Cotswold Archaeology: Life in the Marine (Archaeology) Corps

I run Cotswold’s marine archaeology department from our Andover office – as this often elicits a comment regarding distance from the sea, I will address this first! A lot of the work we do is desk-based so proximity to the sea is not a crucial factor.  We do undertake fieldwork (i.e. get wet) but this could be anywhere in the British Isles, and sometimes further afield, so being located near the sea in one location would not be advantageous.  For example, we are currently involved with sites in the Thames estuary, off the north-west, south and east coasts of England, off the east coast of Scotland, off the north and south coasts of Wales, and we have just been appointed for a project on the south coast of the Republic of Ireland.   The latter will involve trips to Dublin to research archives and to Cork to undertake foreshore surveys – it’s a hard life sometimes…
We undertake a broad range of work, which includes providing archaeological advice for coastal and offshore developments; investigation, monitoring and management of sites that might be at risk; post-excavation assessment, analysis, conservation and dissemination of excavated sites as well as research-based projects.  My personal specialism is the Romans; we recently won a small research grant from Historic England to investigate the evidence for Romano-British maritime activities around England’s coasts.  Unlike the monumental remains that are so familiar to us on land, evidence for Roman sea-going around northern Europe and particularly around Britain is proving surprisingly elusive, which is odd given their c 400 year occupation of these islands.  This project seeks to enhance and thoroughly investigate the evidence we have, to see if we can hone in on these most elusive sites.
The marine department undertakes work for a wide range of clients, the common factor being development on, near or under the sea, lakes, rivers, and estuaries etc.  Much of this work is related to installations that impact on the seabed etc. which require licensing and possibly planning permission.  Current projects are largely related to renewable energy installations such as offshore wind farms, tidal lagoons or submarine interconnector cable projects; the latter are large cable installations laid across the seabed to connect the national energy distribution networks enabling long-term transmission capacity between two or more countries.  Our input is to provide archaeological support throughout the project from route selection and design layout, through to construction, operation and ultimately decommissioning.  Through the analysis of various archives we start by identifying the locations of known sites. We then assess project-specific marine geophysical survey data to:
·         confirm the location of ‘known’ sites (which often are not in the location they were believed to be);
·         to identify previously unknown sites; and
·         to assess the potential for encountering buried sites that may not be detected by marine geophysical techniques.
Many projects then undertake geotechnical (borehole) investigations to assess the nature of the seabed geology.  The cores recovered during these investigations are also subject to archaeological assessment and analysis by my geo-archaeological and environmental archaeological colleagues.  The cores often contain evidence of palaeo-landscapes and environments from periods of prehistory before the sea inundated what had been dry land. All this evidence is then collated in a combined report which seeks to protect our underwater heritage for future generations.  One of the great boons of all these offshore developments is the tremendous boost it has given to research into what had been, until only a few decades ago, the almost unknown but fascinating world of underwater archaeology.