New SAMPHIRE 2014 Report now online!

We have just finalised our digital report for the SAMPHIRE Project in 2014 and it is chock-full of over 50 exciting new maritime archaeological discoveries. We have been visiting coastal communities in the Highlands and Argyll, diving from a local converted trawler and spreading the word through local talks and conferences in Scotland and Europe. This year’s focus for research has been on the area around Skye and the Firth of Lorn and the majority of the new sites are in that area. We have everything from newly discovered and identified shipwrecks and Mesolithic flints to stone anchors and WWII flying boats, all part of Scotland’s rich maritime archaeological heritage.

Thanks to the valuable knowledge held within local communities we can now start to locate and understand these sites, in most cases for the very first time. We have made lots of new friends in these communities, particularly with divers, fishermen and others whose lives and work centre on the sea. We’ve been able to invite student volunteers and local community members to participate in diving investigations and to make new wreck discoveries and we’ve even recorded evidence of Scotland’s prehistoric past. The project continues to gain momentum and this year we have benefitted from a series of new partnerships with fantastic organisations including Flinders University and the Scottish Association of Marine Science.

You can see and download the new report at and also grab a copy of the report for 2013 and other resources.

Maritime mass meetings: November conferences

This weekend has been a hectic one for the SAMPHIRE team. We have been at two conferences at opposite ends of the country, spreading the word about SAMPHIRE and encouraging members of local communities, amateur marine archaeologists and recreational divers to get involved in the stewardship of Scotland’s marine heritage.

Andrew Roberts and Peta Knott manning the WA Coastal & Marine stall and sharing some of the results of the SAMPHIRE project

Andrew Roberts from the SAMPHIRE team attended the Nautical Archaeology Society Annual Conference at the Museum of London this weekend to promote Project SAMPHIRE.  The conference was an interesting mixture of professional and avocational archaeologists and illustrated the valuable contribution that the public makes to archaeological projects. Several exciting projects were presented by colelagues in other organisations and other avocational groups including the Embo Zulu wreck study in Scotland by SCHARP and  NoSAS. This project was conducted with cooperation between local community members and professional archaeologists. There was also a fantastic talk by Dr Colin Martin, looking back at all of the amazing maritime archaeology he has undertaken in his career, much of it in Scotland, and how archiving work is being undertaken to preserve these discoveries and make them accessible to the Scottish public. The conference was a great venue to promote Project SAMPHIRE, engage with archaeologists and enthusiasts, and learn more about ongoing collaborations between communities and archaeologists.


The poster for the Scottish Dive Conference talk, created by Stirling Sub-Aqua Club who organised the event.

On the same day, John McCarthy attended the annual Scottish Dive Conference. He gave an hour long talk on the project to a room packed with Scottish divers with around 50 people in attendance and standing room only. There was a lot of enthusiasm for the project and many flyers and site reporting sheets were taken at the end of the talk. There were also lots of other great talk, including a fantastic presentation by well-known Scottish diver and wreck research Rod McDonald.


Presenting SAMPHIRE at the IKUWA 5 international maritime archaeology conference

Andrew Roberts showcases some of the main archaeological disocveries from SAMPHIRE.

Two members of the SAMPHIRE team have just returned from the biennial international maritime archaeology conference IKUWA V, held in Cartagena in Spain from the 15th to the 19th of October. The conference was held in the beautiful surrounds of the Escuela Técnica Superior de Ingeniería Industrial on the Campus Muralla del Mar. John McCarthy and Andrew Roberts travelled to Spain to present results from our work in 2013 and some of the new data we have gathered during 2014 to an international audience. We were also fortunate to be able to co-present with our Dr. Jonathan Benjamin, lecturer in maritime archaeology with our project partner Flinders University. This was a great opportunity for us to showcase Scottish marine archaeology on the international stage and to demonstrate the importance of positive collaboration with knowledgeable local communities to the investigation and discovery of offshore archaeology.

Boiler Alert: Newly recorded shipwreck may be the Medora, an 1860s schooner

This week our team of SAMPHIRE marine archaeologists has undertaken fieldwork at a newly discovered shipwreck site at Glenelg in the Scottish Highlands. We first heard about this site last year during our community outreach fieldwork. We spoke to Highland Council diver Bruce Greig and local resident Matt Baron who both mentioned wreckage on the northern shore of Glenelg Bay. They both described finding a boiler lying in the intertidal zone along with fully submerged wreckage spread around an adjacent gully to a depth of 16 metres. The wreckage reportedly included deck lights and condenser tubes. The SAMPHIRE team recorded the location of the site in our report last year (SAMPHIRE ID 38) and returned this year to make a preliminary survey and dive the site. We were joined by Glenelg resident Jimmy Watt. Jimmy previously provided us with an exact location for the boiler and came alongside the Kylebhan in his own boat, the Mayflower during the diving operation. He also reported that local people believed this to be a 19th century steamship with a cargo of coal which wrecked in Kylerhea and was pushed by the strong tidal currents to its final resting place.


Divers surveying the seabed around the boiler

It is only possible to dive this site for a short period due to its proximity to the narrow strait at Kylerhea and strong local tides. The team carried out a single dive on the site at low tide, carrying out a thorough search of the gully below the boiler. We found a small number of artefacts which may relate to the wreck but were unable to locate the main concentration of wreckage described by local divers before tidal conditions meant that the divers had to return to the boat. At the same time our volunteer researcher Chelsea accompanied Mr. Watt to carry out an investigation of the boiler on the shoreline which is exposed at low tides.

Local resident Jimmy Watts leads the team to the boiler site and assists with recording

Chelsea was later able to identify the boiler as a Scotch Marine Boiler, a type in common use from the mid-19th century to the early 20th century. This is highly significant as it allows us to rule out a number of possible reported losses in the area and make a possible identification.

Given the local tradition that the vessel had a cargo of coal and the identification of the steam boiler, it first appeared that this could be the wreck of the Deerpark. The Deerpark was a steel steamship built in 1901 and lost on the 11th November 1912 in Glenelg Bay with its cargo of coal. However further research for the SAMPHIRE project showed that the Deerpark was refloated in 1914 and sold for repair before being scuttled by a German U-Boat in 1916. There are several other vessels recorded as lost in Glenelg but most of them are somewhat too early to have had a boiler of this type. The remaining possibility is that this is the Medora, a schooner reported as having stranded in Glenelg in 1860 with a cargo of staves. There is no record that this vessel was recovered and this identification matches with descriptions by local divers that the wreckage appears to be of a wooden vessel. Further research should help us to confirm this identification so watch this space!


Project SAMPHIRE Partner Profile: Flinders University Maritime Archaeology Program

This year Flinders University  is working with Wessex Archaeology on Project SAMPHIRE (for more information on the backstory see this post). Representing Flinders within the team is Project Co-I Dr Jonathan Benjamin, who began as Lecturer in Maritime Archaeology in January. Jonathan is joined by Flinders postgraduate student Chelsea Colwell-Pasch, a Canadian studying maritime archaeology in Australia. Chelsea’s research is centered around Scottish ship-building and the maritime site Leven Lass which was built in Scotland (1839) and wrecked in Victoria, Australia (1854).

Volunteer Chelsea Polwell-Pasch

Maritime archaeology has been taught at Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia at undergraduate level since 1996 and at postgraduate level since 2002. The Graduate Program in Maritime Archaeology is now the largest and most successful of its kind in Australia and one of only a handful of places in the world to offer this specialised field of study. The program has three academic staff, adjunct staff, and a part-time technical officer, as well as PhD students (on scholarships) who also work part-time in the program. The Maritime Archaeology Program (MAP) at Flinders aims to provide students with a strong academic and theoretical grounding across a broad range of areas in maritime and underwater archaeology, coastal archaeology, and cultural heritage management in addition to extensive practical field-work based training through their many field schools on offer. The Graduate Program currently has approximately 35 graduate students and draws students from all over the world. Graduates of the PhD and masters programs now work for underwater cultural heritage agencies, museums and commercial archaeology firms as well as studying and teaching at tertiary institutions, both in Australia and overseas.

Chelsea has been working with the SAMPHIRE team to gain experience and support the project which relates directly to her research. Look for updates on twitter and the Flinders University Archaeology blog, which is updated by students and staff alike.

For more information on the Flinders Maritime Archaeology, or for interest in taking part in the 2015 fieldschool (held on the site Leven Lass in Victoria February 1-14th), please see the Flinders website or contact Jonathan directly. For those interested in marine geophysics for archaeology, Jonathan will also be partnering with Dr Paul Baggaley of Wessex Archaeology for this year’s week-long advanced practical in marine geophysics at Flinders University (November 16-21).

SAMPHIRE Team in Profile: Bob MacKintosh (Project Volunteer and Ph.D. Candidate)

Today’s guest blog is written by Bob Mackintosh who has joined the SAMPHIRE team as a volunteer for the 2014 fieldwork.

I am from Scotland and so the maritime past of the country holds an innate fascination for me. However, after studying law in Glasgow, and realising I wanted to be a maritime archaeologist, went to the University of Southampton to do a master’s in maritime archaeology. I am still there (albeit now living in Edinburgh), working towards a PhD. I chose Southampton for a number of reasons, the programme at Southampton is excellent, and the Centre for Maritime Archaeology is undertaking some excellent research, but I was required to head south as there are now no higher education maritime or underwater archaeology programmes at Scottish universities. Of course I have no regrets about this but it serves to highlight a relative lack of academic capacity in maritime archaeology in Scotland and is indicative of a wider lack of connection with our maritime heritage. Most underwater research is development led, undertaken by commercial organisations and so despite my passion, it is very hard for me to get involved in practical underwater archaeological work in Scotland as a postgraduate student. Heritage, especially when it is under water, can be a challenge to present to amateur archaeologists and the general public in an engaging and meaningful way. This is why Project SAMPHIRE is so important, and is why I jumped at the chance to join it as a volunteer.

My PhD research investigates how the 2001 UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage is being implemented. The Convention aims to improve the protection of underwater cultural heritage (UCH) through a number of means. These include legal mechanisms such as the prohibition of the commercial exploitation of UCH, and the imposition of sanctions for those acting not in conformity with the Convention. However, just as important are the Convention’s attempts to raise public awareness of UCH and increase the archaeological capacity of ratifying states by making them establish and maintain inventories of UCH, and cooperate in the training of underwater archaeologists.

The UK has not ratified the Convention. However, despite this, many people in the UK work tirelessly to improve the protection of UCH. Project SAMPHIRE is an excellent example of this and a number of its aspects align with those of the Convention, especially the participation of the public in the archaeological process, improving the information about UCH in CANMORE (the national inventory of heritage in Scotland maintained by RCAHMS, and giving experience to early career maritime archaeologists.

Bob investigates the wreck suspected to be the Iris

Over the past week the team has investigated reports from the public of underwater remains of vessels and aircraft, and in a number of instances the person who made the report has been present to help us work. Tonight we are heading to Lochaline Dive Centre to give a lecture about the project to local dive clubs, who will assist us by diving some possible wrecks sites this weekend. Word of mouth has also raised our profile, our skipper was last night asked in Inverie whether he was the one with a boat full of archaeologists! Our results will be disseminated widely through the annual project reports, project blog/website, various lectures (public and professional) and technical publications to follow. This process does not only help us as archaeologists in encouraging the public to come forward with previously unknown and rumoured sites, but helps engage the communities whose heritage this is. It is a chance to educate people about the importance of their heritage, inform them of the current legal protection it enjoys, and hopefully encourage them to monitor or even further research these sites themselves. A greater public awareness of UCH will hopefully ensure its better protection, and may even eventually lead to a political will for the UK to ratify the UNESCO Convention.

Inventories are key tools for archaeologists, allowing researchers to more easily investigate the maritime past in an area, and if they contain publicly available and accurate positions of UCH, public access is improved and the monitoring of the condition of sites is made easier. This year Project SAMPHIRE has been able to confirm the location of a 19th century wreck on the north-west coast off Skye, thought to be the Iris, identified a ‘Scotch Marine Boiler’ to the south side of Kyle Rhea, and extended the extent of (and added a number of lithics to) a previously known Mesolithic site on Eigg. In all cases accurate locations and photographic evidence will be added to CANMORE. This weekend we are working with local dive clubs to investigate a number of probable wreck sites identified in bathymetry provided by the Scottish Association of Marine Science (SAMS), hopefully allowing us to add other new sites.

Finally Project SAMPHIRE has included two volunteers on the team, Chelsea Colwell-Pasch and me, giving us invaluable experience of a professional underwater archaeological project and aiding in our professional development. Most importantly for me the trip has provided a rare chance (very rare in Scotland) to participate in scientific archaeological diving, and the benefits to a less experienced archaeologist of diving with professionals from Wessex and Flinders University are incalculable; it is experience I wouldn’t be able to buy.

Success in Skye: New Historic Shipwreck Confirmed

The SAMPHIRE team undertook a shipwreck hunt this Sunday and Monday at Loch Bay at the NW corner of the Isle of Skye. We have been searching for a 19th century wooden shipwreck reported to us by John Beaton of the Dalriada Sub-Aqua Club. Although this wreck has never been charted by hydrographers or archaeologists, its location has been known for some years to a small number of local divers.  We were first told of the wreck after our recent talks in Oban, undertaken as part of our community engagement fieldwork.  Although John was unable to join us for the diving he did provide a coordinate and we set out to verify this location.

John’s coordinate proved to be spot on and on our first dive we found ourselves surrounded by a wide variety of wreckage. The wreckage is spread over an area of around 30 metres and includes structural components, copper sheathing, hull planking and machinery. Our dive team were able to take measurements, video and photographs and will use these to attempt to identify the wreck. One possible answer is that this is Iris, a Clyde-built merchant vessel lost in the bay in the mid-19th century. Through careful examination of our survey data we should be able to test this theory.

Ardintoul – Flying boats and floating scotsmen

Yesterday the SAMPHIRE team spent the day chasing up a local tip off that there may be remains of a flying boat at the old Royal Navy Oil Fuel Store at Ardintoul. Locals believe this was an emergency refuelling stop for both boats and flying boats and that there are remains of a flying boat here that had sunk at its moorings. We met local resident Matt Baron, another person who participated in SAMPHIRE last year. Matt is a local publican and diver and is hoping to identify new wreck sites to attract more divers and support the local economy. He came out to meet us in his rib and helped us to investigate and understand this fascinating survival which includes a well preserved WWII era complex of industrial buildings in a stunning location.

Clachan Harbour, Raasay: Searching for submerged and intertidal prehistoric deposits

The SAMPHIRE team stopped for a day to investigate one of Scotland’s rare intertidal archaeological sites to contains peat deposits and traces of Mesolithic occupation. The site at Clachan Harbour, Raasay was originally reported to a local archaeologist by a community member who cut peat in the area and found a number of in situ Mesolithic tools. Subsequent work was carried out by Scotland’s First Settlers Project and other pre-development survey and test excavation prior to the construction of the modern pier. This work showed that this shown to be one of the only locations in Scotland where sediments which were dry land in prehistoric times had subsequently become intertidal due to the rising sea levels since the Mesolithic times. However no diving survey had been done in the area to see if these deposits continued underwater and if so this would be even more important. The SAMPHIRE project allows us to look at all submerged heritage and this includes historic and prehistoric sites and after working on a possible 19th Century historic shipwreck the previous day, the SAMPHIRE team switched gears and took the day to investigate and survey the intertidal deposit of prehistoric peat, water-logged woodland (tree branches and stumps) and to undertake underwater survey. The divers investigated the deposits by digging a series of test pits below the tidal zone while the terrestrial team dug some test pits to look more closely at the complex stratigraphy on the site.

At the end of a long day of survey the team were delighted to bump into some friends from last year’s fieldwork, Andy Holbrow and Andy Venters. They are scallop divers who previously helped us to identified a number of previously unknown shipwrecks and you can read more about their contributions in our report from last year .

A cracking day at Eigg

We are fortunate to be joined on our fieldwork this year by Professor Karen Hardy of the Institució Catalana de Recerca i Estudis Avançats (ICREA) at the Universitat Autònoma Barcelona. Karen has been investigating the coastal Mesolithic sites in the west of Scotland for many years and has developed strong links with local communities. While the dive team investigated a wreck at Eigg, Karen was able to undertake a coastal walkover survey around the harbour and has identified a number of Mesolithic lithic scatters. This is another great example of the international interdisciplinary partnerships that this project has facilitated.