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.

 

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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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German High Seas Fleet Scrap Sites to be Surveyed

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Scapa Flow: View from Hoy looking across to Stromness

The wrecks of the First World War German High Seas Fleet that lie on the seabed in Scapa Flow, Orkney are renowned as one of most famous wreck diving sites in the world.

These wreck sites also provide marine archaeologists with an unparalleled insight into the construction of warships from this period.

Archaeologists from the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute have teamed up with  SULA Diving to undertake a Historic Environment Scotland funded project on the salvage sites of the scuttled wrecks of the High Sea Fleet.

The High Seas Fleet was interned at the Royal Navy base Scapa Flow, Orkney at the end ofsites the First World War. Admiral Ludwig Von Reuter, believing the armistice was over, ordered the fleet to be scuttled. This resulted in the sinking of 52 of the 74 interned vessels. After the scuttling, 45 of these vessels were salvaged and various components of the ships’ structures lie on the seabed marking these wreck sites, a cultural heritage resource that is relatively undocumented. Today, the 7 wrecks that were not salvaged constitute one of the most famous wreck diving sites in the world.

The project is led by Sandra Henry (Marine Archaeologist, University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute) and Kevin Heath (SULA Diving) on behalf of Historic Environment Scotland and aims to identify the locations of the primary scrap sites and associated secondary sites from the salvaging of the German High Seas Fleet.

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The Seydlitz

The secondary scrap sites were created as the upturned hulls of the major vessels of the High Seas fleet were moved to shallower water off Lyness, Scapa Flow. Personal accounts suggest that the salvors would attempt to tow the vessels across the bar at Ryssa Little, sometimes losing superstructure elements in the process. If the upturned hulls did not make it then the salvors would know that the ships were too deep to make it into Rosyth for final scrapping.

One of the aims of this project will be to investigate this assertion and survey the areas around Ryssa Little for these superstructure elements that were lost during these operations.

Recent marine archaeological surveys have collected small amounts of data in regard to the scrap sites indicating that this resource is far more substantial and intriguing than previously believed. The scrap site assemblages include major components of ship structures such as masts, searchlights, plating, steam pinnaces, funnels and so on. Furthermore, these wreck sites, due to their deconstructed nature, are at high-risk of salvage activity.

This project will provide baseline data for long-term monitoring of the sites. The project data and results will be available to the public through the Scapa Flow Wrecks website (http://www.scapaflowwrecks.com), along with various other platforms and exhibitions.


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New Research-Finding Ancient Harbours on Papa Westray, Orkney

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It is well known that Orkney is open to the elements and is battered by storms during the winter months. Activity, even now, is governed by the weather and harbours have been and are an important element in Orcadian life.

If you visit or indeed live in Orkney you will notice the well known archaeological sites, but you may not notice the traces of human activity in the intertidal zone-the shoreline exposed between high and low tide. If you do stop and look at the mud and sand, you may just notice stones curving out towards the sea. These could be landing places or sheltering places for ships; used by Orcadians over the centuries to protect their vessels from storms.

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New research by Edward Pollard, Julie Gibson and Mark Littlewood explores the intriguing ‘ayre’ or spit harbour complex at Weelie’s Taing on the Orkney Island of Papa Westray.

The study revealed a previously unknown type of harbour since identified in several locations around Orkney. Situated in exposed environmental situations, shelter is formed by an ‘ayre’-a type of spit that encloses a loch-and which has been used historically as a landing place or crossing of the inter-tidal zone.

journal-of-maritime-archaeology-copyA complex landing area, pier, tower (which could be defensive or a sheep fort) and ship-blockage suggest Weelie’s Taing was used as a harbour. Important fishing grounds exploited since the Neolithic are nearby, and Papa Westray was the site of water-focussed religious communities.

It is suggested that Weelie’s Taing was in use in the medieval period when Papa Westray was less isolated than today.

This project on medieval harbours and landing places is being taken forward by an expanded team from the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute and Sula Diving that includes work on some underwater ballast piles off Gairsay (the home of the notorious Viking pirate Swein Asleifarson).

The full paper is available to view online in the Journal of Maritime Archaeology

The project was funded by Orkney Islands Council Archaeological Fund.


To find out more about Papa Westray then visit the Papay Development Trust website. There is also an excellent video taken from the shortest scheduled flight in the UK.

Gairsay Ballast Mounds – Flora and Fauna

Volunteer divers joined a team of archaeologists from the Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology last month to start the second phase of an archaeological project to explore Orkney’s early maritime heritage.

The fieldwork concentrated on Milburn Bay on the small Orcadian island of  Gairsay. The volunteer divers not only discovered ballast mounds but in the clear water also filmed an astonishing array of flora and fauna.

The ballast mounds are colonised by a distinct assemblage of species that sets them apart from the surrounding seabed.  The most obvious constituent is the green alga Codium fragile, which grows abundantly on the mounds and less so in the surrounding area.  Its bright green, branched structure forms a dense canopy that adds to the sheltered habitat already provided among the ballast stones.  Sea squirts are also abundant on the mounds, particularly the large pink species

Its bright green, branched structure forms a dense canopy that adds to the sheltered habitat already provided among the ballast stones.  Sea squirts are also abundant on the mounds, particularly the large pink species Ascidia mentula, distinguished by the white spots around the lip of its inlet siphon. Numerous other species were present around and among the ballast stones, including the sea urchin (Echinus esculentus), green crabs (Carcinus maenus) and a variety of small juvenile fishes.

Thanks to Sula Diving. ORCA staff, Paul Sharman, Senior Projects Manager and Sandra Henry, Marine Archaeologist, are leading the project.


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The Utrecht Wreck: Second Cannon Found

The Third Phase of The Utrecht Community Marine Archaeology Project offers an opportunity to get involved in archive research on this intriguing shipwreck.

The crystal clear waters around Orkney hide many wrecks and one of the most intriguing is the wreck of The Utrecht which lies off the island of Sanday.

Built in Rotterdam as The Irene by Glavimans, The Utrecht was a 38-gun frigate that was owned by the Dutch Navy. Several sources (Canmore; Ferguson, 1988; Larn and Larn, 1998; Whittaker, 1998) offer contradictory information regarding the number of cannon on the vessel with numbers ranging from 32 to 44. The first phase of the project can confirm she had 38 cannon comprising twenty-six 12-pounders, four 6-pounders and eight 20pounder carronades.

One of the 12 pounder iron cannons from The Utrecht’s gun deck was discovered earlier this summer in the second phase of this community led archaeology project.

Diving is progressing on the third phase of the project and, following further site investigation, a second cannon was  discovered two weeks ago. Initial investigation confirmed that the find was in fact a 12 pounder iron cannon which most likely originated from the wreck of The Utrecht.

This phase of the project aims to initially record the site extent and condition, building on earlier phases of work undertaken by the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute and SULA Diving and offer a platform for community engagement through volunteer programs, displays, talks and online outreach, utilising such mediums as Facebook, Twitter, blogs and YouTube.

image14144The third phase also involves desk research in which the community also have an opportunity to be involved. This will include examining surviving written sources from the late 18th and early 19th Century, The Utrecht’s log book and other sources in order to establish the full story of life on the frigate and fill in the details of the final hours.

If you are interested in being involved with this aspect of the project then please contact Sandra Henry (ORCA Marine Archaeologist and Lecturer) at studyarchaeology@uhi.ac.uk

This community project also aims to involve the local diving community through the delivery of training programs such as the Nautical Archaeology Society courses. The project is led by Sandra Henry of ORCA and Kevin Heath of Sula Diving and is supported by Orkney Islands Council.


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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 Marine Archaeology Project in Sanday – Surveying The Utrecht

Diving is to start on Phase Three of The Utrecht Community Marine Archaeology Project. This phase aims to involve the community in further surveying of the wreck and contribute to the growth of dive tourism in Sanday.

Built in Rotterdam as the Irene by Glavimans, The Utrecht was a 38-gun frigate that was owned by the Dutch Navy. Several sources (Canmore; Ferguson, 1988; Larn and Larn, 1998; Whittaker, 1998) offer contradictory information regarding the number of cannon on the vessel with numbers ranging from 32 to 44. The first phase of the project can confirm she had 38 cannon comprising twenty-six 12-pounders, four 6-pounders and eight 20pounder carronades

On the 15th February 1807, The Utrecht was sailing to Curacao from Helvoetsslus, near Rotterdam, to reinforce the Dutch garrison stationed there against the British. In addition to her complement of 190 crew and passengers, she carried with her 220 artillery men to help in this endeavour.

En-route she was driven off course in a blizzard and was stranded off the North coast of Sanday in the early hours of the morning of the 26th February 1807. The remains of The Utrecht represent a unique resource in Orkney waters. Orkney has a rich submerged maritime resource that brings in substantial economic revenue to the islands through diving tourism each year; much of the research into this diverse heritage has focused on the extensive wartime remains (WWI and WWII) within Scapa Flow.

Historic evidence suggested The Utrecht remains were in shallow water in a comparatively sheltered environment and, as such, discovery and recording of the remains would greatly enhance the potential for dive tourism outside of Scapa Flow.

The second phase of the project took place earlier this summer, and involved volunteersExif_JPEG_PICTURErecording an Iron cannon, identifying various extents of the wreckage debris field surrounding this 12 pounder cannon. . The assessment of the remains of the vessel also contributed to local and national heritage management strategies and provided some protection to the remains by producing a detailed and accurate record of the nature and extent of the wreckage and associated artefacts that were present on the seabed.

Desk based research confirmed a thought provoking timeline of the stranding and abandonment of the vessel:

  • 5am – Vessel struck the shore reported to be on an uninhabited part of Sanday.
  • Dawn – Waves break over the side of the ship and was “driven into a sort of bay with rocks on both sides”. Rear-mast cut down and a cutter [smaller vessel from the ship] launched. The launch was destroyed as the current swept the cut mast into it.
  • Mid-Morning – Orders to cut down the fore and mid-mast could not be carried out in light of huge seas. Waves take the ship of the rocks turning her until she hit the rocks on the other side of the bay.
  • Midday (approx.) – Fore and mid-masts were cut down. Fire noted in portside stern cabin and subsequently extinguished.
  • 3pm – Tide ebbs, islanders arrive to assist in the rescue. Lines were passed to the ship. Those strong enough come ashore via the lines.
  • Sunset – 366 men ashore, 54 had died.

Further research also provided evidence to confirm actual number of hands lost (54 in total) – compared with the previous vague accounts of losses ranging from 50 – 100 men. The burial ground for these men still remains unknown and would be an avenue for future research.

The successful identification of the site will allow for the development and promotion of the site of The Utrecht, and the maritime archaeology of Sanday and Orkney’s North Isles.

This third phase will initially record the site extent and condition, building on earlier phases of work undertaken by the UHI Archaeology Institute and SULA Diving. This project offers a platform for community engagement through volunteer programs, displays, talks and online outreach, utilising such mediums as Facebook, Twitter, blogs and YouTube.

This community project aims to involve the local diving community through the delivery of training programs such as the Nautical Archaeology Society courses.

In effect the site of The Utrecht is part of a shared history between Sanday, Orkney’s North Isles and the Netherlands and this new phase will help to generate dive tourism in Orkneys North Isles through community involvement.


Thanks to Sula Diving Photographs courtesy Ken Kohnfelder.

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The Utrecht Project is supported by:

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Marine Archaeology Fieldwork starts in October – Gairsay, Orkney

img_1782Get involved in a marine archaeology project in the waters around the Island of Gairsay, Orkney.

The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute have an opportunity for diving or snorkelling volunteers to take part in underwater fieldwork in Milburn Bay, Gairsay as part of the ongoing project searching for Orkney’s early harbours, landing places, anchorages, maritime infrastructure and shipping.

The fieldwork will involve surveying the underwater features already observed in the bay and will be taking place during the week commencing 3rd October to the 7th October for a total of 3 days, the exact days will be finalised closer to the time dependent on weather forecasts.

The aims of this year’s underwater fieldwork will be to investigate the underwater mounds further, potentially these mounds may represent ballast mounds or collapsed stone from caissons supporting jetty foundations

Please register your interest by contacting Sandra Henry via Sandra.Henry@uhi.ac.uk

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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