Nautical Archaeology Society Introduction and Part 1 Courses, 8th-9th May 2010

With Club plans in full swing for the updated survey of a mysterious cannon site off the Farne Islands on the 40th anniversary of an original club project on the same site, a group from Tyneside 114 headed down to Hartlepool to undertake the Nautical Archaeology Society (NAS) Introduction and Part 1 courses.

With this aim in mind the party of Tyneside members assembled at the William Grey building in West Hartlepool.

After introductions to the staff delivering the programme the rest of the morning was taken up with a series of lectures which focused on the aims of the NAS as well as looking at some of the theory that underpins modern underwater archaeology.

We learnt much about the different techniques involved in various dating methods and the importance of using historical sources in a critical manner.

The lectures moved on to discuss some of the practical implications involved in archaeological projects, in particular, the importance of good recording skills and methodology was repeatedly emphasised.

In the afternoon the group gained hands on experience of 2D recording methods, after being let loose on a simulated wreck consisting of cannon balls and old wooden planks. Armed with clipboards and measuring tapes we attempted to record the relevant data with a view to plotting an accurate site map.

It soon became very evident that even recording such a relatively simple site on land was quite a complex business; measuring and recording an identical site underwater greatly complicated the process yet further. With this sobering thought in mind we retired back home.

The following morning refreshed from a good nights sleep we reassembled to face the next set of academic and practical archaeological challenges.

The morning started with a series of lectures focussing on the legal aspects and complications that surround underwater finds.

Much discussion also focussed on some of the ethical and financial costs of excavating and raising artefacts to the surface; In particular the high costs of preservation work required to prevent the rapid deterioration of precious objects once they come into contact with air after hundreds of years under the sea were highlighted. The clear message that was rammed home was record finds, but wherever possible leave artefacts in situ unless you have the necessary funds to undertake the resultant expensive conservation work that will be inevitably be required on objects that had lain in the sea over many years.

The morning sessions concluded with an introduction to modern 3D survey methods and techniques.

Many of the issues discussed in the planning and leadership lectures were all too graphically illustrated, as the ‘team’ discussed the best way of completing the survey task. The need for a single project leader was all too clearly highlighted.

Once this issue was resolved however, work progressed speedily in terms of identifying control points and then measuring the main wreck features against these points with the aim of producing an accurate site plan in 3D.

Back in the lecture room we were then given an introduction to the software that is available to actually plot the data and draw up such an accurate site plan.

The final sessions of the course involved a look around the library facilities and resources that are available through the Tees Archaeological Unit. Over recent years it has accumulated an extensive library of maritime related books and documents, including historic ship plans and archive photographs.

The course as experienced by the Tyneside 114 team is very much a dry based programme because of the difficulties and restrictions that would be imposed by Health and Safety bureaucracy if the practical sessions were conducted in a ‘wet’ environment. In many ways this is a shame. That said however a wet course could only be conducted over three day period as I would suggest that all groups would still need to cover the 2D and 3D site measuring and plotting exercises in the dry before venturing under the water to complete a similar exercise.

We all came away with a much greater appreciation of the complexities and challenges involved in successful underwater archaeological projects, but also with a greater sense of confidence with regard to out own project survey plan.

2010 promises to be an interesting year for the clubs membership.

Many thanks to Mike Brown for organising the course and Gary Green, Sarah Scarlet and their team who delivered the programme in such an interesting and informative manner.

Thanks for the biscuits!