Susie McGraw is a forensic archaeologist who attended our Underwater Skills Days to see if she’d like to diversify into underwater archaeology. As you’ll find out here, she made the right decision!

Susie McGraw and fellow course members drawing up a wreck survey

It’s a sunny Friday in July, the water looks inviting and the kettle’s on.  What better way to start our three-day NAS recording and surveying course than with a packet of gingernuts and a chat to get to know each other?! 

We were a mixed bunch: some experienced archaeologists, some interested hobbyists, some experienced divers clocking dives into four figures, some with just a year under water in their log-books, but all sharing a desire to learn more about the NAS and maritime archaeology.   Friday morning was like the first day at school all over again as we sat quietly with fresh paper and new pens ready, but we soon became a cohesive group as we shared our interests, experiences and biscuit habits.  We wouldn’t have known that Nick Reed was a training tutor as he spoke with such passion and knowledge throughout the weekend, and with the support of Education Officer Peta Knott delivered an amazing experience we all thoroughly enjoyed from start to finish.

NAS trainee tutor Nick Reed teaching offset baseline survey

Friday started with an introduction to the work of the NAS to whet our appetites, including glimpses of the wreck we were to dive later in the day.  After confessing our distinct lack of drawing skills (although it turns out fellow participant Mark Hobbs was a shark and was practically at archaeological illustrator standard in or out of the water in comparison!), we headed out to the lesser known ‘Main Car Park Wreck’ to sketch the site.  All sketches were pretty recognisable, so we were happy with our efforts, but were feeling trepidation about how easy it would be to repeat the exercise underwater!

Participants sketching the main car park wreck

Never had we been so glad to get in the water as Friday which was seemingly the hottest day ever experienced at Stoney Cove.  There was an audible “ahhhhh” of cool relief when we hit the quarry for our first dive to get our debut look at the ‘Gresham Wreck’ on it’s little ridge.  Not all of us were visiting her for the first time, navigation was provided by Sam Jenkins who was a regular Gresham visitor and experienced diver.  He even managed to find a little crayfish (Craig) en route!  Visibility was challenging but we soon recognised the anchor and pieces of wreck we’d seen photos of earlier.  A quick count of the buoys and a clean to show their numbers ensued, only to realise number 6 had gone on an excursion down the drop off.  Back to bake in the sun for a while before our second dive – this time with slates and permatrace in hand ready to test our sketching skills.  All were recognisable, some were ok if you squinted, mine was at least three different angles to north, but the rough shapes were there.  Cringe worthy but something to work on!

Divers escaping the heat and preparing for their underwater surveys

Saturday saw us exploring the ‘Top Car Park Wreck’, a famous Elizabethan site full of finds at strangely useful and consistent angles(!), and a foray into measuring techniques.  On Friday we had been split into teams which we kept all weekend helping to form a good bond and an understanding of each others’ strengths and limitations.  Measuring on land was definitely a strength for us Team Archaeologists. Perhaps we had a little advantage given our affiliation with tape measures in our day jobs!  Not such an advantage underwater though which was a new experience across the board with mixed results.  The ties method provided a “creatively different” version of the Gresham’s layout, but all of our offsets were passable with a few learning curves along the way. 

Participants surveying the Top Car Park Wreck

The drawing up, fuelled by tea and biscuits, was daunting but enjoyable in the end and there was great pride at the successful lining up of the plans across all three teams to recreate the whole ‘Top Car Park Wreck site’.  Go Team!

Sunday started with the ‘Classroom Wreck’ and planning frames and, with Peta’s top tips for replicating the site accurately using cross points and joining the dots, we each presented our efforts with recognisable artefacts and the correct annotations ready for our sub-aqua attempt.  For me, this was my favourite dive – multi-tasking prowess put to the ultimate test as three of us hovered over a 50x50cm frame on our section of the Gresham while trying to reproduce what we could see in as much detail and as accurately as possible. 

Planning frames on the Classroom wreck

Now we had mastered (well, practiced), the stages of recording from site sketch to measurements to drawing in detail, it was time to become a true underwater archaeology team and manage our own project.  Steve Hunt, as the most senior archaeologist, took the role of project director, a job that meant making final decisions and being the media spokesperson.  Mark Hobbs and Neil Cooper were our photographers and surfaced with some cracking footage of the site.  Team Archaeologists, led by Sam Jenkins, the most experienced visitor to the Gresham, filled the details of our section by adding measurements to our previously sketched “area of planks”, and Team Rob and Jenny Watkins added detail to their “area of iron bars”. 

The team planning for the final dive

We drew up our surveys and, with a drum roll and breath held, slotted them together…. and presented the complete site with baselines matching up and measurements accurate enough to place each section correctly in correlation with the photo of the site. Whoop whoop!

Susie McGraw drawing up the Gresham wreck survey

With a final presentation about what the NAS could have in store for us next if we want to continue our foray into maritime archaeology, we drank our final cup of tea and said our goodbyes.  From strangers to team-mates in just three days, we went on our way full of enthusiasm for what could come next and with fond memories of our weekend of water, wrecks, car parks, tea and the fantastic people we met. Thank you to Nick and Peta :D

The course wouldn't be complete without a team selfie now would it!

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