Intertidal wrecks at Fearnmore

Ahead of the next week’s Archaeological Landscapes: Professional Skills fieldschool at Loch Torridon which is being run by our colleague Andrew Bicket in collaboration with Professor Karen Hardy, the SAMPHIRE project has had some previously unrecorded and very interesting wrecks reported to us at nearby Fearnmore. The initial discovery was sent to us by Karen herself who noticed a spread of wreckage amongst the kelp in the intertidal zone while revisiting some much older Mesolithic archaeological remains nearby. Karen is an expert on prehistoric archaeology but to understand these recent shipwrecks we have called on the assistance of the local community, in particular from our old friend, Shieldaig resident Robert Gordon and also from 75 year old Harris resident Hamish Taylor. Hamish spotted some photos we shared with the West Coast fishing boat group (Past & Present) on Facebook and got in touch to offer his expert advice. Hamish wrote:

‘In my upper teens (late 1950s) I spent five idyllic years in North Uist where I worked on small open fishing boats using most kinds of Kelvin Pet/Par engines (except the Kelvin Sleeve)and also occasionally on two twin screw Zulus, one with the 26/30 and 13/15 configuration and did just a couple of trips on a large Zulu with a 60 Poppet on the port side and a 26/30 on the starboard. The age of the Zulu was really past by then and these two boats Maggie Noble and Sickle must have been the last tremors of a dying breed. I got to know Kelvin Pet/Par engines and J and K diesels and their associated idiosyncrasies very well, but it was in the reflection of later and more mature years, away from boats and fishing that I really grew to understood and analyse the interaction of different kinds of boats and their combinations of engines. I retained a lifelong interest in marine engines of that age and still occasionally scan the internet just to gaze in admiration at the Kelvin Poppet, Riccardo and J & K diesels and Gardner diesels’.

Hamish was able to tell us the following about the wreckage in Karen’s photos: ‘the engine still vertical and attached to the frames looks to me to be a 13/15 Kelvin Poppet pertol/paraffin engine. It is offset to starboard, so the boat, probably a Zulu or a Fifie, was twin screw, The other engine lying on its port side looks like a 26/30 Poppet (double the 13/15), which would have been the port engine, and the flat plate uppermost was the mounting plate for the magneto. 26/30 to port and 13/15 to starboard was the usual confirguration. Both engines swung left-handed props, which meant that, particularly in a Zulu, the port engine was almost useless for manoeuvring so the smaller engine (on the starboard side) was used for manoeuvring and the larger engine added in when steaming. Occasionally one might see a Poppet engine on the starboard side and a Kelvin Riccardo (which swung a right-handed prop) on the port side, so either one could be used for manoeuvring… the spherical ball fragments were the water-cooled silencers, but I’m afraid I can’t identify the gear wheels unless they were part of a line-hauler – they certainly were not part of a standard Kelvin Poppet…’. Another old friend of the project, James Corrigall of Portree was able to add that ‘these gear wheels look like they were part of an iron man,they were used for hauling ground nets on the boats that worked the hake cod and coleys a good few year ago.’

We also contacted Robert Gordon as we knew he was familiar with the area from the work we had done with him around Chuaig Bay in 2013. This proved to be a good move as Robert was not only able to go to the site and take a further series of images but was able to make a probable identification of the wrecks and give a brief history of them.

Robert was able to tell us that locals believed the two wrecks to be the Queen and the Sally, the Queen being in better condition and having been put on the beach at the end of WWII while the Sally had been there longer. The Sally (registration TT13) was registered at Tarbert in Loch Fyne and was built in 1902 at Port Bannantyne. It’s deign was that of a Loch Fyne Skiff and it was fitted later with a Kelvin 7-9 hp in August of 1908,  later upgraded to a 8-10 hp model. We will continue to research these vessels in collaboration with locals so look out for more information in this year’s report!

3D interactive Scottish Medieval Galley Carvings

We have recently been posting about scanning and 3D analysis of medieval Scottish galley carvings, undertaken by the SAMPHIRE maritime archaeology team. These carvings are in a remote area of Scotland and while we definitely recommend a visit to go and see them in person, for those who cannot we have uploaded interactive models so that you can explore the carvings in three dimensions using just your browser. By clicking on the images below you can rotate, zoom and pan around the stones and by clicking on the annotations you can access more information about particular areas of the carving. This will work in the most up to date version of most browsers but users of older versions of Internet Explorer may find that they need to implement an update before they can see the models.



Kiel haul: 3D scans of galley carvings

You may remember our recent blog about the 3D scanning of medieval grave slabs in the churchyard of Kiel, near the town of Lochaline. Our boffins have been toiling away at processing the data and we now have a nice haul of results to share. As you can see there are four slabs we have scanned that depict Highland galleys (highlighted in red above). These are crucial evidence for research into the design and construction of this enigmatic emblem of medieval Scottish life.

A helmeted soldier at the rear of the galley holds his axe aloft

Scramble to Eigg – Highland boat survey

The Isle of Eigg was the destination for the maritime archaeologists of the SAMPHIRE team yesterday. We travelled from the Sound of Mull to revisit one of Scotland’s most fascinating maritime archaeological site, the clinker-built boat wreck at Galmisdale Bay. This wreck was first archaeologically surveyed around 20 years ago but is still not fully understood. It shows elements of a unique traditional boat-building technique common to the western British Isles and Scandinavia. The team was investigating reports by local residents of some of the timbers washing ashore over the winter and went to survey the current condition and investigate some of the construction details to try to enhance our understanding of the wreck.

We visited the home of local author Camille Dressler to record some of the timbers which she has saved from the beach and also took the opportunity to scan a galley carving at Kildonan church.

3D scanning the galley carving at Kildonan with the help of Brian, a longtime resident of Eigg

A grave situation: 3d scanning of medieval ship carvings

The maritime history of the west of Scotland is incredibly rich and one of the most important elements of it was the birlinn, or Highland galley – derived from Viking progenitors. This was the backbone of the medieval lordships of the west coast of Scotland and coastal parts of Ireland and there were thousands of galleys in operation during this period, undertaking both domestic and military activities. Unfortunately we have no physical remains of any galley and cannot analyse their construction and development. However we do have an amazing collection of contemporary carvings of galleys, some of which are very detailed. The SAMPHIRE team visited Denis Rixson, one of the foremost scholars on this subject, at his bookshop in Glasgow a few weeks ago and discussed his map of the ship carvings in Scotland. We then followed up today with the help of local resident Charlie Lamont and well-known historian and Lochaline resident Iain Thornber who has been researching the carved stones of Morvern for over 20 years. Iain has been involved in the preservation of a nationally significant group of medieval carved gravestones at Kiel, four of which depict Highland galleys. Between two dive surveys we visited the church at Kiel and carried out 3D scans of a collection of four grave slabs which depict Highland galleys. We will process these scans and post some of the results shortly.

Guns & Ammo (17th century style)

Guest blog by our Scottish student volunteer Bob Mackintosh:

At the start of this week the SAMPHIRE team visited the site of the Mingary Castle protected wreck (now a Historic Marine Protected Area) on Saturday for a ‘shakedown dive’, to refamiliarise ourselves with our equipment and the conditions in the Sound of Mull. The wreck site was discovered in 1999 and consists of five 17th century cannon and other small finds.


During the dive a previously unrecorded cannonball was found next to one of the cannon, but heavy kelp made determining exactly which cannon difficult. Because of this we decided to do a second dive to confirm the exact location of the ordnance so we could accurately update the protected site’s record. Not bad for a shakedown dive!

Defending the Thesis

Yesterday’s second dive for the SAMPHIRE team was a monitoring dive on the well-known Thesis wreck, one of the highlights of the Sound of Mull diving community. The Thesis sank in the Sound in 1889. Local diving centre operators Mark and Annabel Lawrence asked us to visit the site to check up on recent reports that large sections of this well-loved wreck had been destroyed over the winter, and as with the Short Sunderland it was speculated that dredging may have been the cause. The SAMPHIRE team carried out a dive on this site last year to test some photogrammetric recording techniques so were familiar with the previous condition of the site. A short dive yesterday afternoon was sufficient to establish that there has been a major collapse of the decking around the bow. However the fact that the external hull around the bow is still intact and the fragile and highly corroded nature of the surviving elements of the bow structure suggests that the collapse has more likely been due to the natural degradation of the hull. The photo above show Bob Mackintosh, student volunteer with the SAMPHIRE project searching around the bows of the wreck.


SAMPHIRE Team in Profile: Sam Walton

This year we are delighted to see the return of Scottish student volunteer Bob Mackintosh who is currently a PhD candidate at the University of Southampton. For this year’s fieldwork we are also fortunate to have been joined by another volunteer, Sam Walton. Sam is a highly-qualified commercial diver based in Ullapool who works on a wide variety of commercial and offshore diving projects across Scotland and internationally. We first met Sam last year as part of our community engagement fieldwork in Kyle of Lochalsh. This year Sam has joined the diving team to lend us his assistance as a volunteer and is helping us to explore and record new marine archaeological discoveries on the west coast of Scotland.

Plane sailing – Sunderland flying boat survey

Yesterday’s  first dive for the SAMPHIRE team was on the Short Sunderland in the Firth of Lorn, one of several flying boat wreck sites recorded as part of last year’s SAMPHIRE project with the help of the Scottish Association of Marine Science, the Dalriada Dive Club and RAF Brize Norton. As a military loss this wreck, along with all the other flying boats in the area, is legally protected from disturbance under the Protection of Military Remains Act and any divers considering a visit to this location must make sure to look but not touch. The wreck lies on it’s back and it’s wings are largely intact with more extensive damage to the tail area.

We returned to the site to gather more footage and data which might help us establish whether this is a Mark II or Mark III Sunderland and also to check up on reports of recent dredging damage to the site. We found that there was good visibility on the site and were able to get images and videos across the site. We are also happy to report that the site appears to be in the same configuration as shown on sidescan data from several years ago with no evidence of damage by benthic trawling.

Fyne-al resting place

The SAMPHIRE team stopped near the head of Loch Fyne to check out an intertidal shipwreck reported to us at Ardnoe, first reported to us a few weeks ago by Dr Clare Ellis of Argyll Archaeology. Clare had noticed the site while working on the shoreline nearby and got in touch with us after watching our talk on the SAMPHIRE project at the recent Archaeological Research in Progress (ARP) conference in Edinburgh. After battling our way through marshland we eventually got down to the shoreline and found the wreck. A close inspection showed that it is a large but crudely-built wreck sitting on its keel. It was clearly a large vessel of at least 18m in length with a shallow draught. It is carvel planked with planking held in place with treenails. The gunwales of the ship are now gone but the keel is well-preserved. A fascinating wreck which certainly deserves further investigation and we are going to try to come back to do a more detailed survey at the end of our dive programme this week.