Land, sea… And now air! SAMPHIRE takes to the skies over western Scotland! Dr. Jonathan Benjamin is today out and about with the RCAHMS aerial survey team to conduct a photographic survey of some of the sites we’ve had reported this year. This image shows the high-grade cameras we will be using. Stay posted for more results!
Aerial Photography is an invaluable technique for coastal surveys
Check out our other aerial surveys in Scotland:
The SAMPHIRE team had reports of two previously unrecorded wrecks in Loch Laxford. One of these is reported to be a slate wreck. Local divers have reported seeing the outline of a ship with its timbers projecting from the sand between two of the islands in the loch. The second wreck lies at the north side of the loch and we were able to find the sandy gully in which it lies. There are a variety of artefacts in this gully, including lead scuppers, a large anchor, bottles and machinery. As well as the images and video in this post, you can see our blog from the day we surveyed the location.
There have been few wrecks recorded as lost in Loch Laxford and these include the Phoenix the Helena and the Charlotte Mackenzie.
We have found that the best way to engage with the local maritime community and to gather information on local heritage sites is simply to spend as much time talking to people as possible. Working with local skippers allows us to do this and has been very rewarding in terms of local knowledge. We used two boats on the SAMPHIRE dive surveys this year, the MV Nimrod, based at Kinlochbervie and the MV Seaflower, based at Sheildaig.
The MV Nimrod is a historic converted trawler built in 1957. The Nimrod is skippered by Jimmy MacIntosh of Cape Wrath Charters. Jimmy is a well-known local who worked in fishing and cargo for many years and even had a stint as the harbourmaster at Kinlochbervie before moving to dive and angling charter work. Jimmy is no stranger to archaeology and worked with Time Team and our own Phil Harding when they came to Kinlochbervie in 2002 to survey the Spanish galleon near the village. We also met Jimmy during our community outreach fieldwork in May. Jimmy’s long experience of Kinlochbervie means that he knows every corner of the sea in the area and he has passed us information on a number of previously unrecorded wrecks in the area and we were delighted to be able to book him and the Nimrod for our dive surveys.
The Seaflower is a much more modern vessel. It is a 40ft high performance catamaran, launched in 2010 and operated by father and daughter team Kenny and Gemma Livingstone of Torridon Sea Tours. The Livingstone’s have deep roots in the area and Kenny’s father fished from Ardheslaig and recovered the cannon now on the main street. We used the Seaflower for our dive survey at Murchadh Breac. One of the most exciting features of the boat is its’ built in ROV, allowing us to see the seafloor down to 40m depth!
Kenny Livingstone explaining some of the local wreck history to Andrew Roberts, diver on the SAMPHIRE team.
Project SAMPHIRE is a marine archaeology project focused on western Scotland’s coasts and islands. SAMPHIRE enables local communities to engage with professional underwater archaeologists based in Scotland and aims to support the identification, investigation and appreciation of Scotland’s marine heritage. By working alongside local communities we hope to reinforce a shared sense of stewardship of those underwater archaeological sites.
This video shows examples of fieldwork conducted in 2013, including both community engagement and site investigation through dive surveys.
No dive survey can be undertaken without a serious amount of kit. This blog entry will show some of the equipment we have used for this year’s SAMPHIRE survey.
SAMPHIRE Principal Investigator Dr. Jonathan Benjamin on duty as dive supervisor in the wheelhouse of the MV Nimrod. Our communications system allows us to maintain a continuous two-way verbal contact with divers in the water.
The divers wear full-face masks allowing them to speak to the dive supervisor and also carry cameras, buoys, scales and other equipment to record anything they find. It is vital to check over all of the equipment before making the dive. Here the volunteers and archaeologists kit up with help from the tenders while the underwater camera is double-checked ahead of a dive in Loch Laxford.
The remote location of the dive sites also meant that it was necessary to bring our own compressor. Unfortunately the noise did not drive off the midges!
We conducted a shallow dive survey here to check out a large anchor reported by a local historian, one of a number of interesting sites reported to us around the shores of the loch.
Local resident Andrew Patrick accompanied us on our visit to the site and gave us lots of useful information and assistance.
Dive survey in Loch Torridon. We were able to establish that the anchor was relatively modern in date and is likely to relate to the early establishment of fish farms in the loch (possibly from the 1960s), allowing us to move on to the next site.
SAMPHIRE maritime archaeologist, Paolo Croce, scrambles up the edge of Ob Mheallaidh at the end of a snorkel survey.
During our recent surveys in the NW of Scotland we encountered some of the wildlife in the Highlands! Although we came to survey archaeological sites there was no escaping the flora and fauna. As well as Lion’s Mane Jellyfish we had to deal with other dangerous creatures. The good weather meant that conditions for diving were ideal but also encouraged the midges to come out. Midge nets were one of our key pieces of equipment!
We also ran into plenty of clegs (horsefly).
Fortunately not all the local wildlife is so terrifying! A group of deer came to check out our operations.
A local seal also dropped by our dive site to see what the fuss was about.
The SAMPHIRE team conducted a snorkel survey of a boat-shaped ballast site reported by experienced local diver Jimmy Crooks at a depth of around 8 metres.
Conditions did not allow us to conduct a dive at the site although we managed to capture video from the surface using a remote camera. Our imagery clearly shows a large feature at the location described to us by Jimmy.
You can see our post from the day of the survey here:
These are some images from our dive survey at Murchadh Breac, Loch Torridon. This site was first identified by a local fisherman and further information on the site was given to us by local charter operators Kenny and Gemma Livingstone and local historian Robert Gordon, all who live in Sheildaig. This first image shows Robert Gordon in discussion with the SAMPHIRE team member John McCarthy on where best to target the survey.
The underwater environment was heavily covered in kelp which hampered our search.
Gemma Livingstone deploying the ROV!
The day on the boat also gave us a great opportunity to pick the brains of the locals and we discovered that one of the local wrecks was visible in the intertidal part of a nearby burn at Chuaig Bay. Once the dive survey was complete the team headed ashore. We soon came across fragments of a wreck strewn across a wide area, including this well-preserved capstan. The locals informed us that the wreck was well-known locally despite not being recorded in the national archaeological databases and was called the Mafeking. According to local traditions the Mafeking was a salvage vessel, lost during an attempt to salvage the SS Sheila, another unlocated local wreck which we have coordinates for and which is reportedly visible near Chuaig Bay at very low tides.
You can also check out our first visit to the area in May, 2013 where we first met the locals and identified some potential site locations with them and our blogs from the day we carried out the dive survey on the 26th of July, 2013: