Marine Archaeology Paper to be Presented at CIFA Conference

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.

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.

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 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


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

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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Secrets of the Sea Exhibition

The Secrets of the Sea: Underwater Archaeology Around Orkney 

  • When: From 6 – 27 February 2016.
  • Time: Monday – Saturday, 10.30 am – 12.30 pm, 1.30 – 5.00 pm.
  • Venue: The Orkney Museum ,Tankerness House, Broad Street, Kirkwall, Orkney, KW15 1DH. Tel: 01856 873191.
  • Admission is free.

6th February sees the opening of a new exhibition at the Orkney Museum which gives a glimpse of Orkney’s hidden heritage. ‘The Secrets of the Sea: Underwater Archaeology Around Orkney’ looks at some of the wrecks that are to be found in Orkney waters and some of the artefacts that litter our seabed.

The exhibition is a collaboration between Sula Diving, Seasearch, Orkney Historic Boat Society, ORCA (Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology) through the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute and the Maritime Studies Department at University of the Highlands and Islands.

Sandra Hendry, Maritime Archaeologist with ORCA, said: “Various facets of Orkney’s rich maritime cultural heritage are represented within this exhibit from the oar to the sail; this exhibition displays the work of a number of groups invested in the recording, protection and promotion of Orkney’s maritime cultural heritage.”

“Orkney’s rich maritime heritage has the ability to tell the stories of the people who first inhabited these islands, to the dramatic events of war represented within the World War I and World War II wrecks around Orkney, whilst still bringing us through to the present day and the way we continue to interact with the maritime space.”

Tom Muir, Exhibitions Officer at the Orkney Museum, said: “I am indebted to Kevin Heath of Sula Diving for first approaching me to put on a display about the shop boat, Lizzie Bain, which was lost in Scapa Flow in tragic circumstances in the 1880s. As well as the story of this wreck there is a chance to find out more about the techniques used to uncover the hidden world of marine archaeology, from the wrecks of the German High Seas Fleet to crashed wartime aircraft that lie hidden on the seabed. ”

Mark Shiner of the Maritime Studies Department – University of the Highlands and Islands, has put together a display on sail making, a course unique in Scotland that the department has offered in the past, to knot-work. The Orkney Historic Boat Society will highlight the work that they have done to preserve traditional boats and save them from being destroyed. It all comes together to create a fascinating insight into Orkney’s maritime history.