Of particular importance to the archaeological process is the creation and deposition of archives from investigations. At present there are few available archives for maritime collections.

We are contributing to addressing this through the recognition of the research potential of archives created during a range of investigations, and securing their long term accessibility.

We are also trialing the usage of interactive archives where you can explore shipwreck sites in a online map-based environment.

There is a critical lack of long-term, accessible and secure homes for maritime archaeological archives (the artefacts, samples and documentary and digital records from the many investigations undertaken in the marine zone around the UK). There is an acknowledged lack of capacity in our museums and archives to curate maritime archaeological archives and a lack of clarity over roles and responsibility for archives from the marine zone. This project has provided baseline information on the scale and extent of the problem.

The ‘Securing a Future for Maritime Archaeological Archives’ project gathered data in three key areas to establish:

  • Current geographical remits of museums and archives in the offshore zone
  • The extent of the current situation regarding maritime archives
  • Gauge future demand for maritime archaeological archive capacity.

The results have provided baseline data which can be used by agencies, organisations and institutions to assess the most appropriate way to deliver increased support for those creating and curating archaeological archives. It will also help inform the development of future archive management capacity on a national level to ensure important collections have a publicly accessible home and are properly curated for current and future generations of researchers, school children and members of the public interested in their maritime heritage.

The project was undertaken in three phases (click here for more details on each phase):

  •  Element One – Mapping Maritime Collection Areas
  •  Element Two – Review of Maritime Archaeological Archives and Access
  •  Element Three – Analysing Present and Assessing Future Archive Creation

The project undertook a range of surveys which targeted archive holders and producers in England and Scotland from a range of sectors including public museums, private collections, exhibitions and non-public museums, archaeological contractors, research and societies sector, Designated Wreck Site licensees and nominated archaeologists, other individuals e.g. divers reporting recovery through the Receiver of Wreck.

For the purpose of the project a maritime archaeological archive was defined as:

  • Material relating to shipwrecks and associated artefacts (whether single finds or collections), aircraft remains, now-submerged prehistoric landscapes and terrestrial sites, and any other archaeological sites or finds lying below the high water mark.
  • Archaeological archive material might be documentary including field notes, reports (including grey literature), photographs, drawings and slides, objects (both artefactual and environmental samples) or digital.
  • Records of investigations, or archaeological interventions, which have produced any of the above types of archive including desk based assessments, survey (direct and remote), evaluation, excavation and artefact-recovery.

The results of the study, which involved an extensive survey and interview process, have:

  • Developed understanding of the limitations of museum capacity around the coast, which at present provides few opportunities for archives from maritime archaeological investigations to be deposited;
  • Improved understanding of the extent of archive material of different types (objects, paper, photograph, samples, video and digital) that is in private ownership without a public museum or archive able to take it;
  • Reviewed the types of projects creating archives and how fast, to help determine future archive capacity needs;
  • Improved understanding of the current regulatory, curatorial and consenting process affecting maritime archive deposition.

These results are now being utilised to help develop plans to improve the fate of archives from the marine zone.

This project was undertaken by the MAT and the Institute of Field Archaeologists with support from the Archaeology Data Service, after recognition through the Archaeological Archives Forum that the situation in relation to maritime archives was one of urgent national importance. This project has been made possible through funding from: English Heritage, Historic Scotland, the Royal Commission for the Ancient and Historic Monuments of Scotland and the Society of Museum Archaeologists.

This project has been developed in response to findings from the Securing a Future for Maritime Archaeological Archives Project on seabed and archive management related to The Crown Estate (TCE) and the effects on archaeological archives. This work has secured funding from The Crown Estate Marine Communities Fund

The project is responding to the current situation whereby few archives from maritime archaeological investigations are being deposited in public museums or repositories. Acknowledged issues related to this situation include a lack of clarity in terms of the management framework for maritime archive material within development control, research or reported through the Receiver of Wreck, which means there are no clear routes for archives to reach publicly available repositories and a lack of facilities and expertise able to accept this material.

As seabed owners TCE have a key role to play in archives from on and within their estate, this project will investigate areas where TCE as managers can contribute to improving the fate of maritime archaeological archives through ensuring they are made publicly available through the application of standards, guidance and best practice.

The project involves desk based research, meetings and analysis in order to assess the following key areas:

  • Roles and responsibilities within the marine development framework;
  • What archive from marine development control is currently being deposited, where and in what format;
  • The fate of artefacts within marine aggregate licences;
  • The fate of archives within ports and harbours; and
  • The Receiver of Wreck system.

More detailed project objectives are:

Objective One: Investigation of roles and responsibilities within the marine development framework to develop clarity and ultimately improve the system to ensure all archaeological archives from projects are deposited in a publicly accessible repository.
Objective Two: 
Review of archive being deposited to assess where there are problems within the current system and assess possibilities for improvement.
Objective Three:
 Investigation of artefacts within the marine aggregate licensing process, particularly looking at ownership of historic material and whether this is becoming publicly accessible.
Objective Four: 
Review of procedures and process in relation to archives within ports and harbours.
Objective Five: 
Review of the handling of historic material within the Receiver of Wreck system.

The project began in June 2010 and the final report was submitted in March 2012.