NAS Newsfeed - May 2018

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Having a blast: NAS member reports on a close encounter with cannon during protected wreck survey in Dorset, UK.

“Cannon to the right of us, cannon to the left”: NAS member Nick Reed joined the NAS team diving on two newly protected wrecks off Chesil Beach, Dorset, UK—or at least one of them. Here he reports on the thrill of putting NAS training into practice—where conditions allowed.

I was one of a group of four NAS members who had the privilege of participating in an NAS protected wreck survey, just off Chesil beach in Dorset earlier this month.

Surprisingly, when NAS Education Officer Peta Knott asked us why we had come along, the chance to dive a protected wreck site was not one of the main reasons. People said that they had come to explore a new career path; simply to go diving; or to see cannon. But by far the most common response was that it gave us a chance to make practical use of our newly acquired NAS training.

In the months leading up to the survey, the Society had run a number of courses locally, giving participants the knowledge and skills needed to undertake the survey. These included the standard Recorder and Surveyor Skills Days as well as Photogrammetry of Finds, and Cannon Identification and Recording.

We arrived in Weymouth on the Friday evening and began loading our gear onto our boat for the weekend, Wey Chieftain IV. Its owner, Richard Bright-Paul, is the Chesil Beach site licensee and one of Weymouth’s most experienced skippers.  After an initial briefing about the boat and the plan for the weekend, we headed off to the Isle of Portland to our accommodation and food! We finished the evening at the Cove House Inn, where we enjoyed a meal looking out over Lyme Bay and the dive site beneath.

As there are quite strong tidal streams on the site, we left the harbour at 07:15hrs on Saturday in order to catch the slack. Heading south towards Portland Bill, it soon became obvious that there was a fairly large ground swell left over from the previous couple of days. This was even more pronounced when we arrived on site.

The Chesil Beach Protected Wreck is actually two sites. The inshore site lies just about fifty metres off the beach, but the conditions meant that it would have been extremely unpleasant, if not dangerous, to dive it. Even though the sea state was relatively benign here, the waves were running up this famous shingle beach for about fifteen metres: the noise of the stones rolling around was really noticeable.

Chesil Beach Wrecks Site 1 

Image: Site 1 is a bit close to a boisterous beach for safe diving!

After a quick discussion, it was decided that we would concentrate on the outer site (site 2) and see if the swell would die off in the afternoon. The plan was to locate it, find the cannon, and carry out an initial assessment to see what was present

With no obvious feature sticking up from the sea bed, Richard had to rely on accurate coordinates and his knowledge and skill to put the anchor close to the cannon. The first pair of divers, Graham and Monica had the task of doing a circular search to locate a cannon and then releasing a float to signal to Chris and me that they were on site. It’s a testament to Richard’s skill that the float was released a after just a few minutes. Chris and I then joined Monica and Graham, and a successful dive led to all seven cannon being located. They were all heavily concreted and half-buried in the seabed. For such a dynamic site, it was surprisingly dusty—reducing the visibility to about two metres. Concreted cannon

 Image: Concreted cannon at Chesil Beach Site 2

 The surface interval was spent logging the dive and recording our discoveries.

Dive logs writing

 Image: Hard at work between dives writing up logs and drawing site plans

Although the swell had dropped considerably, we all felt that it would be more useful to continue documenting Site 2. We adopted a similar system to the morning dive, with Graham and Monica locating the cannons and Chris and I measuring them using the standard NAS cannon recording sheet. The visibility had improved dramatically, and we were able to record all of the cannons during our fifty-minute dive time.

Sadly, the forecast for the Sunday meant that diving either Site 1 or 2 was not feasible, and so a plan B was formulated. Again, Richard’s skill and experience came to the fore, and he was able to find us two more historic wrecks where we could practice our survey skills.

The first site (shotted at 0700 on a Sunday morning!) was the Brandy Wreck. This was located on a dive by The Shipwreck Project when Richard and his team were looking for the remains of an American aircraft from the Second World War. It lies in the middle of Weymouth Bay at around 26m. It’s named after the onion style bottle that one of the divers retrieved from an early dive. Little else is known about the history of the wreck, but artefacts found on the site seem to indicate that it could be as old as the early seventeenth century. With visibility in the region of 8m we were able to easily locate and record the three cannon and a large but broken anchor.

Our project weekend finished by diving the Earl of Abergavenny. This is an East Indiaman that wrecked in 1805 with the loss of over 200 lives. It was heavily salvaged shortly after its wrecking using primitive diving gear, and later systematically excavated over a twenty-year period by members of the Weymouth LUNAR society.

Abergavenney artefacts 

Image: Preparing to dive by looking at Earl of Abergavenny artefacts Although widely dispersed, the site enabled the team to practice their search, recording and videoing skills.

So, what’s next? There is another survey week planned in mid-June, to which NAS members are invited: contact the NAS office for details. The plan is to go back to the sites and survey them in more detail using standard recording, photogrammetry, and so on. We also hoped to carry out a survey between the two sites to see whether they are linked, or are two separate sites The ship’s or ships’ identities are at present unknown. A report from Wessex Archaeology has suggested that two possible candidates are the De Hoop (known locally as the Hope), a Dutch East Indiaman wrecked in 1749 or an English merchantman called the Squirrel, wrecked in 1750.

Thanks go to the NAS Education Officer Peta Knott for organising the weekend along with Persefoni Lesgidi, her able project-assistant intern from the University of Southampton. We were also very lucky to have Richard and his partner Sue as skipper and crew: having someone who really knows the area and the site means that you are halfway there already to having a successful survey.


 NAS dive Team

Image: NAS divers and Wey Chieftain IV crew

We all came away from the weekend feeling more confident in our abilities, not only to take part in a survey but also to undertake one independently. There are hundreds of historic wrecks all around the UK, all crying out to be surveyed and recorded. Discovery is just the beginning!

The Chesil Beach protected wrecks

Historic England’s description of the site lists the following reasons for its designation:

Rarity: The overall assemblage is one of the few known archaeological wrecks representative of late C17/early C18 date;
Group value:
the cannon assemblages are part of the rich archaeological heritage off Chesil Beach and has group value with the designated wreck site off West Bay;
areas of potential survival have been identified and there is potential for buried artefacts and deposits to be preserved, particularly under the guns;
The assemblages have the potential to enhance our understanding of merchant ships and seafaring trade during the mid to late C17. The remains have significant potential for further study and comparison with other designated cannon sites such as those at West
Bay (also Dorset) and Salcombe (Devon).


Tales from the Archives: When White Rocks Mean Coal - Sheilah Openshaw, NAS Members Research Group Coordinator
How do you miss 2,000 t of cargo? Blame the barnacles. Archival research by the NAS Members Research Group—and some confirmatory diving—has solved the mystery of a known wreck that is no longer the Hartburn. The group’s Sheilah Openshaw reports on how public archives can complement your diving investigations.

In the 1990s a dive-club project team was diving the wrecks in John and Vicki Hinchcliffe’s book Dive Dorset on England’s south coast to assess them for inclusion in the club’s dive plan. Site 203 in the book was the wreck of the Hartburn. The description concluded that: “The Hartburn had started her voyage from Manchester with a cargo of hay and trucks, so a search of her holds might help to confirm her identity.” Obviously, there was no hay. But neither were there any trucks—just large white lumps of rock. This is the story of how the wreck was correctly re-identified.

The first, and most obvious, task facing us was to make a list of all the possible wrecks and eliminate as many as possible. We were fortunate to be given a copy of the Dorset Sites & Monuments Record (SMR), a database of all the shipwrecks reported off the Dorset coast that had been compiled by Gordon le Pard. The SMR has been succeeded by and is administered by Historic England. Basic criteria such as size and whether the vessel was powered by sail or steam were used to make quick eliminations.

The result was a shortlist that included the Netley Abbey. A search of the Discovery catalogue at the UK’s National Archives (NA) at Kew, London, revealed a number of entries in the Admiralty section. One was a telegram from Portsmouth to London informing the Admiralty that HMS Surprise had crashed into the merchant collier Netley Abbey three miles south of St. Alban’s Head—almost exactly where the wreck in question lies.

The log of HMS Surprise gave a track from Portsmouth which could be plotted both outward and return to give an approximate position for the collision: this was indeed consistent with the position of the wreck. An incident of this nature warrants a Court Martial: unfortunately, the record of this has been ‘weeded’ from the archive.

At the time of our research, the British Library’s newspaper section was at Colindale, in North London, and it was easy to use either microfilm or actual newspapers. This facility is now located at Boston Spa in Yorkshire, but up to 10 newspapers can be ordered per day and delivered to the British Library’s site on Euston Road in London. They also have a good supply of microfilm, and are in the process of digitising the whole collection. You can find out about it at:
This is a subscription service, but is free to use at the British Library, TNA and other repositories for example Plymouth Central Library, which have a subscription.

The newspapers of the day gave great insight into circumstances of the wreck—but also the reassurance that sloppy journalism and narrative with an agenda were alive and well in the Victorian era. There was an obvious difference in opinion as to who was to blame between the civilian and the military press. It appears that the captain of the Netley Abbey gave an interview to the local, civilian, Portsmouth paper, which had been syndicated.  The course he described—which was the same as in the Court Martial report—put Netley Abbey at the same place as the log of HMS Surprise. However, the newspapers that subsequently printed the story omitted some details, giving the impression that she was eight miles from her actual position.

Netley Abbey

Above: The Netley Abbey, courtesy Bristol Museum Collection

The National Maritime Museum, the Guildhall Library (London), Liverpool Maritime Museum, The David MacGregor Library at the SS Great Britain, Southampton Central Library and our very own NAS have copies of Lloyds Register. This gives basic details of the dimensions and machinery of the ship, which were helpful in the initial stages of eliminating vessels from the search. But plans are better. Unfortunately, the original plans for the Netley Abbey no longer exist: however, she had undergone a survey for Lloyds, so there was a record of the drawing made for that survey at The National Maritime Museum and a copy was available for a fee.

A few dives with tape measures confirmed that measurements of the wreck, her engine etc. were, within tolerance, those of the Netley Abbey. A search for the cargo holds (how does one lose 2,000 tons of coal?) revealed that the large white rocks seen on that first dive were actually coal that was covered in barnacles.

Today the Netley Abbey lies 37– 39m below the English Channel about 3 miles South of St. Albans Head. She may be dived from boats in Swanage or Weymouth in Dorset, although for ribs, launching from Kimmeridge is closer. She makes a less crowded alternative to the Aolean Sky. You can read about her in The Mariner’s Mirror 99(3) of August 2013.

The NAS Members Research Group is taking its summer break now. Once the best of the diving weather is over, we will be back meeting again at the National Archive on the second Saturday of the month. If you have any queries you’d like us to chase up, please get in touch at




Off Chesil Beach: Training opportunities for NAS members on newly protected UK wrecks
This year, the Society is offering training opportunities exclusively to its members through fieldwork projects on the UK’s Chesil Beach wrecks, which only received protected status last year. On offer is expert guidance, the chance to practice skills, plus special access to sites that require a licence. NAS education officer Peta Knott reports on a first excursion: and what’s coming up next.

The NAS training programme gets you up and running quickly. So that anyone could be part of the Chesil Beach experience, we started at the very beginning—holding NAS Recorder and Surveyor Skills Days in the Weymouth Old Town Hall in March. Those who made it to both days learned the basics of underwater archaeological investigation. However, some didn’t make it to the second day, because of snow—a rarity in this part of the UK.

Above: The Skills Days Stalwarts that survived the snow

The learning continued with a photogrammetry course, again at the (slightly less cold!) Old Town Hall. Expert photographer Martin Davies guided the participants through the process of capturing the appropriate photos and then processing them into 3D models: some with more success than others!

Photogrammetry of cannons

Above: Photogrammetry models by Nick Reed and Evia Soussi

 A gun-recording and identification course was the final formal training held for the project. Experts Ruth Brown and Kay Smith bombarded us (!) with their knowledge, leading a fun, exhausting and chilly day of looking at cannon and learning how to identify them.

Gun recording in Fort Cumberland

Above: Measuring Fort Cumberland cannons at Gun Course

Members were now ready to put their training into practice. The chance came on the weekend of 12-13 May, when a small group of members ventured out of Weymouth, Dorest, on Wey Chieftain IV to investigate the two of the protected wreck sites of Chesil Beach. Well, that was the plan. The reality was that the weather had other ideas for us and we were only able to dive one of the sites, and only for a day. Our skipper and wreck licensee Richard Bright-Paul, shotted the very low profile site with great accuracy, allowing the divers ample time to investigate the wreck over two dives.

Divers on Chesil Beach Wreck

Above: Weymouth wreck weekend divers - Monica, Graeme, Chris and Nick (Left to right)

 On Sunday—this is the UK—the weather ruled the Chesil Beach sites out completely. But luckily—this is the UK—there are many other interesting historic sites to visit off Weymouth. Our members practiced their site-sketching, measuring and video skills on the Brandy wreck and the Earl of Abergavenny. You can see what they got up to on this video.

There are more opportunities ahead for our members to investigate protected wreck sites as we are going back to Weymouth on 18-22 June. All members are welcome, but there are pre-requisites: NAS Intro and Part 1 or eLearning and Skills Days; BSAC Sports Diver or equivalent, a minimum of ten cold water/poor viz dives and training in the use of a DSMB. If you are interested, contact




Adventure on the high SSEAS: NAS training makes a splash in Florida -  As well as delivering its training directly, the NAS has dynamic training partners around the world. Long-time NAS friend (and recent NAS Conference speaker) Della Scott-Ireton is associate director of just such a partner in the US—the Florida Public Archaeology Network (FPAN). Here she reports on Submerged Sites Education & Archaeological Stewardship (SSEAS), a course incorporating the NAS Part I syllabus that is drawing in sports divers in the state of Florida.

FPAN is a programme of the University of West Florida in Pensacola,Floriday. We are a proud to partner with the Nautical Archaeology Society, offering the NAS Part I course—Introduction to Maritime Archaeology—to sport divers in Florida. We call our course Submerged Sites Education & Archaeological Stewardship, or SSEAS, and it is envisioned as a way to train and encourage divers to become involved in maritime archaeology through volunteering on projects, but also by investigating previously unrecorded sites and monitoring historic shipwrecks such as the state’s Underwater Archaeological Preserves.

FPAN divers 1

Above: Divers using offset survey method during FPAN Training course

Florida has the longest coastline of any of the continental United States. It is also the top sports-diving destination in the US, drawing tens of thousands of diving visitors, as well as citizens, to our generally warm, clear waters. In addition to tropical fish, manatees, and coral reefs, Florida also boasts thousands of shipwrecks ranging from Spanish and British colonial ships to lumber schooners, tramp steamers, and our nation’s oldest battleship. While federal and state laws are in place to protect these sites, archaeologists and heritage managers have found, through long experience, that education and outreach are much more effective means of protection for long-term preservation.

SSEAS was developed on the basis of the NAS training scheme to provide interested divers with basic archaeological training, including ethics, conservation, and preservation, and to teach them non-disturbance recording methods such as baseline offset and trilateration skills. It is tailored to Florida divers, including US and Florida laws and regulations, and opportunities to become involved in research projects around th state that need volunteer assistance. Trained SSEAS divers also are invited to assist heritage managers in the inspection and monitoring of heavily visited sites, such as the Preserves, to make note of any changes to the site or evidence of vandalism. They also may be called on to check out newly reported sites, such as shipwrecks uncovered on beaches by storms and hurricanes.

 FPAN divers 2

Above: FPAN divers helping to record sites off the Florida coast.

To date, SSEAS has proven popular: FPAN hosts eight to ten classes per year, and requests are increasing. All SSEAS graduates are given the NAS training booklet and are encouraged to pursue further training through NAS and other organizations in the US that participate in the NAS programme, such as the National Marine Sanctuaries. SSEAS graduates also are eligible for a one-year membership of NAS, which they are excited to receive! The SSEAS program is one of FPAN’s most popular and most requested workshops, and we are proud to partner with NAS for diver education!


And the Muckelroy Award goes to … La Belle
The biennial Keith Muckelroy Memorial Award recognizes publishing excellence in the field of Maritime Archaeology. It was awarded at the Society’s annual conference in Portsmouth in November to La Belle: The Archaeology of a Seventeenth-Century Ship of New World Colonization, edited by James Bruseth, Amy Borgens, Bradford Jones, and Eric Ray.

The judges praised its “thorough, wide-ranging and well-produced report on the excavation of, and subsequent study of material from, an unusual shipwreck. Keith would have been interested in the use of the coffer-dam, and in the range and quantity of finds. It offers a model of what other projects should strive to achieve on their sites.” Amy Borgens, Texas State Marine Archeologist and one of the editors of the book, was at the conference to receive the award on behalf of the team behind it. Here she gives her reaction:

I was honoured to come to Portsmouth to receive this award on behalf of project director Jim Bruseth, the Texas Historical Commission, Texas A&M University Press, and the authors, editors, investigators, conservators, and other team collaborators that made this project and publication possible.

La Belle is one of the most important historical archaeological discoveries ever made in North America. This small 51-ft French vessel was part of colonial explorer Robert La Sieur de La Salle’s expedition to create a colony on the Mississippi River that could double as staging area for a proposed military venture to capture the Spanish silver mines of northern New Spain. Misjudging the location of the Mississippi River mouth, La Salle instead landed in modern-day Matagorda Bay, Texas, establishing the settlement of Fort St. Louis deep in Spanish territory. Ultimately the expedition failed, and La Salle was assassinated in Texas by his own men during an overland trip to seek assistance from the French Fort of St. Louis in Illinois.

La Belle exhibition

Above: The conservered remains of La Belle on display at the Bullock Museum

The discovery of La Belle in 1995 by the Texas Historical Commission and the following 1996-1997 excavation were themselves landmark events. Until recently, La Belle had the distinction of being the earliest recorded French colonial-era shipwreck in the Western Hemisphere—it is now second oldest. The excavation involved the construction of a cofferdam around the perimeter of the site after which it was drained and excavated as a land site. Twenty years later, this is still the only such occurrence of this excavation method for a shipwreck in the United States. At the time, the conservation of the nearly two-million artifacts was the largest such undertaking of its kind in the United States.

Colony Kit

Above: Colony Kit, Courtesy of the Bullock Texas State History Museum

The cargo inside the preserved lower third of the hull comprised a unique archaeological assemblage representing a “colony kit,” of essential supplies (above) selected to establish a settlement and conduct trade in the New World in the 1680s. In addition, the preserved remains of the hull and rigging and other items of shipboard life have been instrumental in expanding our understanding of its architecture, use and the events that occurred aboard ship.

La Belle: The Archaeology of a Seventeenth-Century Ship of New World Colonization was published in 2017 by Texas A&M University Press as a Texas Historical Commission book project. It is edited by James Bruseth, Amy Borgens, Bradford Jones, and Eric Ray. It comprises 892 pages, is colour throughout, and features 40 chapters and two appendices with contributions by more than 50 authors. The publication is technical in nature with chapters covering a variety of topics including the field investigations, archival research, conservation, and artefact analysis; a majority of the content is focused on material culture studies. It is available from all good book outlets. La Belle front cover

 The book review by Dr Colin Martin that appeared in the International Journal of Nautical Archaeology can be found here:


Community archaeology and capacity building in Costa Rica: Investigating the wrecks of the Punta Cahuita - by Dr. Lynn Harris (East Carolina University) and Dr. María Suárez Toro (Centro de Buceo Embajadores y Embajadoras del Mar)

The beauty of the NAS training programme is the way it can bring professionals, students and avocational people together, both in education and research. Here, Dr. Lynn Harris of East Carolina University (ECU) and Dr. María Suárez Toro of Costa Rica’s community-based Centro Comunitario de Buceo Embajadores y Embajadoras del Mar (Centro) show us just what can be achieved when diverse groups apply themselves to researching wrecks that may hark back to one of the darkest chapters of human history.

The NAS certification scheme serves as a dynamic platform for international research, outreach and education partnerships. In 2016 and 2017, a collaborative team from ECU and the Centro Comunitario focused their underwater archaeological investigations on two sites, potentially candidates for Danish West Indies slave ships wrecked in 1710 in what is now the Cahuita National Park, Costa Rica. The fieldwork served both as part of an annual MA Maritime Studies graduate field school for ECU and NAS training for the local community. NAS trainees included high-school youths, Cahuita park-service officers, tour guides, boat captains, local dive-club mentors, and instructors from the two nearby towns of Cahuita and Puerto Viejo. A central purpose of this project, led by author and activist Dr. María Suárez Toro, was to set up community infrastructure for future archaeological activities and educational objectives. It involved capacity-building at the local level and sustainable community engagement, with national conservation body the Sistema Nacional de Áreas de Conservación (Sinac) fully integrated into the initiative.

ECU offsets

The sites, near the Punta Cahuita peninsula, are popular public snorkelling areas. Park tour guides and websites variously refer to the sites as the wrecks of pirate ships, Spanish galleons, or slave traders, based on community memory and folklore. No scuba diving is allowed unless the goals are scientific, and any project requires a research permit from Sinac. Currently, only local Costa Ricans serve actively as maritime heritage stewards and tour guides on the sites, with the funds channelling directly back into the local economy. Oral testimonies reveal that the local community has engaged with the sites continuously since the early 1800s. The two known shipwrecks referred to generically as the ‘Brick Site’ and ‘Cannon-and- Anchor Site’ possibly represent the remains of the Danish vessels Christianus Quintus and Fredericus Quartus, both of which wrecked at Punta Cahuita. A plethora of primary historical sources suggest a landmark wrecking event associated with a large infusion of Africans, many who remained in Central America. Thus, one aim of the project was to map the sites and begin the process of verifying or refuting the compelling historical research, material culture evidence and oral testimonies that these sites might be candidates for the slave ships. If proven to be the wrecks in question, further research could potentially contribute towards slave-ship archaeology studies, as well as the history of Cahuita’s Afro-Caribbean population.

Boat hauling

The ECU team combined both teaching and mentoring with fieldwork. A 2016 agreement between the two parties stipulated that ECU would train local divers using the NAS curriculum and provide archaeological expertise. In 2017 ECU graduate students played an integral role in mentoring the Costa Rican students, developing Part II mini conferences, and delivering on their MA thesis research to date. The Centro, in turn, recruited the student participants and provided generous logistical support for the project from the community. ECU faculty and students taught the Introduction and Part I NAS courses to the student divers of the Centro Comunitario, with the classroom curriculum and dry practical sessions delivered at the Playa Chiquita beachside resort, La Caracola, belonging to coordinator Sigrid Lahman, and wet practical sections conducted in the swimming pool of Atlantida Lodge in Cahuita. The basic NAS training was followed by fieldwork contributing towards Part I and II of the NAS programme. This included underwater mapping, small-boat recording, archaeological photography, artifact tagging, artifact illustration, an inventory of marine life on the historic sites, artifact cataloguing, search and survey, and tow-boarding. Two weeks of diving and additional training in the field followed, in which students practiced newly acquired skills in the national park mapping the “Cannon-and- Anchor Site” and the remains of historic dock structures at Punta Cahuita and Puerto Vargas.

Another important part of this year’s project involved searches to locate and identify signatures of early Cahuita settlement and any other sections of wreckage or artifacts that may have washed ashore from the two primary sites. Students encountered a heavy concentration of artifacts including ceramics, glassware, concreted iron objects, and turtle shell – testimony to the turtle-hunting legacy of Punta Cahuita. Among the most important elements of the NAS collaboration was outreach through post project public lectures that shared the highlights of the research. Both Costa Rican and ECU students prepared presentations about the NAS training received and the project’s results and findings.

Held in Puerto Viejo and in Cahuita, these events entertained audiences comprising fellow students, parents, community members, tourists, journalists, and officials from the Ministry of Environment and Energy (MINAE). The programme had an observable impact on class enthusiasm. Puerto Viejo and Cahuita have the highest percentage of people of Afro-Caribbean descent, and the Talamanca region is one of Costa Rica’s most culturally diverse areas.

The Centro NAS team

Additionally, as a part of the province of Limón they are among the most impoverished communities in Costa Rica. This community project not only provided key support for the preservation of cultural heritage, it offered a renewed sense of purpose to many in the community – both course participants and others. Within a month of the conclusion of the project, the team’s engagement efforts had already paid archaeological dividends, with participants identifying possible NAS Part II projects along the way. In broader terms, the groundwork has been laid for further activities such as community monitoring of cultural resources, sustainable tourism, and engagement with local heritage.

ECU 2016 team

 The Centro and ECU team 2016

Want to know more?  Follow this link for the article "Preliminary Investigations of Two Shipwreck Sites in Cahuita National Park, Costa Rica" in the NAS's International Journal of Nautical Archaeology, first published 6th March 2018.


Training in a tropical ‘Junkyard’: The Guam Maritime Archaeology Field School 2017 - by Dr Jon Henderson, University of Nottingham
Not everyone gets to do their Introduction to Maritime Archaeology and Heritage training in crystal-clear tropical waters with astonishing archaeological remains. Carl Henderson did, as part of last year’s Maritime Archaeology Field School on the U.S. island territory of Guam, in Micronesia. We’re not jealous. This is his report.

It was late 1945. The war in the Pacific was over. America had called up millions and spent far more to prosecute the enemy. But in a flash it was all over. By then the island of Guam had become a bus depot and city for the troops going west. Now everyone was going east, and the formerly vital equipment used by naval construction crews called the Seabees was junk. To dispose of it quickly and allow themselves to go home sooner, the sailors dumped much of their equipment off the sides of barges into the waters around Guam, some of it in an area nicknamed “The Seabee Junkyard.”

This underwater site was filled with all sorts of equipment: an Amtrac (amphibious tracked vehicle), large pipes, pontoon outboard motors, remains of trucks, and a coconut-tree removal device, all found themselves at the bottom of Apra Harbor, a mere 14 m below the surface. While these have over the years become a regular attraction for recreational divers, little archeological work has been done on them. The University of Guam conducted a field school incorporating the Nautical Archaeology Society (NAS) training programme from 3 July to 5 August 2017, focusing primarily on this much understudied site. Students came from diverse backgrounds across Guam and the U.S., with varying levels of schooling and experience in archeology. The common denominator was their desire to learn new skills and apply them underwater.

Progress was steady. First, the students learned how to measure sites, and within days they had dived down into the warm ocean to place control points and begun measuring. Splitting into two teams, the six students focused on several tractors, and what were once marketed as the largest outboard motors in the world. Quickly the challenges and opportunities of working underwater became apparent. There was no opportunity for talking, but on the other hand, being able to move in a three-dimensional world allowed for easy access to all parts of the site.

Bulldozers on the Seabee site

Above: Students starting to measure one of the bulldozers on the Seabee site

Matching the students’ zeal was an all-star cast of instructors. Expertise in biology, conservation, corrosion surveys, and 3D photogrammetry all came into play. Each expert presented his or her skill set and facilitated the students’ hands-on experience. This multi-faceted approach allowed us to see just how important cross-discipline collaboration is to understanding an archeological site. Due to this holistic approach to the site, understanding was gained as each student came to see beyond the scraps of metal they were photographing and drilling into. There were the remains of history: their presence went far beyond the machines to the humans involved. They spoke to both the good and bad in humanity. Knowing what they were working on created a whole new level of determination and thought among the students.Recording corrosion data

Above: Recording corrosion data in a cloud of corrosion product given off during the drilling
of one of the pontoon outboard motors.

To combine all of the skills they’d learned, students also dived on several other sites around Guam. Corrosion measurements and three-dimensional models quickly took shape, allowing them to prepare a scholarly report. Each day of diving brought greater team cohesion and more streamlined processes, making each dive more efficient. This field school was made possible through funding and services provided by The Guam Preservation Trust, the University of Guam’s SeaGrant and the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences. On one weekend of the fieldschool, the organisers held a seminar on World War II Underwater Cultural Heritage, which saw additional experts from the Philippines, Indonesia and Palau come together at the Guam Museum. Over 60 Guam residents also attended and contributed to the discussion on issues of managing this heritage. Their participation in the field school is helping empower locals to perform preservation on their own heritage.

You can follow the seminar for yourself at

An article on "The Need for a Multivocal Approach to Researching and Managing Guam's World War II Underwater Cultural Heritage" by Bill Jeffery and Kalle Applegate Palmer was published in the International Journal of Nautical Archaeology in December 2016


HMS Beagle: A voyage of discovery … in southwest London? - Sheilah Openshaw, NAS Members Research Group Coordinator

The Society’s Members Research Group (NASMRG) is a marvellous and somewhat hidden resource at the service of the wider membership. This intrepid band of explorers delves into archives in search of textual context for our archaeological projects. They have spent much of the winter in darkest Kew, in southwest London, as group convenor Sheilah Openshaw reports. And they could help you.

Archaeology has changed immeasurably over the last two decades. Archaeological artefacts and their preservation rightly stand at the centre of interpretation, for example of their original place in the environment and how they related to the people of their time. But research no longer finishes with the identification, and perhaps naming, of a shipwreck: the story of the ship, and the lives of the people who built, served on and sailed her have grown in importance. And that is where the NAS Members Research Group (NASMRG) can help your project.

The story of the 1831 to 1836 voyages of HMS Beagle—Charles Darwin’s famed vessel—illustrates some of the potential of archival records— these accessible at the UK’s National Archives in Kew. We NASMRG members visit Kew during the winter months (legitimate archaeology in a warm environment!) both to pursue our own research and to help out NAS members who live further away. The Beagle is just one of thousands of voyages and ships for which records exist. It’s not a current NASMRG project—discoveries from them go direct to the archaeologist in question for publication at their chosen moment—but it does give a flavour of what is available.

Rear Admiral Beaufort, in charge of the Hydrographic Office at the time of the Beagle’s voyage,commissioned the HMS Beagle and other ships to sail the world drawing charts for future navigation. The entire crew are documented in the muster rolls—all verified by the captain. For this mission, Beaufort chose someone who had the skills to draw an accurate chart; today, he would be destined for an academic, scientific career. Commander (later Vice-Admiral) Robert FitzRoy was a scientist and a teacher. He took a raw boy—comparable to someone on a gap year today—with an interest in wildlife and a talent for drawing, then turned him into someone who could work methodically, =observe minute details and document them accurately. More importantly FitzRoy turned Charles Darwin into someone who could think about what he saw, even if they disagreed with each other about the conclusions.

Beagle Muster Roll

Above: Muster Roll from the Beagle (Credit: The National Archives, Kew)

One obvious place to start for information about a voyage is the ship’s log. But which one? Three logs were kept, and most volumes survive: the captain’s and the master’s are at Kew, while the lieutenant’s logs are in the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, London. Each of these give us the direction and speed at which the ship was travelling, together with a short diary entry which may include illustrations. These are first-hand accounts by people who were there. The Beagle’s mission was to bring back information which could be copied and distributed to future ships’ captains to make navigation easier: charts showing safe anchorages, depths of water and variations for different states of tide were the prime objective. Mariners’ Mirrors were also important. The one of Albemarle Island (today’s Isabella) shows what the Beagle’s crew saw in 1835. Today, the same view is different: the volcano has erupted and changed the landscape. But if you are researching the landscape before the eruption, then this might be the view you want.

MM Abermarle

Above: Mariners’ Mirrors of the Albemarle Island (Credit: The National Archives, Kew)

If you would like to discuss some research, or you would like to join the NAS Members Research Group, please contact Sheilah on


Researching a rarity on the Kil van Hurwenen, Netherlands - Peter Seinen and Joost van den Besselaar

Peter Seinen and Joost van den Besselaar are board members of Mergor in Mosam, a foundation supporting avocational underwater archaeologists in the Netherlands. Here they show us the value of a
barely legible number in shedding light on the identity and importance of a riverside hulk.

In 2011 a resident of the village of Rossum showed us the remains of a large steel wreck on a backwater of the river Waal called the Kil van Hurwenen, which was formed as a result of sand extraction for the construction of the local highway. The vessel measures about 21 m long and 4 m wide, and comprises an older hull made of riveted steel plates with a modern superstructure of welded steel added to it. It is clearly some kind of barge that had been converted into a houseboat.

Houseboat Rijnaak

Above: The beached barge in the “Kil of Hurwenen”.

Fortunately, the original registration number of the barge, cut into its steel plate, was still present and sufficiently legible: this single feature revealed a wealth of information. The vessel turned out to be a type of ‘Rijnaak’, or Rhine barge — and, moreover, a so-called ‘heveaak’, which refers to the specific shape, or ‘heve’, of the stem. The nickname of this particular type of barge was a “Hagenaar”, because its 4.26 m width was specifically designed to access the sluices of The Hague. It was built at a Dutch shipyard, P en A Ruijtenberg in Waspik in 1898. It was equipped with a mast and davit for loading and unloading. Propulsion was by a single-cylinder diesel engine delivering 12 horsepower.  This is a particularly scarce type of barge, and we are looking for ways to rescue the ship for display.


Barge markings Seinan article

Above: The partly readable registry number (160B NYM 1931)

We would like to thank the following organisations for their support: Scheepskadaster Rotterdam; Heemkundekring Waspik Het Goede Spoor; Landelijk Vereniging tot Behoud van Historisch Bedrijfsvaartuig; and Vereniging “De binnenvaart”. Peter and Joost are involved in all kinds of underwater archaeological and paleontological projects, but specialise in those that escape the attention of official heritage agencies. You can learn more about Mergor in Mosam at