NAS Foreshore & Underwater Archaeology course
”ER, WHERE’S THE WRECK” It’s the second dive of the day and I’m pretty sure that when we ascended the shotline this morning, we had left the historic wreck of the HMS Invincible safely nestled on Horse Tail Sands below.
Returning to the seabed intent on continuing our survey, we appear to have arrived on a heaped and endless mat of seaweed with no sign of the 1758 ship, the novel design of which proved so influential that it would be replicated throughout the British fleet (that design happened to be French – luck, one presumes).
Swimming around a little confusedly for a while, we find one of our many survey markers and realise that the changing tide has neatly buried the entire wreck site in a thick blanket of heavy weed.
Perhaps our earlier estimates of the progress we might make during this dive were a tad optimistic. Welcome to nautical archaeology, Invincible-style!
The Invincible site was discovered in 1979 by Arthur Mack, who was investigating the reports of local fisherman that nets were being repeatedly snagged there.
He teamed up with John Bingeman for the initial survey, and excavation efforts continued through the 1980s as they conducted an extensive archaeological investigation.
SURVEY WORK CONTINUES TODAY. Lying broken and scattered in shallow tidal waters, new areas of the wreck are continuously being uncovered as other parts are reburied, meaning that new details are regularly revealed.
This presents a fantastic opportunity for Nautical Archaeology Society (NAS) members and students to participate in a genuine ongoing survey effort to monitor changes occurring over time.
As a protected site, the wreck of the Invincible can be visited only under licence, so the NASfieldschool is also a great opportunity to dive something that would otherwise be off-limits.
My diving interests have been pretty diverse, it’s fair to say. Like an aquatic Charlie Sheen, I like a little of everything, from caves to sharks, to wrecks, to squidgy stuff and the initial chance discovery of the laminated Page 3 girl in Gildenburgh Water that piqued my teenage interest in UK diving in the first place.
An early obsession with all things Titanic marked the start of a lifelong interest in shipwrecks and, like many divers, it has been the romance and challenge of exploring these sites that has really developed that interest.
Initially I just wanted to know more about the ships and wrecks themselves, so that I could better understand what I was seeing under water (and show off on the dive deck afterwards).
However, I’ve since become fascinated by the potential for sites to act as portals to the past, where you can get a tangible feel for the often-violent events that precipitated the wrecking.
Looking further often reveals intriguing hints about the lives of the crew and passengers of the time, establishing a human connection. My diving interests have varied and vacillated, but I take an increasing interest in the history and significance of a ship and its wrecking.
This ultimately led me to the NAS in pursuit of further training and learning.
MOTIVATED AS I MIGHT BE, travelling a lot for work made attending scheduled classes difficult, so the newly introduced NAS online learning programme was ideal.
The ELearning courses allow you to complete the theory sections in advance and then attend a fieldschool when it is convenient.
For motivated (read impatient) types like me, the ELearning also allows students to get cracking with the online lessons as soon as you sign up.
Unlike a typical British summer, however, the learning isn’t over as soon as it’s begun, because the Introduction and Part I theory take a number of hours to complete.
There are various modules on research, dating, survey and recording techniques to work through, but the material is concise and for the most part really interesting, so it’s not a chore (even the law module required only a moderate caffeine injection to conquer)!
Like any diver with an interest in shipwrecks I had a superficial knowledge of many of the theoretical topics covered, but the ELearning theory neatly developed these ideas in a rounded archaeological context, and showed how various scientific disciplines can be brought together to create a powerful investigative toolbox for the inquisitive nautical archaeologist.
To complete the certifications you then need to attend a fieldschool and get your hands dirty (or weedy), which leads me back to the now-buried wreck site, and our efforts to contribute in some small way to an ongoing survey effort.
Fortunately, during the morning dive the tide had kept the site relatively clear, allowing us to lay a fixed baseline.
So it was merely a problem of locating this and then clearing a strip down either side to reveal the surprisingly intact timbers below.
After a great deal of wriggling, cursing, flapping and digging we had de-weeded enough of the baseline to take the measurements required, and the sum total of an hour’s underwater exertion was a single square metre of the site surveyed.
This was a great aspect of the Invincible fieldschool, as it unforgettably demonstrated the practical challenges faced by nautical archaeologists in the field, and the slow persistence required to build up a full picture of even the smallest wreck sites.
Of course, this was also enormous fun, and despite our limited progress we surfaced with big smiles all round.
TO OUR AMAZEMENT, ON PROCESSING the results back ashore and comparing them to the existing survey data, we also found our results to be surprisingly accurate, underlining the robustness of the techniques learned during the class. It was a most enjoyable few days.
Looking forward as a newly certified Part I Nautical Archaeologist, I intend to continue to the Part II certificate, the first stage of which will be to attend the NAS conference in Portsmouth in November.
The NAS training scheme allows progression all the way from introductory courses for interested individuals to the Part IV diploma
in nautical archaeology, an internationally recognised qualification enabling you to work professionally on archaeological sites.
As a freelancer working primarily on media diving projects, this could be a really exciting new direction for my work.
For busy people, the ELearning course makes attending the courses much more convenient, and I’d definitely encourage others to get involved.
In fact, two of my friends have already enrolled on the ELearning courses and we hope to undertake a survey project together in the future. Maybe somewhere in Gildenburgh.
The NAS ELearning Introduction to Foreshore and Underwater Archaeology theory course is open to anyone, and completion provides access to the Part I Certificate. The two courses cost £35 and £65 respectively and include 6-8 lessons and an assessment. Work can be completed in your own time.
NAS fieldschools take place on both foreshore and underwater sites so that participants can choose which they prefer to work on. Costs range from £40-50. Participants must successfully complete both the online theory and fieldschool for that course to gain their certificate.