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 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).

Video Images of the German High Seas Fleet Scrap Sites

Good visibility and perfect conditions, while diving on the German High Seas Fleet Scrap Sites (Scapa Flow Orkney), enabled the team to video amazing wreckage left behind following the salvage operations of the inter-war years.

The video clip above shows remains of the German Battlecruiser Von der Tann including one of the derricks, used for lifting the ship’s pinnace, and superstructure that became detached as the ship was raised and moved across Scapa Flow, Orkney.

Marine archaeologist, Sandra Henry from Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology (ORCA), the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute and Kevin Heath from SULA Diving completed a dive on the German High Seas Fleet scrap sites in early spring.

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.

The 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.

Sandra Henry added, “The story of the scuttling of the High Seas Fleets and the later salvage operation have come to life through the recording and documentation of the ship remains present on the seabed in Scapa Flow. This project, funded by Historic Environment Scotland, will gather data which will be used to protect and monitor these sites for public engagement and enjoyment.”

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.

To catch up on full details of the project click our posts German High Seas Fleet Scrap Site Survey in Scapa Flow & Diving on the German High Seas Fleet Scrap Sites.

All images copyright UHI Archaeology Institute.


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The Ness Battery, Hoy Sound, Orkney

Orkney is well known for prehistoric archaeology and indeed maritime remains from both world wars. Perhaps less well known are the WWI and WWII heritage sites that still exist on land.

Situated on Hoy Sound, Ness Battery guarded the western entrance to the naval base of Scapa Flow, Orkney. The site itself comprised several gun emplacements, searchlight positions, AA gun positions and a huge command centre which had the task of halting any hostile move through the Hoy Sound.

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The impressive Ness Battery was the subject of a visit by our students last week. Guided through the complex by Andy Hollinrake, the students were given the full history of the site including stories of the personnel that worked to guard the Royal Navy warships anchored in Scapa Flow.

Andy related how each ship that appeared on the western approaches to Hoy Sound were signalled and ordered to stop and await inspection before sailing into the naval base. On one occasion the ferry from the Scottish mainland failed to stop when hailed and so was treated to a salvo of fire from the guns in the battery. The skipper soon heeded the signal, turned round and headed back to the mainland. Andy further elaborated on the story by saying that the gun loaders were so well trained that they could fire at such a rate that 3 or 4 shells could be in the air at once!

IMG_3896The huge, concrete protected gun positions were impressive in themselves, but in a way, the surviving huts (the only surviving examples of coast battery huts present in Britain) were even more impressive as they allowed us to glimpse into the lives of the men who operated this site. The Mess Hall was extraordinary as its walls were covered with an amazing mural depicting English rural life-complete with a windmill, half-timbered houses, wooded lanes and even a gypsy encampment.

A brilliant field visit and our thanks go to Andy Hollinrake for his on-site lecture and tour!


For more information on the Ness battery see http://www.nessbattery.co.uk/

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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NAS Foreshore Recorder and Surveyor Short Course – Enrolling Now

Orkney has attracted seafaring activity over a long period of time-in both war and peace. The foreshore and intertidal zone around the islands are therefore littered with maritime archaeological remains of ships and equipment.

This NAS short course offers the opportunity to learn how to record and survey remains of our important maritime heritage on the beaches and intertidal zones around Orkney. 

The University of the Highlands and Islands together with the Nautical Archaeology Society are now enrolling students for a 2-day marine archaeology course: Foreshore Recorder and Surveyor Days.

  • Duration: 2 Days
  • Time: 9.00 am to 5.00/6.30 pm
  • Venue: Orkney
  • Dates: 1st and 2nd April 2017
  • Tutor: Sandra Henry, Mark Littlewood
  • Cost: £120
  • Qualification: The Nautical Archaeology Society (NAS) Foreshore Recorder and Surveyor Day

The cost excludes accommodation.

This two-day course is aimed at anyone interested in maritime archaeology and heritage. Participants will directly contribute to the understanding of Orkney past landscapes and ongoing monitoring of the wartime heritage in Scapa Flow.

Participants in the course will:

  • Learn about the factors involved in planning archaeological work and projects
  • Understand how to conduct a 2D survey
  • Learn how to set out and position-fix a grid (site dependant)
  • Understand how to use a planning frame
  • Produce a 2D survey that can be used for further project planning.

To reserve a place please contact:

  • Sandra Henry, The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute, Orkney College UHI, Kirkwall, Orkney KW15 1LX.
  • E-mail: studyarchaeology@uhi.ac.uk
  • Tel: 01856 569225

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Learn how to use Side Scan Sonar in Maritime Archaeology – Shetland

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Side Scan Sonar Image of the wreck of the Ilsenstein in Orkney

The NAS MAC Introduction to Side Scan Sonar course is now open to professionals working in the maritime industry and students of marine archaeology.

The two-day course is held in Shetland on 18th and 19th March 2017.

Course Aims and Objectives

This introductory course will provide an insight into the equipment, survey strategies, processing and interpretation of side scan sonar data in maritime archaeology. During the reinfield-side-scan-capture-annotatedcourse, students will learn how to plan and execute a side scan sonar survey, determining which survey methods are most appropriate in different situations. They will gain practical experience processing and interpreting the resulting data and will be made aware of protocols for disseminating the results.

Throughout the course, side scan surveys will be considered in light of other survey strategies available. Practical exercises will take place during the afternoon on both days and will include survey mobilisation, demobilisation, GPS positioning, data collection, data processing and reporting.

During the two-day course, students will examine:

  • Introduction to site types, targets and anomalies –which sites are best suited to side scan surveys
  • Designing a side scan sonar survey project: considerations and survey strategies
  • Types of side scan mounts and devices
  • Positioning: locating your sites
  • Practical: completing a side scan survey
  • Overview of other survey data processing packages, focussing in particular on Sonar Wiz 5 and Max View
  • Post processing and interpretation– guidance and recommendations
  • Practical: processing and interpreting survey data
  • Reporting and dissemination

Learning Outcomes

  • Participants will complete the course with an understanding of the principles and practice of side scan sonar surveys
  • The students will be able to identify the most suitable equipment and survey strategy appropriate to specific site types and conditions
  • The students will have participated in the design and execution of a small side scan sonar survey
  • The student will have undertaken some basic data processing and will be aware of national guidance for the processing and interpretation of side scan sonar data.

NAS Credit Allocation

  • 10 credits will be awarded to NAS members under the module Fieldwork National Occupational Standards for Archaeology Units: Unit code CU2099: Contribute to non-intrusive investigations

CIfA Endorsement

This course has been endorsed by the Charted Institute for Archaeologists (CIfA) to count towards the required hours of continual professional development.

Cost for the course is £150 (excludes accommodation, ferries and meals)

For more information and to reserve a place e-mail: studyarchaeology@uhi.ac.uk

Please note this timetable is provisional and subject to change.