Diving into History

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Tuesday, April 4, 2006

Nautical archaeology? That's about shipwrecks isn't it?! 
A much better definition of nautical archaeology is 'Anything Wet!' Thanks to a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the NAS through its Diving Into History initiative took that message where it has never gone before - into schools, youth groups and adult organisations that have so far had little contact with our maritime heritage.

The misconception - that nautical archaeology is only concerned with shipwrecks - may prevent the public at large in their maritime heritage. Of course, the linked misconception is that diving skills are required to become involved.

Few people in Britain live more than a few miles from an example of our maritime past. It is not just our seas, but our rivers, canals and lakes, and the facilities such as ports, warehouses and factories that make up that heritage. It is however, much more than that. It includes the people who used, made, crewed and built that heritage -without them the ships could not sail, factories would produce nothing and great voyages of exploration would not have happened.

Even in our 'everyday life' we are in contact with our maritime past. Phrases like 'a square meal' and 'show a leg' directly link us to the Navy of Admiral Nelson, and whilst now we all like to think of ourselves as 'posh' the word is actually an acronym for 'Port Out - Starboard Home' – the cabins of choice on transatlantic voyage (and an indication of social status)!

The Diving into History Project aimed to show everyone that our maritime heritage is everywhere and belongs to everyone. It is possible to 'Dive Into History' without getting wet!'

What did the Diving into History project achieve? 
During the project the Diving into History Officer, Ian Barefoot was assisted by other NAS Staff and volunteers to successfully deliver a huge number of events and products to a wide variety of audiences. These events and products have included:

Public Talks

Over the two years of the project presentations were given to:

  • 32 dive clubs
  • 13 archaeological groups
  • 5 other societies and groups
  • 5 Young Archaeologist Clubs
  • 4 schools

Public Events
The Diving into History Project attended the London Dive Show, Birmingham Dive Show, the British Sub-Aqua Club SE ‘DiverSE’ Conference, the International Shipwreck Conference, National Archaeology Days at Fort Cumberland, Stourhead House, the Ipswich Maritime and Folk Festival and at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard.

Two Community Archaeology Projects

In 2008 the Diving into History project was in collaboration with the Friends of Purton on the Purton Hulks - at Purton in Gloucestershire. Purton has been used on an occasional basis for NAS training courses and is felt to have significant local and national archaeological and historical significance. The presence of a local historian (Paul Barnett – winner of the Adopt a Wreck Award 2007 for his work on the site) led to the rapid development of a local team of volunteers (the ‘Friends of Purton’). The project was organised over two weekends, included and evening of theory and follow-up practical training. The resulting Project Report is available here – and the society are returning to Purton in 2009.

For more information please visit the Purton Project Page.

In 2007 the ‘Stoney Cove – Past, Present And Future’ project was undertaken at the Stoney Cove flooded quarry in Leicestershire. NAS staff supervised a team of local residents (both diving and non-diving) from Lutterworth Sub-Aqua Club, the Stoney Stanton Heritage Group and the Leicestershire Industrial History Society. The initial ‘activity period’ was one week in May 2007 with additional diver surveys, records interrogation, and interviews with ex-quarry workers continued into 2008. The resulting Project Report is available here: Stoney Cove Project Final Report.

Adopt a Wreck initiative
Through the ‘Adopt A Wreck’ initiative four Adopt a Wreck newsletters were produced featuring training, news regarding ongoing and forthcoming projects and advice. Members of ‘Adopt A Wreck’ groups were offered subsidised places on two NAS ‘Mini Summer Schools (in October 2007 and January 2008) and these were well-attended. During 2008 the Adopt a Wreck scheme saw its 100th adoption. During the final months of the project the NAS printed 500 copies of Adopted sites for 5 groups undertaking work and research under the scheme. These posters were successfully distributed by the project groups and the NAS.

Working with Children 
In 2006 and 2007 assistance was again given to ‘Kings College’ Camberley (a secondary school) and followed the design of a hypothetical ‘Heritage Centre’ based on the local canal system. These sessions resulted in the completion of the Education packs – one on the use of the canals during the industrial revolution and a second looking at the use of logboats for fishing during the Anglo-Saxon period.

Forests Fish and Food (KS2) PDF

The Revolution Came by Water (KS2-3) PDF

In 2006 and 2007 the NAS visited a class of 5-year-olds from Burseldon Infant School in Southampton, taking them on a ‘virtual dive’ round a shipwreck in the Bristol Channel. Whilst the event concentrated on the diving and ‘fishy things’ the opportunity was taken to gently introduce the children to the idea of a ‘hidden heritage’ that should be protected.

The ‘virtual dive’ format was used during an evening activity programme organised for a ‘Girl Guides’ group at Hayes in Middlesex. It is fair to say that the very early part of the evening was treated with some scepticism by the girls involved – but they very soon got involved with activities such as the dive, a ‘touchy-feely wet box’ where they had to use a sense of touch to describe artefacts, and ‘plan-frame’ sketching. The group considered themselves to be far from any site of nautical archaeological interest – until it was pointed out that the Grand Union Canal was less than 1km from their meeting-hut.

In June 2008 the project officer and the group leader (an NAS Volunteer) organised an evening of activities for Stubbington ‘Beaver Scouts’ (ages ranged from five to eight years) on the foreshore of Alvestoke Bay in Hampshire. The ‘Beavers’ took great delight in a variety of archaeological activities including practical excavation below the high-tide line, and use of the ‘feely-boxes’ and plan-frames.

For the last two years, the NAS has provided training assistance to the Camden local authority ‘SPLASH’ project (which was also HLF-supported). The end of the SPLASH initiative was marked by a symposium held at the British Museum. Again the Diving into History project officer was in attendance with the NAS stand, featuring promotional material about UK nautical heritage.

Whats next?
In March 2009 the funding for the Diving into History Project, from the Heritage Lottery Fund, came to an end and the NAS were congratulated by the HLF on the quality of the project. If you would like to support the NAS with donations or assistance that will allow more people, young and old, to be excied by our maritime heritage through similar events then please contact the NAS Office.