The HWTMA was awarded funding for the Archaeological Atlas of the 2 Seas Project, an international venture that will enhance our understanding of the submerged heritage of the Channel and southern North Sea. The grant has been provided by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) through the INTERREG IV A 2 Seas Programme. The aim of this project was to learn more about the maritime past by researching, discovering and recording archaeology below our common waters. The collaborative fieldwork was used to engender international co-operation while the information gathered is accessible to all through an online database.
The first stage of the project involved merging data related to underwater archaeological sites in Belgium, the United Kingdom and France to create a comprehensive database of the underwater archaeological landscape. Further research and data gathering was also carried out. International co-operation was an important part of the agenda for this project and was reflected through allowing common access to archival resources in all three countries.
The research stage enabled the project partners to determine zones of major interest for archaeological survey. Areas of interest already identified in France were subject to a geophysical and archaeological survey conducted off the coast of Brittany in September 2009.
A programme of survey and diving and other fieldwork was developed for 2010 and 2011 in France, Belgium and England. The fieldwork involved students and volunteers, allowing for the development of archaeological skills for sport divers and future professionals. International collaboration was also reflected in this fieldwork stage with the survey work in the three countries involving an international team.
Results from both the research and survey phases were fed into an open access online Geographic Information System (GIS) linked database of underwater archaeological sites of the Channel and the southern North Sea. The database is hosted online at the project website which is accessible at www.a2s-geoportal.eu, while much more background information on the project is at www.atlas2seas.eu/. Both websites are multilingual and the latter contains news updates about the subsequent progress of the project.
The main project ran from 2009 to 2012 yielding an exciting cross-border dataset that is accessible to all. The international nature of the project allowed for expertise to be shared between the partners enabling the development of techniques in both data management and archaeological survey. The lead organisation in the project was the Association for the Development of Maritime Archaeological Research (Adramar), working in partnership with the Flemish Heritage Institute (VIOE) and the HWTMA. The project was made possible by the collaboration of the Department of Underwater and Marine Archaeological Research (Drassm) in France, and close liaison with English Heritage (EH) ensured that it supported the national maritime research agenda in the UK.
The Archaeological Atlas of the 2 Seas project involved creating a comprehensive understanding of the underwater archaeological landscape, which included the location of known shipwrecks, contextual data and legal and regulatory information from the UK, Belgium and France. Data already held by the project partners were merged and used to populate the database, and desk based study provided further information. The information was organised into a database linked to a GIS system, which was constructed during the project and put online. This database was used to help orientate fieldwork towards high archaeological potential zones, with the project partners organising archaeological surveys alternating between the coasts of each partner.
Verifying the data produced by the desk based study required archaeological investigation of the potential sites identified. The archaeological surveys took the form of geophysical and diver surveys and confirmed, completed and enriched the desk-based data with ground-truthed information from the archaeological deposits. The fieldwork:
Put in place an international team of archaeologists;
Provided training with volunteers and students integrated into the heart of the archaeological team, assisting with their training and knowledge of a profession which suffers from a lack of adequate training, particularly in France and Belgium; and
Surveyed targeted sites in order to fill gaps in data including the accuracy of position, the nature of the remains, the qualitative and quantitative importance of the deposits, and whether measures for protection or intervention need to be considered.
The project partners gained from the exchange of experience during the fieldwork, and the project enabled the setting up of a system for access to, and exchange of, heritage-related data between countries sharing the same coastline. By consolidating the data stored in the database, this activity benefits the scientific community and heritage managers by putting in place a sound tool with verified data. The general public also benefits from this tool, which we hope will allow a better management of our collective heritage.
The fieldwork has enabled underwater archaeological experience to be shared amongst staff and volunteers from the three partner organisations.
In 2010 a range of sites have been investigated in the UK across the Solent and to the south of the Isle of Wight, as illustrated by this map:
The fieldwork in the UK has been closely associated with the HWTMA's ongoing research aims, and the support of A2S has been integral to the investigation of the following sites:
In France, Adramar ran four weeks of fieldwork on the Channel and Biscay coasts of Brittany, consisting of geophysical surveys as well as diver investigation. A variety of sites were investigated and baseline data for the region was collected. This included a survey of the submerged Middle Palaeolithic site at Bieroc-la-Mondree near Fermanville and the excavation of a shipwreck, which is thought to be the remains of the Cesar. Geohpysical survey off the French Coast recorded a gun scatter off the coast of Quiberon, as well as several shipwreck sites such as the Artiglio and Florence-H.
In Belgium, HWTMA staff joined our colleagues from the VIOE in Nieuwpoort for a week's fieldwork on the wreck site Buiten Ratel. The wreck is that of a wooden sailing ship, with substantial sections of hull remaining buried under the sediments. Artefacts previously recovered from the wreck site, including clay pipes, pewter spoons and a watch in a gold case, have been dated to the mid-18th century. The fieldwork in 2010 focused on the production of a detailed site plan of the exposed elements of the wreck.
HWTMA and Adramar also collaborated on a joint project in Fermanville, near Cherbourg. This site consists of a Middle Paleolithic submerged landscape, first discovered through the presence of submerged peat deposits in 1968. Later dives on the site during the 1970s and 1980s revealed thousands of worked flint objects on and under the seabed at the base of a granite cliff 18m below sea level.This site is the oldest submerged prehistoric site in northern Europe and its study is vital to research into hominin adaptation and dispersals as the climate deteriorated at the beginning of the last Ice Age. Understanding Neanderthal capabilities and population dynamics during this period is integral to our understanding of their migration, social organisation and ultimately their demise. The fieldwork in 2010 focused on the establishment of a site grid with reference points and an assessment of lithic distribution.
In Belgium the team dived on a number of sites outside Oostende and Nieuwpoort, and in France the fieldwork was concentrated on the River Rance, which enters the Channel between St Malo and Dinard.