Unlocking Davy Jones’s locker

The Nautical Archaeology Society

Tim Parker, Chair of the Trustees of the Nautical Archaeological Society, sets out the Society’s aims and activities

The Nautical Archaeology Society (NAS) originated in 1964 as the Council for Nautical Archaeology (CNA) whose remit was to communicate divers’ discoveries to the appropriate learned bodies. The CNA also played a key part in what became the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973. Our mission now has evolved: it is to research, record and protect our threatened underwater and coastal heritage for the benefit of everyone.

The NAS is represented on the Archaeology Training Form, the Joint Nautical Archaeology Policy Committee, the International Congress on Underwater Archaeology (IKUWA) and the Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee for UNESCO.

In 1972 the CNA established the International Journal of Nautical Archaeology (IJNA), which will publish its 50th volume this year (2021) and will feature key investigations and developments in the field of nautical archaeology from the last five decades.

Since 1986, when we ran our first educational events, we have delivered our mission through three core areas of activity:

  • Education: We believe that when someone learns about their heritage and helps research and record it, they come to understand it, begin to value it, and become the best advocates for further research and protection.
  • Research: As we were established ‘to further research in nautical archaeology and publish the results’, we deliver innovative, quality, fit-for-purpose research into all aspects of maritime archaeology.
  • Publication: Communication to all remains a key component of how we raise awareness, knowledge and support.

Education

NAS volunteers examining the remains of a wreck in the tidal shallows at Sandwich, Kent. Photo: NAS

Our education offering includes:

  • Introduction and Foundation Courses: Introductions to underwater and foreshore archaeology, offered in class and via eLearning.
  • Maritime Archaeology Courses: Specialist skills in particular areas. Members can gain credits towards an NAS qualification.
  • NAS UK Qualifications: Foundation, Certificate, and Award in Maritime Archaeology. Members can obtain these recognised NAS qualifications, which reflect the archaeological knowledge and skills they will have gained through the NAS Education Programme, partner organisation courses and self-directed fieldwork and research.
  • Skills Days: These take place on land or under water. Students learn how to record a site through sketching, photography and video, how to complete a 2D survey of a site and how to use a planning frame to produce a scale drawing.
  • Protected Wreck Days: Every year we take qualified divers on an extraordinary experience visiting and learning about some of the UK’s amazing protected wrecks.
  • International Partners: We have international training partners teaching our courses in Africa, Australia, Canada, China/Hong Kong, Colombia, Croatia, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Portugal, Switzerland, Turkey, Uruguay and the USA. We also have affiliated training partners in the Netherlands and the USA.

Education can be undertaken for personal and professional development, or can be tailored to a particular project or archaeological site.

Research

Examples of recent work include:

  • Members’ Research Group: Archaeology has changed from a dry and dusty collection of artefacts in a dim and dusty museum to interpreting and explaining how people lived and worked in a bygone age, bringing it back to life. NAS members gather at the National Archives; some work on their own projects, others photograph documents for NAS members who cannot get to London. High-profile projects such as Parks Canada’s Erebus and Terror have benefited recently from this effort.
  • Local Economic Benefit of a Protected Wreck: In 2012 the NAS was commissioned by English Heritage to undertake a study looking at the value of a protected wreck to a local economy. This study, published in 2013, looked at the visitor diver trail on the protected wreck of Coronation in Plymouth Sound, and it has attracted a large number of visiting divers.

Publication

The NAS having been established to further research in nautical archaeology and disseminate the results, we publish:

  • IJNA: A forum for the exchange of ideas and research relevant to all aspects of nautical and maritime archaeology.
  • Monograph Series: The vehicle for the publication of rather more substantial pieces of work than a paper for IJNA or another academic journal.
  • Underwater Archaeology: The NAS Guide: Outlines the principles and provides practical guidance for undertaking underwater archaeological work responsibly.

Projects

Holland No.5 running on the surface. The vessel sank in the Channel in 1912 while being towed to a scrapyard. Photo: NAS

Our projects, serving as the focal point for many NAS activities, bring together interested parties, volunteers and professional archaeologists. Examples include:

  • Dive Trails: The UK heritage agencies have supported the development of dive trails around the country to facilitate access to the country’s protected wrecks. The NAS has helped establish four of the trails as well as three virtual dives that help non-divers experience the pleasure of exploring a historic wreck.
  • Holland No.5 Submarine: a remarkable piece of our naval heritage. She was the first submarine to actually be commissioned in the Royal Navy, on 19 January 1903, at the same time as Holland No.3. The NAS has been involved in recording and researching the wreck since 2008.
  • Chesil Beach Protected Wrecks: In 2019 the NAS and the Maritime Archaeology Trust (MAT) ran training activities and series of public events based around the Chesil Beach protected wrecks, off Weymouth.
  • Minesweeper MMS113: Since 2016 the NAS has been working alongside other interested parties on the remains of what is believed to be a World War II Motor Minesweeper 113. The remains of the vessel lie on the Gosport foreshore, on the western side of Portsmouth Harbour. NAS members are helping to record and research the remains of this piece of military heritage.

Capacity building

In an effort to achieve one of our core aims, we engage in capacity building initiatives to promote maritime archaeology and coastal cultural heritage stewardship all over the world.

We aim to raise awareness of the richness of the underwater and coastal heritage – as well as the threats faced and the actions that can be taken to mitigate the damage. We also aim to educate and train officials, developers and students of archaeology and cultural heritage, and help build capacity to manage, protect and promote maritime culture for future generations. Recent examples include:

  • Cyprus Field Schools: In 2012 the Honor Frost Foundation provided a grant to the Nautical Archaeology Society to help establish a formal partnership between the NAS and the Archaeological Research Unit of the University of Cyprus. The two parties have taught three international educational field schools in underwater archaeology on Cyprus.
  • Lebanon Training: Since 2017, with the support of the Honor Frost Foundation, NAS senior tutors have visited Lebanon to undertake training activities with students of archaeology in conjunction with local universities. It is hoped that these short courses will be the start of wider initiatives to support activities and education directed at underwater cultural heritage in Lebanon.

Summary

The Nautical Archaeology Society wants to allow everyone to benefit from the unique and fascinating resource that is the world’s maritime heritage. From the UK perspective as an island nation, while much of our landscape is shaped by our enduring relationship with the sea, much of our maritime heritage is unseen or undiscovered and so is at risk of damage, resulting in loss for future generations. The NAS, working together with international organisations, partners, members and volunteers, seeks to protect, research and record our maritime heritage now and for the future.

Tim Parker’s focus is coastal and foreshore archaeology, such as the project at Forton Lake, off Portsmouth Harbour, which contains the wrecks of around 30 vessels. He is also very interested in how technology can contribute to archaeology. NAS is a UK-based charity with strong links to other organisations around the world which work together to promote the cause on a global scale. For further information visit www.nauticalarchaeologysociety.org