Orkney was one of the most important British naval bases in both world wars and for most of this period was a hive of activity on land, sea and in the air.
RNAS and RAF air bases were scattered across the islands and thousands of sorties were flown by aircraft from these airfields. Tragically, some planes did not return to base and now lie in the waters around Orkney.
In 1986, one of the lost planes from World War II was located by HMS Bildeston, HMS Gavinton and Royal Maritime Auxiliary Service craft Kinloss on the seabed of Scapa Flow during a military exercise. Unfortunately, the aircraft disintegrated as it was recovered, but a Merlin aero engine was brought to the surface, cleaned up and together with the aeroplane’s armament was sent to Lyness Museum. The remainder of the aircraft remained on the sea floor.
During 2014, Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology and Sula Diving completed a collaborative project surveying the archaeological remains on the seabed of Scapa Flow. The wreck site was re-visited in order to video, photograph and record the remains. The wreckage itself lies in 22 metres of water and is likely to be from the cockpit area of a single seater aircraft. No human remains were identified, indicating that the pilot escaped before ditching.
An oxygen regulator, oxygen tanks, hydraulic pump, oxygen/hydraulic pipe work, wiring and some fuselage were recorded amongst numerous steel and aluminium sections. Gauges recovered many years ago suggest that the aircraft is a Spitfire manufactured after 1943…so the crash must have occurred after this date.
However the details of the crash remain a mystery. There does not seem to be any mention of a Spitfire ditching in this area during World War II. Even the aircraft registration number cannot be confirmed from the artefacts recovered.
For now, the Spitfire and pilot’s identity remains a mystery……………..unless anyone reading this knows anything different? This aircraft, in common with the remains of all military aircraft and designated military vessels, is now covered by the Protection of Military Remains Act 1986.
For more information see http://www.crashsiteorkney.com/mystery-aircraft-in-scapa-flow
Thanks to Kevin Heath at Sula Diving http://www.suladiving.com/
The ORCA team sometimes have to work in the harshest of conditions and in some of the most isolated areas of Britain. This means that the team has to rely on its own resources to get the job done, but on other occasions the sun shines and the rain and wind stays away.
Such were the conditions on the first few days of the geophysics survey at Kergord on Shetland, with clear blue skies and a few clouds that didn't threaten rain or hail or snow, and the geophysics survey was completed without resort to wet weather gear.
The project, commissioned by Balfour Beatty Construction Services UK, was to undertake a scheme of archaeological fieldwork at Upper Kergord, Shetland, in advance of the development of a proposed electricity converter station.
The investigation focused on four excavation areas targeted over features identified through walkover survey, desk based assessment and during watching briefs of geotechnical works.
The excavation encountered features that represent elements of the Post Medieval/crofting period landscape, including a shieling-type shelter, as well as structural remains which potentially provide evidence for Neolithic or Bronze Age land management.
If you are considering commissioning an archaeological survey, however large or small, in connection with a planning application or development then contact Pete Higgins, ORCA Senior Project Manager, on 01856 569345 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Work carries on as part of the A9 dualling as Archaeologists discover a possible Iron Age structure, pottery and a stone tool near the road. The finds have been made on the Crubenmore to Kincraig stretch of the route to be dualled.
The dualling of the A9 trunk road from Perth to Inverness is one of the largest infrastructure projects in Scotland. Over 80 miles of road will be improved over the next 8 years to improve the quality and reliability of journeys along the road. In common with all major infrastructure projects, Transport Scotland has appointed archaeologists in order to check for previously hidden ancient structures and other significant archaeology.
Commercial archaeologists, Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology (ORCA), have been working alongside design consultants CH2M Hill / Fairhurst Joint Venture, and ground investigation contractors, and have opened trial trenches to investigate several interesting anomalies identified in a geophysical survey.
The interest of the archaeologists was heightened further as the ground investigation works are located close to a prehistoric souterrain called Raitt’s Cave near Kingussie. This underground structure is a scheduled monument and is very large compared to most similar structures in Northern Scotland, and yet soutterains in general remain enigmatic as their use is still debated by archaeologists across the UK. They may have been used for storage, defence or some unidentified ritual, but commonly they are associated with settlement in the Bronze and Iron Ages.
Following discussions between Transport Scotland and the ORCA team on site, the preliminary work continued as the archaeologists investigated the anomalies. Traces of a previously unknown structure were quickly identified together with a scattering of pottery sherds and a possible stone Ard point – a stone worked into a point for use as part of a plough. The pottery was identified by Martin Carruthers (Iron Age specialist at the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute) as a possible collection of early Iron Age sherds. These finds led the archaeologists to believe that the structure may be associated with the souterrain.
Following advice from ORCA, the team quickly formulated a plan to incorporate the archaeological investigation into the schedule, meaning that the important A9 infrastructure development work could continue while the significant archaeology was recorded in more detail.
Keith Brown Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Jobs and Fair Work said: “Our work to dual the A9 will bring undoubted improvements for road users including improved journey times and significantly improving road safety. At the same time, the ongoing design work has opened a window into Scotland’s past. We have already been able to shed more light on the Battle of Killiecrankie and now these latest finds on another stretch of the route offer evidence for experts on how our prehistoric descendants lived in the Iron Age.”
Peter Higgins, Senior Project Manager ORCA, commented, “We are tremendously excited by these finds in this archaeologically significant location. We are also pleased that we can work with Transport Scotland to make sure that these finds are recorded correctly without impeding the roadworks so vital to this Scotland’s economic development.”
Transport Scotland: The A9 dualling project is a £3 billion infrastructure project designed to improve the links between Perth and Inverness.
The team at ORCA are well versed in tackling any archaeology job in almost any weather! When a client asks for a project to be completed on time and in budget then the team provide solutions and get the job done - even when the Scottish climate does it's best to make things a little difficult.
The picture shows ORCA Project Officer Rick Barton preparing to complete a survey of eroding archaeology on one of the northern islands in Orkney. Rick and Paul Sharman, ORCA Senior Project Officer, first assessed the situation in terms of Health and Safety and ,judging the situation to be safe, worked in torrential rain and very difficult conditions to identify features from an excavation completed in 1982.
For Paul, this was a back to the future experience as he originally worked on this particular site as a young graduate. Rick added to the occasion by reminding Paul that he wouldn't have been allowed to work on that dig because he was only one year old at the time. Paul's reaction is not noted in the documentation!
Archaeology is increasingly using technology to both shed new light on research questions and speed up processes in a drive to become more efficient. ORCA is investing in new technologies and the skills that people such as Jim Bright are now bringing to commercial archaeology.
Jim is a recent MSc graduate of the UHI Archaeology Institute who has developed photogrammetry and 3D modelling through his research at the world-renowned Neolithic excavation at the Ness of Brodgar and the equally important Iron Age dig at The Cairns, South Ronaldsay, Orkney.
Photogrammetry is a method by which a vast number of photographs can be converted into 3D computer models, which can then be viewed by anyone who possesses a computer and readily accessible social media platforms such as Sketchfab.
Following discussions with Pete Higgins, Senior Project Manager Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology, the ORCA team realised that Jim’s skills could be used in a commercial archaeology setting to offer clients a new resource and service. 3D modelling is a powerful resource, which can be used to aid client’s own public relations activity, but also, due to the accuracy inherent in the data collection methods, the technique is also used to record archaeologically important sites; replacing time consuming hand drawing– saving precious time on clients sites.
The main tools used are a camera, a Nikon D60 SLR and the software AgiSoft PhotoScan. The process of creating a good 3D model of a structure or item is a multi-phased one. Firstly Jim photographs the area around the object or area for modelling, making sure that the photographs overlap at every angle. Once all the photos had been taken they are uploaded into the software where each photo is checked, removing any blurry or unwanted areas using the masking tool. The alignment process can then begin, this is where the software takes millions of points in each photograph, compares them to the other photographs to identify the position and angle in which they were taken, and from this generate a base point cloud.
Once this is done, any potential errors or bad data can be removed by selecting certain parameters in the software before beginning the dense point cloud generation, where millions of points in a model are created as you can see in the two pictures below, the top image is of the whole model and the bottom one is zoomed right in so you can see all the points which make up the model.
When the dense point cloud has been made, the model is trimmed and tidied before creating the wireframe mesh, where the points are essentially joined up, and millions of triangles or faces are created ready for textures to be painted onto them. The texture file is made up of all the photographs taken to create the model which will then be wrapped around the mesh. The texture generation is the final process in the workflow of creating a 3D model.
That data’s geolocation coordinates are recorded using a total station theodolite (an electronic/optical instrument used for surveying and building construction). Once input, the ruler tool becomes available in the software, which allows the user to measure the 3D model down to the nearest millimetre.
The 3D models can be used as embedded images in presentations, press releases or social media have been used as an addition to the archaeological record of certain trenches, where models are created at different phases of excavation.
The archaeological work on the hospital site was successful in identifying where the archaeology was located and informing the strategy to avoid it.
An archaeological watching brief was undertaken on behalf of NHS Orkney, during the topsoil strip by machine, across the site of the new hospital and healthcare facilities in Kirkwall from the 24/04/2017 - 1/05/2017.
During the watching brief a number of linear features, interpreted as post-medieval land drains and boundary ditches were identified. Also identified was the edge of a former quarry pit that was shown on the First Edition 6-inch Ordnance Survey map.
The watching brief confirmed that the surviving significant (prehistoric) archaeology was focused in the area investigated during the evaluation in Trenches 1 and 9
This area had been avoided by the design for the current scheme of works. No features or material of archaeological significance were identified during the programme of archaeological works.
Shiptime Maritime Archaeology Project, Orkney
HMS Royal Oak Steam Pinnace Located
The tragic story of the loss of HMS Royal Oak in the first weeks of the Second World War is well known in Orkney and further afield, but there has always been mystery surrounding the location of one of the small vessels that was used by sailors attempting to escape from the sinking battleship.
Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology (ORCA), the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute and SULA Diving can now confirm the position of the missing HMS Royal Oak steam pinnace.
HMS Royal Oak was a Royal Navy battleship which was moored in Scapa Bay as an anti-aircraft platform to help defend a vital radar station on the cliffs. On the night of 13 October German submarine, U-47 manoeuvred into Scapa Flow and finding the Royal Oak at anchor fired torpedoes which led to the sinking of the huge ship. 834 men were lost of the 1,200 crew on-board with the few survivors struggling in the cold oil-covered water.
Research shows that two 50-foot picket boats were on onboard HMS Royal Oak when she was torpedoed. Number 749 was built by J Samuel White of the Isle of Wight and number 752 built by Rowhedge Ironworks, Wivenhoe Shipyard, Essex.
Documentary evidence indicates that around 100 crew members abandoned ship via her port side pinnace, which had a lifesaving capacity of 59. The Starboard side pinnace went down with Royal Oak and can be seen on the seabed a short distance from the wreck.
The small pinnace had not got up steam so boards were used to paddle the vessel away from the sinking Royal Oak. The pinnace began to rock due to being overloaded and the chief buffer tried to counter the movement by shouting instructions ‘’Lean to starboard, lean to port’. Some on deck were ordered below to make more room as more men tried to climb onboard.
Dick Kerr who was hanging on the side of the small vessel says, he heard someone start singing ‘Down Mexico way, south of the border’’ and a few others joined in. A short while later the pinnace capsized throwing those on deck into the water and trapping those who had gone below. Some crew scrambled onto the upturned hull but many were lost. The vessel then righted herself, capsized once more and then sank.
The location of this little ship was not known – until last month when the Shiptime Maritime Archaeology Project pinpointed the shipwreck on multibeam sonar, 300 metres from the main wreck site. The site was surveyed by Triscom Enterprise as part of the Shiptime Maritime Archaeology Project.
The site had been previously side scanned by SULA Diving as part of a survey for OIC Harbours but the identity of the craft had not then been established. As part of the project, a dive survey was conducted by SULA Diving of Stromness on the contact to establish that this was the missing port side pinnace.
Diver, Wayne Allen, of Wayne Allen Technical said, “It was a privilege to be able to assist SULA Diving in recording these historically important sites.”
Alistair Coutts, Business Development Manager, Seatronics, said: “Seatronics were delighted to have the opportunity to work with the collected specialists on this exciting project, providing ROV, positioning and 3D modelling and spatially cross referenced video inspection equipment”.
This exciting project is led by Sandra Henry of UHI Archaeology Institute, ORCA (Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology), the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute and Kevin Heath of SULA Diving who have brought together universities, commercial companies and government bodies including Historic Environment Scotland, Marine Scotland, Ulster University, Heriot-Watt University, University of Dundee, and Seatronics - an Acteon company.
The dive video clip is also available from email@example.com
This blog has been created by Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology in beautiful Orkney. We aim to add features and news about our work on the islands and further afield on a regular basis.