Jack Pink, a PhD student from Southampton University, joined us in Sandwich, Kent for his first taste of NAS fieldwork. Learn more about what he discovered here...

The peak spring tides at the end of February created the perfect opportunity for an exploration of Kent’s Sandwich Flats. This is the second piece of fieldwork the NAS & MSDS Marine have conducted here but my first time being involved. Due to those spring tides the sea was lower than it had been for quite some time, revealing some fascinating and beautiful wreck sites over the weekend.


I am studying for a PhD in Archaeology at the University of Southampton, specifically looking at seafaring from 1750 onwards. The opportunity to visit this site and get hands-on was one I didn’t want to miss. Opportunities like this are vital to “early-career” archaeologists like me, they’re essential for improving our skills and experience to go on and work in the world of archaeology.

The situation at Sandwich Flats is not uncommon in the archaeology of Britain’s coast. People have known about the wrecks for a long time, but we actually know very little about them. The site is known, but also unknown. That is why the work of the NAS is so important. It is only through surveys and fieldwork that we can learn and tell the stories of these sites. Through telling their stories we have the best chance of protecting them for people to continue to enjoy visiting and discovering.


In the car park before we started there was a sense of anticipation in the air. The night before those like me who were new to the site had been regaled with stories of the wrecks found a just few months before. All told there were fifteen archaeologists and volunteers walking out into the sea mist, wrapped in jackets and jumpers against the morning chill.

My job was to follow the line of field walkers, whose job was to spot and mark new finds (including shipwrecks) emerging from the sand and sea. I was carrying a commercial GPS system, which looks like a saucer stuck to the end of a long pole, to record the location of finds as accurately as possible. As we walked, the mist quickly burned off and we were rewarded for our efforts with a clear blue sky and bright winter sunshine. I was joined on the GPS by two other volunteers who unlike me were already familiar with this place, their enthusiasm was infectious. Together we recorded and photographed everything the others flagged, only getting slightly distracted every time we ran across a wreck.


With the receding tide those wrecks started to appear, slowly raising themselves from the running waves. Each one we encountered lay bow to shore resting on her keel, as though they had been pulled up ready for another voyage that never came. The level of preservation was excellent for what remained. Time and tide had worn down much of the upper structure, leaving the lowest parts of the hull. That first day our aim was to get as good an idea as possible of what was present on the beach, it left us spoiled for choice on which one to choose for our recording the following day.

The wrecks at Sandwich appear to be a mixture of later period boats, although an exact date is difficult to establish on such a brief visit; it is likely they are 18th Century or later. If this is the case they could be a really important resource for our understanding of vernacular (or everyday) seafaring around the coast of Britain. This is a period of seafaring that has received relatively little archaeological investigation. I for one will definitely be going back.


I would like to thank the University of Southampton’s Archaeology Department for loaning me their GPS system, and in particular my PhD supervisor Dr. Julian Whitewright for supporting me and encouraging my joining in with the NAS.


If you would like to learn more about the archaeology of these sort of wrecks, a good place to start is Professor Jon Adams’ book: A Maritime Archaeology of Ships published by Oxbow Books.

If you're interested in learning more about historic boats like the ones in Sandwich, and how they were made, sign up to our 'Historic Wooden Boat and Ship Construction' course in October here

To learn more about our current courses, fieldwork and event opportunities please click here. 

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