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.


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

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.


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:
  • Tel: 01856 569225


Nautical Arch Soc logo

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

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:

Please note this timetable is provisional and subject to change.

German High Seas Fleet Scrap Sites to be Surveyed

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.

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 (, along with various other platforms and exhibitions.


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.


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.