Securing a Future for Maritime Archaeological Archives
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:
- 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.Â
This project was undertaken by the Hampshire & Wight Trust for Maritime Archaeology 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