stone from an eroding cliff face in East Orkney.

Erosion by the stormy sea surrounding Orkney is a tangible threat to coastal archaeological sites. This situation is brought home especially during the winter months when high tides and powerful winds combine to batter the coastline of these beautiful islands. However, sometimes these same waves, can reveal unique and important finds that have been lost to view for hundreds if not thousands of years.

Following one of these storms, Dr Hugo Anderson-Whymark, an archaeologist based in Orkney, was examining an area of the East Mainland coast that had been particularly hit during a south westerly gale and discovered something amazing – a stone that had been unearthed by the sea, projecting precariously out of the soft, cliff face. This stone, on closer examination, was different to the other rocks at the site – it had obviously been worked and designs were visible and clearly ancient.

A dragon motif tantalizingly peered out from the emerging stone slab and pointed to a possible Pictish (3rd-8th centuries AD) origin, but further examination was difficult due to the location. This carved stone was clearly significant and needed to be quickly recovered before the next forecast storms that were due to hit the following weekend.

The race was on. Nick Card, Senior Projects Manager at ORCA (University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute), contacted Historic Environment Scotland, who realizing the significance of the find offered funding support to investigate, remove and conserve the precious object.

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The reverse side of the slab. Photo: UHI Archaeology Institute.

When the carved stone was carefully lifted, the significance of the find was clear – a Pictish cross slab, probably dating from the enigmatic 8th Century, emerged as the soft sand fell away from the front face. The exquisite design had been weathered, but an intricately carved cross flanked by the dragon or beast was clear to see. On the reverse side another Pictish beast design stared out from the stone face – beak open grasping what looked like the remains of a staff.

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Sean and Dave excavating the stone. Photo: UHI Archaeology Institute.

Nick Card takes up the story,”Carved Pictish Type 2 Stones are rare across Scotland with only 2 of this type having been discovered in Orkney. This is therefore a significant find and allows us to examine a piece of art from a period when Orkney society was beginning to embrace Christianity. Now that the piece is recorded and removed from site, we can concentrate on conserving the delicate stone carving and perhaps re-evaluate the site itself.”

“The Orcadian coastline is an extremely dynamic environment, and it was clear that we needed to act quickly” says Dr Kirsty Owen, HES Senior Archaeology Manager. Because the stone has been properly excavated, we have a better chance of understanding how it relates to the development of the site.”

The excavation of the Pictish stone was undertaken with funding from the Historic Environment Scotland Archaeology Programme, which is primarily intended to rescue archaeological information in the face of unavoidable threats.

The stone is now removed from the site and is scheduled for conservation and possible display at a future date. The site may be re-evaluated with funding being sought for further work.

3D model link below. Thanks to Dr Hugo Anderson-Whymark.

Many thanks must also be extended to the landowner.

Exploring Orkney’s Early harbours, Landing Places and Shipping

Volunteer divers will join a team of archaeologists from the Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology in Gairsay on Sunday to start the second phase of an archaeological project to explore Orkney’s early maritime heritage.

The project involves a programme of marine survey fieldwork which will record early maritime sites, structures and artefacts in Orkney.  The recording of material remains, along with the use of historical, place name, ethnographic, cartographic and marine geophysical survey data sources, will help to preserve some of Orkney’s maritime cultural heritage.

This second phase of fieldwork will continue to concentrate on Gairsay, due to the presence of possible ballast mounds or collapsed jetty supports found in Milburn Bay during an earlier phase of the project. Other possible maritime features noted around the edge of the bay will also be investigated over the weekend. The marine archaeologists and volunteers are also hoping to find other maritime features as Milburn Bay has a recorded history of early maritime activity.

It is hoped this project will expand to other areas in Orkney, focusing to begin with on natural harbours with sediments (good for preservation) and involve outreach training, community work and link to other projects.

Being coastal, and in many cases situated directly on the foreshore, maritime sites and structures are most vulnerable to erosion and much information on maritime structures dating before the modern period has probably already been lost to the sea. There is therefore an urgent need for survey and fieldwork that  will help prevent further loss of information.

Thanks to Sula Diving for the video taken for Phase One of the Project.

ORCA staff, Paul Sharman, Senior Projects Manager and Sandra Henry, Marine Archaeologist, will be leading the project.


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Community map of the Orkney World Heritage Sites

Ordnance Survey maps show the geography of an area well enough, but they don’t show how people feel about a place. The aim of this project was to tap into the community feel for The Heart of Neolithic Orkney.

Historic Environment Scotland commissioned the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute to facilitate a Community Map project for the Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site.

The aim was to gather memories, experiences, stories and places of significance from the local community using a series of three workshops in order to produce a map of the WHS as perceived by local residents. The workshops were focussed in the Stenness / Brodgar area, West Mainland, Orkney. Text and drawings were collected from the workshops and supplied to an illustrator for the production of a Community Map. The results of the workshops were used to create a map of the World Heritage area as perceived by local residents, incorporating some of the sketches drawn by participants and using their words to represent personal landmarks, memories and associations.

The project was managed by Alice Lyall (WHS Coordinator) and the workshops were facilitated by Dan Lee (Lifelong Learning and Outreach Archaeologist, Archaeology Institute) and Sandra Miller (HES HONO WHS Ranger). Dan Lee was also commissioned to write a summary report. Iain Ashman (Iain Ashman Design & Illustration, Stromness) was commissioned to collate the resulting material and produce an A3 final map from the results.

The workshops themselves were held during March 2016..

  • Workshop 1: a walk from the Standing Stones of Stenness to the Ring of Brodgar.
  • Workshop 2: two workshops at Stenness Primary School.
  • Workshop 3: two workshops at the West Mainland Day Centre, Stenness.

Contributions were also collected by Sandra Miller from the Connect Project

The three workshops collected a large volume of material in the form of drawings, sketches, notes and poems. All this data was then collated and used to create an A3 map.

The finished map can be downloaded from Historic Environment Scotland website here……http://bit.ly/28Isz2r

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HMS Hampshire Initial ROV Images

Initial images from the ROV Survey of the HMS Hampshire wreck site. 25th May 2016

HMS Hampshire sank on the 5th June 1916 when she struck a mine laid by German U-Boat U75. The wreck is located in approximately 60 metres of water off the west coast of Orkney and sank while en-route to Archangel in Russia. She was transporting Lord Kitchener, Secretary of State for War, to a meeting with Tsar Nicholas II.

The first archaeological condition assessment and recording of the wreck and surrounding seabed was recently undertaken by the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute working in partnership with Seatronics – an Acteon Company, Teledyne RESON, Roving Eye Enterprises Ltd and Triscom Marine Ltd. This work offers new information and data concerning the wreck and provides insights into the mine damage at the bow of the vessel, the impacts of salvage activities on the wreck, and the natural deterioration caused by the marine environment.

The Roving Eye Enterprises ROV survey confirmed previous findings that HMS Hampshire capsized as she sank and lies with an upturned hull on the seabed in approximately 60m of water. The superstructure itself is compressed and is buried in the soft silt of the seabed. The hull is damaged in places throughout the length of the vessel, exposing various elements of the interior, including torpedo tubes and machinery. Guns from the ship’s secondary armament were also identified on the surrounding seabed at a distance of up to 30m from the main body of the wreck. The location of these breech loading 6-inch MK VII guns may be related to the sinking event or salvage activity on the wreck.

Sandra Henry, University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute said that “This remote survey has provided many new insights into the sinking and wreck of the HMS Hampshire. Ongoing work will continue to develop our knowledge base, revealing new information as we continue to gather and process data, creating a record of the Hampshire in 2016”

Keith Bichan of Roving Eye Enterprises Ltd commented that, “It was a real privilege to be involved with this project. I am an Orcadian who has had had an ROV business in Orkney for nearly 20 years and the HMS Hampshire was a wreck I always wanted to visit, due to its importance to First World War history, and the mystery and controversy that still surrounds it.”

Further survey work using the Seatronics Predator ROV is in the planning stage.

This project has received funding and sponsorship from Interface, Orkney Islands Council and NorthLink Ferries.

Permission to undertake this remote survey was granted under licence by the MOD

For further information

Sean Page (Marketing Officer, University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute). Tel: 01856 569229 e-mail sean.page@uhi.ac.uk

Sandra Henry (Marine Archaeologist, University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute) Tel : 01856 569223 e-mail sandra.henry@uhi.ac.uk