Digging Diaries – Old Shipwreck, New Mystery – The Wreck of the London

Hello all, it’s time for a new vid!

Back in 1665 an enormous warship, named The London, exploded in the Thames Estuary. The crew had been preparing a seventeen gun salute before the vessel was due to set sail for the Second Anglo-Dutch War when a stray flame ignited 300 barrels of gunpowder.

A team have been diving this summer to rescue the archaeology and to solve the mystery of ‘The Wreck of the London’.

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Philip Robertson (Historic Scotland) – Argyll and Bute

Philip Robertson, Historic Scotland

Philip Robertson, Historic Scotland

Argyll and Bute ‘Contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown copyright and database right 2011’

Argyll and Bute ‘Contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown copyright and database right 2011’

I’m Philip Robertson. I work in the Scheduling, Marine and Battlefields team within Historic Scotland, and am responsible for operational management of the Scheduling programme, and leadership of Historic Scotland’s work in protecting and managing marine archaeological heritage, in particular through designation of Historic Marine Protected Areas.

As befits the interests of a maritime archaeologist, I have chosen a shipwreck!  The wreck of what we believe was a small oared warship belonging to the Marquis of Argyll, the Swan, was lost at the S entrance to the Sound of Mull during an attack on Duart Castle by Cromwellian forces in September 1653.

The Swan was discovered by a Royal Navy diver around 1979, who brought it to the attention of the University of St Andrews. The site is a particular favourite of mine as I took part in the investigations of the wreck which took place between 1991 and 2003, led by Dr Colin Martin.   The excavations revealed the well-preserved structure of a wooden vessel, including the collapsed stern, comprising the bottom part of the rudder, sternpost and associated components detached from the keel; the lower hull, comprising frames, inner and outer planking, and mast-step; and the less well-preserved remains of the collapsed bow.

The team also discovered a wide range of artefacts, including carved decorative features from the ship, rigging, small arms and one small cannon with carriage, silver coinage, ceramics, navigational equipment, galley remains, personal effects, the bones of one human being, as well as plant, animal and fish remains.

Wooden carved cherub in situ at the wreck off Duart Point, by the Archaeological Diving Unit (ADU) Copyright RCAHMS (SC1127028)

Wooden carved cherub in situ at the wreck off Duart Point, by the Archaeological Diving Unit (ADU) Copyright RCAHMS (SC1127028)

Today, divers are welcome to visit this site and see guns and anchors on the seabed, but the remaining sections of the hull are protected under sandbags and sediment that are helping to stabilise the environment around the wreck.  As the site is legally protected, visitors must not disturb the wreck or remove artefacts without permission. Educational tours are organised through the nearby Lochaline Dive Centre, but if you’re not a diver, you can still enjoy a visit to Duart Castle where you will find an exhibition about the wreck. There is also an interpretation panel on the promontory next to the site.

What interests me most about the Swan is that it shows that Scotland’s underwater heritage can be just as rich and significant as our heritage on land. With the aid of scuba equipment and the traditional skills of the archaeologist, underwater archaeology can contribute just as much to our knowledge of the past as the very best archaeological investigations on land.

The online record for the Swan held at RCAHMS, was recently upgraded as part of a partnership between RCAHMS and Historic Scotland, aimed to enhance and promote information on the marine historic environment. More information about Project Adair can be found on the RCAHMS website including the full project reports.

General Plan of the Duart Point wreck site at the close of the 2003 excavations, By Drs Colin and Paula Martin. © RCAHMS

General Plan of the Duart Point wreck site at the close of the 2003 excavations, By Drs Colin and Paula Martin. Copyright RCAHMS (DP151172)

This is what I’ve chosen for Day of Archaeology, but why not tell us your favourite archaeological sites in Scotland on Twitter using #MyArchaeology.


Day in the Life of an Adjunct Professor

By training, I’m an archaeologist, but currently I teach cultural anthropology for a community college in the Northeastern section of the United States.  I leave my archaeology work for volunteer archaeology workshops for middle school students, writing pieces for a science advocacy’s publication, and for whenever I can incorporate my knowledge of the discipline to my students (to give them a preview of what else is included within anthropological research). This summer, my work included items like lesson and syllabus planning, previewing videos and DVDs for classtime discussions, and adapting to the different textbooks selected for the fall semester. I also worked on writing book reviews, columns, and articles for submission to anthropological and science-based publications.

However, this week, I’m partaking in a National Endowment for the Humanities Landmarks workshop geared toward community college faculty, where my days are chockful of archaeological work. Earlier this week, I got to see a ROV (remotely operated vehicle) device in action and also ever so briefly use it to scan over a shipwreck site in one of the Great Lakes. We also watched others use sonar devices under the lake and bay waters. We’ve gone further up the coast to see the remains of a wreck washed ashore and worked on practicing mapping the pieces which remain. Although I have never formally studied the Great Lakes or maritime/nautical archaeology beyond archaeobotanical coursework, my summer included days of reading articles and books on the subject matter.

You see no matter what you do as an archaeologist, constantly learning subject matter is essential work and involves a level of professional development. I came here to upstate Michigan this week to learn, explore, but most of all, to find new materials, approaches and activities to spark a new level of teaching from within. My students are my primary focus, although a lot of what went into my decision to apply this spring for this particular workshop series included the chance to spend a week somewhere I had never travelled, with facilitators and colleagues I never met before this week. Of course, maritime history and archaeology are topics I never explored before as well.

Today, we will be coming together as 25 students who teach across the United States (and within different academic departments and disciplines) to learn from experienced archaeologists, historians, doctoral students and governmental employees for a final day of workshops. While it is hard to imagine surpassing snorkeling over a wreck, and surveying a wreck on the shoreline yesterday, the same speculation could have been made earlier in the week. I mean, how do you top using and watching others use an ROV over a wreck? Or, seeing sonar being used to map shapes and features on the bottom of the water? The life of an archaeologist or an aficionado of the field can be quite eclectic, but no matter what your age, pathway, or deviations throughout the course of life, no matter what, you can always find your way to or back to, archaeology and enjoy the experiences.

For now, I plan on working on my final assignment then heading off to the marine sanctuary for a day of presentations, a boat ride, a few more research and photography hours, and then closing events. I should have some photos on my webspace at some point, so do feel free to take a look and also to write me an email with any questions. Likewise, if you are a community college instructor in the United States, I highly encourage you to check the NEH website for more on all the professional development opportunities which could be awaiting you as well next summer!