17/09/2019 - Weymouth, UK


Hidden just off Chesil Beach lie two wreck sites which, although they have been the focus of investigations for over 10 years, their identity remains a mystery. This year the Nautical Archaeology Society and Maritime Archaeology Trust are partnering to reveal the secrets of the wrecks and bring past research to the digital world with the help of local divers, and they’re giving the public a chance to get involved.

The two sites lie 300 metres apart. Site 1 is thought to date from the late 17th or early 18th Century and includes the remains of eight cannons, iron shot and wooden elements. Site 2 has seven cannons, with little other artefact material visible and may be 17th century in date. Are these two different wrecks? What is the identity of the ship or ships? Important questions that we hope the fieldwork will help answer.

Local dive clubs and individuals have been invited to take part in the week-long project; they have attended a series of free training sessions over the summer to prepare them for the upcoming week of archaeological work. With practice in underwater surveying techniques, recording cannons and in photogrammetry, these newly archaeologically trained divers will form a local team who will continue to investigate and protect the wrecks throughout the project, and beyond.

Peta Knott, NAS Education Officer, said: “We hope that by providing these opportunities to divers to develop their skills, they can continue to work on our precious protected wrecks now and into the future. By actively protecting the wrecks through visiting and monitoring the sites, we hope to encourage responsible licenced access to these divers and widen the opportunity for people to get in touch with their maritime heritage”.

As the wrecks lie under 12 metres of water, it’s been difficult for the general public to access this local heritage so far. But with the surge in 3D technologies over recent years, NAS and MAT plan on bringing the wrecks and their secrets to the surface through online virtual dive trails. Soon, anyone will be able to explore the wrecks from the comfort of their own home, without the need of a dry suit and dive kit.

“This project would not be possible without the support of Historic England, and our fantastic partner the Maritime Archaeology Trust” says Knott. “I hope that the people of Weymouth take this opportunity to join us, and see and experience their maritime heritage”.

NAS and MAT will be showcasing the project in two locations on the 21st and 22nd of September on the MAT Discovery Bus. The public are invited to come along and meet the archaeologists, try on dive kit and get up-close with real archaeological artefacts. You’ll be able to visit the Discovery Bus outside Debenhams in Weymouth between 10am and 4pm on Saturday 21st September, and at the Chesil Beach Discovery Centre between 10am and 4pm on Sunday 22nd. A preview of the new underwater scans and videos will be showcased at a public talk at 6pm on 26th of September in Hotel Aqua, Weymouth. Soon after the fieldwork, the dive trails will then be available to anyone with an internet connection anywhere in the world.

Brandon Mason, maritime archaeologist with the MAT who are developing the project visualisations, says “The techniques we’ll be demonstrating and using underwater can bring people up close and personal with underwater cultural heritage like never before. Working with the NAS will build a dedicated team of local divers to look after these important sites while also taking the local and wider community along for the ride in virtual reality, greatly enhancing the value of the Chesil Cannon sites for as many people as possible”.

The Chesil Beach wrecks are protected under the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973, and can only be visited with a licence, available from Historic England.

For more information about the Chesil Beach Protected Wreck Project, click here.

About the Nautical Archaeology Society:

The Nautical Archaeology Society is a charitable training organisation that has been running an internationally accredited training programme since the 1980s. We provide the opportunity for anyone who is interested to learn about and participate in protecting and preserving their maritime heritage as is demonstrated by their role in the Chesil Beach Protected Wreck Project.
Follow NAS on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram with @nautarchsoc

About the Maritime Archaeology Trust

The Maritime Archaeology Trust is a registered charity with over 27 years’ experience in research, investigations and pioneering techniques for the study of marine cultural heritage. We promote understanding and enjoyment of maritime heritage in an ever changing world. Our programmes of investigation, engagement and promotion involve volunteers to help make maritime archaeology accessible to a wide public audience.
Follow MAT on Twitter @Maritimetrust, Facebook and Instagram with @maritimearchaeologytrust

About Historic England

Historic England are the public body that helps people care for, enjoy and celebrate England’s spectacular historic environment, from beaches and battlefields to parks and pie shops. They protect, champion and save the places that define who we are where we’ve come from as a nation. Historic England care passionately about the stories they tell, the ideas they represent and the people who live, work and play among them. Working with communities and specialists to share their passion, knowledge and skills to inspire interest, care and conservation, so everyone can keep enjoying and looking after the history that surrounds us all.

More information about Protected Wrecks here.