Current Projects

Listed and briefly described here are some of the current approaches to characterise the maritime historic environment resource. Audits of existing information and the provision of a platform on which to build future work are essential to research into Scottish marine and maritime heritage.

Scottish Marine Historic Environment Data Audit: Sources for the enhancement of the Coastal and Marine Historic Environment Record

(Wessex Archaeology commissioned by Historic Scotland)

WA Coastal & Marine (located in Edinburgh and part of Wessex Archaeology, Registered Scottish Charity No. SC042630) was commissioned to provide a rapid study concerning the availability of data for enhancement of the Historic Environment Record (HER) with regard to the coastal and marine environment. The aim of the project was to identify significant existing datasets, assess their value for cultural heritage purposes and to make a series of recommendations for enhancement of the marine HER. The project is intended to inform and support both the work of Historic Scotland to safeguard the coastal and marine environment, and the role of the RCAHMS in the enhancement of its coastal and marine records. An important element of the project was the design and creation of a database listing the most significant organisations holding data of relevance to the coastal and marine historic environment with regard to possible future data mining. Where possible, the limits of the data sources which had a geographic extent were defined. The aims of the project were accomplished by contacting the most relevant external authorities, agencies and contractors and requesting general descriptions of holdings of potential relevance and extents of data coverage. Maps of organisations were created in some cases from the co-ordinates recorded in the Audit Database. The rapid study was commissioned in January and was concluded in March 2011. It was decided early on that it was vital to assess as wide a range of sources as possible. These included community sources such as divers and fishermen, written and cartographic sources and remote sensing datasets. Given the inherent limited scale of the project, the primary focus was a review of the large-scale geophysical surveys in the marine zone by various governmental organisations outside the heritage sector. Polygon extents representing the vast majority of historical geophysical surveys conducted within Scottish Waters have been brought together in a series of figures. In a short space of time this study was able to quantify a vast amount of largely untapped existing data. It also included a detailed series of recommendations for the streamlining and enhancement of future data-gathering programmes (e.g. through closer cooperation on geophysical and geotechnical surveys by stakeholders).

For further details and the audit itself, see

Characterising Scotland’s Marine Archaeological Resource

(Wessex Archaeology commissioned by Historic Scotland)

Although records existed for the known marine archaeological assets in Scottish waters, Historic Scotland decided that an overview of the dataset was required both as an aid to making planning policy and decisions, and to help in the change to a new system of protecting cultural heritage in the marine environment. Wessex Archaeology compiled a database from the sites with a ‘maritime’ classification in the RCAHMS Canmore database. Only assets with recorded locations, based on instrumental measurements, within Scottish waters were included. As such, a number of records that had been included in the Canmore database were removed from the project database as they did not conform to these criteria of selection. Different database tables were created for different classes of marine archaeological resource. The classes are: Shipwrecks; Aircraft wrecks; Spot finds; and Maritime Infrastructure (including navigational aids and mooring places).

Information from published sources was used to make each entry in the database as complete as possible and to allow the archaeological resource to be characterised the data was broken down into categories. These categories were designed to allow thematic enquiries to be made reflecting the history of each asset, any associations it might have with named people or other archaeological material. whether there might be any respect issues, principally with regard for the potential for human remains to be associated with a site, what the state of survival of the asset is and what level of associated records there are for a site. This is referred to as the BULSI (Build, Use, Loss, Survival. Investigation) approach and was based on the methodology for the study of shipwreck records undertaken by WA Coastal & Marine in England (Wessex Archaeology 2011). The records were examined by region, as well as at a national level.

More details on the broader scope of both the Scottish Marine Historic Environment Data Audit and Characterising Scotland’s Marine Archaeological Resource and potential future directions have been set out in a recent paper (Lancaster et al. in press). Both of the above projects were undertaken within a restricted timescale and budget and should be viewed as the first steps in unlocking the potential of the marine resource to better understand Scotland’s past .

As a point of comparison, the USA’s department of the interior (through the Bureau of Ocean Energy management) recently commissioned a study designed to analyse and inventory the marine archaeological resources on the Pacific Outer Continental Shelf (from 3 to 200 nautical mile offshore and excluding the nearshore waters 0 – 3 nm); a program designed as a two-year desk based study, with a budget of $650,000 USD.  The two Scottish reports listed here were undertaken in under a (combined) half-year and at a cost <10% of the Pacific OCS study.

Maritime and Intertidal Archaeology in Wales: A Research Agenda (The Research Framework for the Archaeology of Wales)

This paper was produced in order to present suggestions for the direction of further study and to strengthen current weaknesses in the management of maritime heritage. The weaknesses highlighted in this paper are chiefly concerned with post-designation management of maritime sites. These include inadequacy in the national maritime database, lack of subtidal and intertidal survey by qualified archaeologists, lack of response and curation of surveys undertaken by developers, sports’ divers, and the lack of curation and conservation of material declared to Receiver of Wreck and from excavated wrecks. The research agenda emphasises the need to examine methods of identifying areas of maritime importance, of identifying threats to these areas, of encouraging and training in fieldwork and raising awareness of the National Maritime Database and promotion of maritime projects. There are four candidate topics listed in the original review for future study: investigations on early sites; technological advancement in later sites; the Welsh dimension of maritime archaeology; and surveys on vulnerable areas of high potential. All the points highlighted in this paper are valuable and need to be considered for the management of the maritime heritage throughout the UK, though the paper primarily discusses general issues of managing maritime heritage rather than presenting a detailed research agenda. The original document has subsequently been reviewed in 2011 with more specific recommendations added that highlight several specific research topics.


Securing a Future for Maritime Archaeological Archives (MAA) (A collaborative project in support of the aims of Archaeological Archives Forum – March 2009)

The recent work by the IFA Maritime Affairs Group (MAG) highlighted that the current state of maritime archives and the need for improvements. As a result the Archaeological Archives Forum instigated the project ‘Securing a Future for Maritime Archaeological Archives (MAA)’ in 2009. The project provided baseline information on the scale and extent of the problem to inform future solutions to the current situation, by gathering data on three key areas:

  • Current geographical remits of museums and archives in the offshore zone
  • The extent of the current situation regarding maritime archives
  • Gauge future demand for maritime archaeological archive capacity.

This included a survey questionnaire response on maritime archive collection, storage and policy from select museums located within proximity to the coast and major tidal rivers. The result was reported and displayed in distribution maps. While this research has produced valuable data, the investigations in Scotland appear to be limited. There is no mention of the archive that may be held at the regional SMRs/HERs or the National Archives and several museums that hold maritime archive were not included in the survey, i.e. Unst Boat Haven, Glasgow Museum of Transport and the National Museums Scotland. All phases of the project have now been reported. The definition of maritime archaeology in this project did not cover inland waters.


Maritime and Marine Historic Environment Research Framework

(Southampton University commissioned by English Heritage)

Recently, English Heritage commissioned Southampton University to create a framework for archaeological research into the maritime and marine historic environment. This was designed to provide a coherent overview of previous research, and to set out shared research priorities for the future. The framework was put together through a series of specialist panels based around period themes, as well as panels that considered archaeological archives and collections. The report will be published in summer 2012, while some of the project archives are available through the Archaeology Data Service.


Seascape Characterisation

Characterisation initiatives have been used in terrestrial historic environment contexts, primarily utilising GIS platforms. Recently, marine and maritime environments have adopted similar methodologies in England ( The English Heritage sponsored Historic Seascape Characterisation approach has mapped cultural processes in coastal and marine environments, totalling around 60% of the coastline of England by March 2011. Much of this work was funded by the Aggregates Levy Sustainability Fund (ALSF). Recent reviews of the applicability of historic characterisation projects have taken place (Clark et al 2004) and the recent technical report for England’s Historic Seascapes ( identified a number of important challenges that this methodological approach presents to researchers undertaking the characterisation and to those users of the end products.

Scotland’s Historic Environment Audit (SHEA)

As part of the panel deliberations, research was commissioned to investigate the extent and locations of the Scottish Marine and Maritime archives, repositories and active research programmes. This should help inform any future attempt to characterise the nature of the information into Scotland’s Marine and Maritime historic environment, as Scotland’s Historic Environment Audit ( is tasked with undertaking.

A list of organisations that hold maritime/marine collections , manage a database or conduct research, and their location, was created into an excel spreadsheet, with information sourced from the internet, Heal 1988 and Securing a Future for Maritime Archaeological Archives, Element One: Mapping Maritime Collection Areas. Details of the collections were listed when information was available, and the organisations were not contacted. The term ‘collection’ used in this context covers both museum collections/exhibits/displays and archaeological archive.

The organisations have been categorised by the geographic area they cover (‘national’ or ‘regional’), or specified as a ‘research group’ or ‘port authority’. ‘National’ includes Country-wide Museums, Institutes and Societies that hold collections from the whole of Scotland and/or UK (36 items). ‘Regional’ includes Local museums, SMRs/HERs, Online catalogues and databases (99 items). ‘Research Groups’ includes Universities or Trusts that promote and undertake research and produce archive, but do not typically hold or receive collections (18 items). ‘Port Authorities’ comprises a list of port authorities in Scotland (23 items). It was felt that the data would be best illustrated within a GIS, using a database that comprised the above categories. Ideally the regional organisations would be represented by a polygon to illustrate the area that the collection covers.

The information gathered during this research may help fill the gaps in maritime knowledge in association with Scotland’s Historic Environment Audit (SHEA), and identifies future directions in which to gain additional information. Headline indicators might include: the number of organisations that hold maritime archives; the number of organisations that hold maritime records; and the number of organisations that are involved with maritime research and/or produce archive material (i.e. postgraduate research; underwater surveys).

If one of the end results of an audit of Scotland’s Marine and Maritime Historic Environment Record is to quantify maritime collections for statistical purposes it should be noted that the term archive needs to be assessed. The number of sites with archive would be more meaningful than the number of maritime collections. For example, would ‘archive’ pertain to an organization (i.e. the ADU archive), which may include multiple sites, or the archive for a particular site, which may be part of a larger project/collection (i.e. the SoMAP archive)? Perhaps a more meaningful number would be the number of sites with associated archives and the number of archives associated with that particular site.

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