The centenary of the scuttling of the German High Seas Fleet in Scapa Flow, Orkney is approaching in June 2019. Historic Environment Scotland commissioned the Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology and SULA Diving to complete a full survey of the wrecks and debris remaining on the sea bed following the interwar salvage operations.
The seven remaining ships of the High Seas Fleet have seen Scapa Flow become one of the most well-known dive sites in the World. Those wrecks are still the primary focus of recreational divers, but the remains of the vessels that were mostly recovered and removed from Scapa Flow have also been a recognised diving resource for many years. However, the exact extent and composition of these so-called salvage sites was unknown until this week, when the report of the second phase of work on these sites was published online.
The overall aim of the Scapa Flow Salvage Sites Project was to determine what remains of the many vessels of the German High Seas Fleet that were salvaged in the years that followed their scuttling in June 1919. Phase One, undertaken over the winter of 2016/17, involved a side scan sonar survey of the main anchorages and other areas thought to have been involved in the salvage process. In the second phase of this project, divers and remotely operated vehicles examined and recorded the remains in detail. The overall result is that the vast majority of salvage sites in Scapa Flow have been located and the remains at each site have been directly investigated and recorded.
The salvage of the German High Seas Fleet was an unparalleled achievement. It was initially said that the recovery of the larger German vessels was an impossible task given their sheer size and weight (some up to 28,000 tonnes displacement), but a unique method was used to recover these vessels, most of which were lying upside down on the seabed in depths up to 45m. The basic principle was simple - fill the vessels with air to the point that they floated to the surface.
The process of flotation itself caused parts of the vessels to fall away, leaving behind debris which has now been recorded to form an incredible record of the details of construction of these warships and the ground-breaking salvage process. The fascinating wreckage examined ranges from huge mast sections complete with spotting tops, searchlights, a diesel engine from a ships boat to smaller items such as gyrocompass remains. The report itself is a mine of information for anyone interested in the construction of these historically important vessels and what happened to them. Where possible, photographs of objects on the seabed are matched with those taken of the same object when the ship was in use.
The full report is now available for public download through the Scapa Flow Historic Wreck website http://www.scapaflowwrecks.com/projects/salvage-sites-phase-2/
Pete Higgins, Senior Project Manager at Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology said,
” The German High Seas Fleet Salvage Site Project provides an insight into one of the most spectacular episodes in maritime history when forty four warships were raised from the seabed of Scapa Flow and salvaged. The report brings together the archaeological remains of this operation and not only records the position and scale of the debris field, but also tells the story of these ships and their salvage through the remaining artefacts.”
Philip Robertson, Historic Environment Scotland’s marine expert said, “As the centenary of the scuttling of the German High Seas Fleet approaches, the publication of this report marks a significant milestone for marine archaeological heritage in Scapa Flow, and we are particularly grateful to the many volunteers who have assisted us in documenting what survives of the Fleet following one of the greatest salvage feats of all time.”
The High Seas Fleet was interned at the Royal Navy base Scapa Flow, Orkney at the end of the First World War. Admiral Ludwig Von Reuter, ordered the fleet to be scuttled so that the British could not make use of this vast resource.
This resulted in the sinking of 52 of the 74 interned vessels. After the scuttling, 44 of these vessels were salvaged and various components of the ships’ structures lie on the seabed marking these wreck sites, a valuable cultural heritage resource.
Media Contact: Sean Page, Marketing Officer, Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology, Kirkwall. E: email@example.com Tel: 01856 569229
Despite the atrocious weather, a team from Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology (ORCA) and 9 participants undertook a walkover survey around the Hall of Clestrain on the 13th October 2018.
The aims were to record sites that relate specifically to the house, and sites from other periods, in order to put the house into a wider context.
Archaeological walkover surveys are used to record earthworks and structures in the landscape using basic techniques: a written, sketch drawn and photographic record, along with recording the location of sites with hand-held GPS. Participants were trained in basic techniques of field recognition and recording.
The survey covered the walled garden, the area around the house and the trackway to the road, recording sites from all periods. The site of a nearby prehistoric standing stone and hut circle were also visited. In total, 17 sites were recorded. Within the walled garden, landscape garden features were recorded: a mound, pathways, pond and old trees.
The garden wall itself is very high with decorative recesses. Just to the north, outside the garden, a large earthwork with a knocking stone could relate to an earlier phase of farm buildings. Along the trackway to the east, a World War II search light emplacement was recorded. The walled garden would have been in use during the time of John Rae’s childhood. The range of sites recorded during the survey demonstrate the rich history of the Hall of Clestrain area.
Future work could record some of the walkover sites in more detail and conduct geophysical survey to further characterise the garden, potential former farm buildings and prehistoric sites.
Participants commented.............‘For me, the most interesting part of the course was seeing the approach taken to initially survey the land. It really gets you thinking more about what could be under your feet and begin to think outside the box more.’
‘Very clear explanation with follow-up and support on the ground’
‘I did not really know what to expect before arriving and was unsure whether or not I would be of any use, but it was fantastic.’
‘Really useful to learn more about GPS and methods of landscape recording’
‘A really useful day. Many thanks for arranging it.’
‘I look forward to participating in future events and learning more!’
For more information on the John Rae Society see their website.
The wrecks of the First World War German High Seas Fleet that lie on the seabed in Scapa Flow, Orkney are famous throughout the world as a diving and archaeological resource.
These wrecks include battleships, battlecruisers and other distinctive vessels from the First World War and provide marine archaeologists and historians with an opportunity to examine at first hand German warships from this period.
During the interwar period, forty-two vessels were re-floated and salvaged for their scrap in one of the greatest marine salvage feats of all time, but many of the important structures from these vessels were left behind on the sea bed.
Following on from the successful completion of phase one of the project in 2017, archaeologists from the Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology (ORCA) have teamed up with SULA Diving to undertake a second phase of the Historic Environment Scotland-funded marine archaeology project to examine Scapa Flow’s salvage sites. This phase of the survey commenced in June 2018 and concentrates on the debris left behind when the wrecks in deep water around the island of Cava were salvaged in the interwar period, including vessels such as the battleship Kaiser and the battlecruiser Moltke.
The project is led by Pete Higgins, Senior Project Manager (ORCA) and Kevin Heath (SULA Diving) on behalf of Historic Environment Scotland. The team aimed to provide baseline data to aid long term monitoring and protection of the wreckage, and to contribute to our understanding of the construction and equipment of these vessels. The project has been fortunate to enlist the voluntary services of experienced divers from the Scapa Flow diving community, Heriot Watt University, the British and Orkney Sub Aqua Clubs and divers visiting Orkney from all over the world.
The scrap sites include major components of ship structures and equipment such as masts, searchlights, plating, steam pinnaces (small boats serving as tenders on the larger ship), funnels, spotting tops and so on. As this wreckage is relatively broken up and lacks statutory protection, the sites are currently vulnerable to modern salvage activity.
Pete Higgins said, “This is an important marine archaeology project surveying what remains of the German High Seas Fleet warships that were salvaged from Scapa Flow in the inter war period. It is very exciting to see divers from all over the world participating in marine archaeology. Their work is helping us retrieve valuable information on warships that we thought had been effectively destroyed seventy years ago.”
Philip Robertson, Historic Environment Scotland’s marine expert, said ‘Nearly 100 years since the High Seas Fleet was interned in Scapa Flow at the end of the First World War, HES funded this project to help us understand and protect, where possible, the important information that has been left behind from these times and which helps us appreciate Scapa Flow’s key role as a naval wartime harbour and the incredible story of the scuttling and salvage of the High Seas Fleet.’
The project data and results will be available to the public through the Scapa Flow Wrecks website (http://www.scapaflowwrecks.com), along with various other platforms and exhibitions.
The High Seas Fleet was interned at the Royal Navy base Scapa Flow, Orkney at the end of the First World War. Admiral Ludwig Von Reuter, believing the Armistice was over, ordered the fleet to be scuttled. This resulted in the sinking of 50 of the 74 interned vessels. After the scuttling, 42 of these vessels were salvaged and various components of the ships’ structures lie on the seabed marking these wreck sites, a valuable cultural heritage resource.
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ORCA Senior Project Officer, Paul Sharman, recently attended the Harbours in Space and Time International Conference in Mainz, Germany where he presented a paper on an ongoing research project, 'Prospecting for Orkney's Maritime Infrastructure'.
The event was the final conference of the German Research Council's (DFG) Special Priority Programme 1630 'Harbours from the Roman Period to the Middle Ages'.
The abstract of Paul Sharman (ORCA) and Julie Gibson's (UHI Archaeology Institute) paper can be downloaded here.
Check out the conference website
Join the ORCA team working with The John Rae Society on a series of archaeology activities to explore and record the Hall of Clestrain and surrounding gardens - the home of John Rae in Orkney.
The programme starts on Saturday 13th October with a day of community walkover survey of the walled gardens with the aim of tracing features from old maps and recording structures and earthworks on the ground.
Participants will be trained in basic field recognition and survey of the built heritage. The archaeological works around the hall aim to place Clestrain in a wider context and explore the history and development of this important building.
Dan Lee said 'ORCA are excited to work with The John Rae Society on this important project, to explore, research and restore one of Orkney's most iconic buildings, starting with a community training event’.
If you want to join the team working on this exciting community archaeology project then drop us a line on firstname.lastname@example.org
Booking is essential as there are limited places available for training. Please do come for the day or just an hour. You are also welcome to come and visit us during the day. Trustees and archaeologists from Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology will be there to talk to you about the project.
No previous experience of archaeology is needed, but if you join us then bring a packed lunch, waterproofs and sturdy boots.
The John Rae Society is based in Stromness, Orkney. It is a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation (SCIO), registered in Scotland and the Registered Charity Number is SC044463.
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Rick Barton, Project Officer for Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology (ORCA) writes about the latest developments at Swartigill….
We are into the last week of the excavations at the Burn of Swartigill in Caithness, and we have achieved all our key objectives for this season.
We now know that the structures that were originally seen in the erosion of the burn edge pre-date the construction of the passage structure. The deposits overlaying the walls of these earlier structure have been cut into to accommodate the northern revetment wall of the passage. This is important chronological information about the development of the buildings, and ties in with our understanding of the chronology of the site from the C14 dates.
We have also, mostly, defined the extent of the main structure in the trench, which appears to be a sub-oval shape, rather than round or rectangular, with an entrance on the east side. This slightly squashed aspect could be due to the fact that this structure is respecting existing features and buildings around it, using the space that’s available.
The passageway on the north side of the main structure follows the curving alignment of the wall around to the east, and seems to be dropping down in elevation as it goes. Did I hear someone say Souterrain? Well, it’s a possibility, but there is still work to be done here to fully define this feature, as it continues out of our current excavation area to the east.
There are tantalising glimpses of some well-preserved patches of occupation deposits within the main structure. Protected and preserved under a layer of peaty soil, bright red areas of ashy deposit and very compacted surfaces with lots of charcoal are beginning to show through. We will be taking some samples from small amounts of these deposits this year, to further examine their potential in post-excavation. We will hopefully get some datable material from them too.
This year we extended the trench to the south to investigate a second geophysical anomaly on the earth resistance survey, and it’s looking more and more likely that we have second large structure on the site. We have seen some interesting upright set stone in this area, which look like they have been incorporated into an interior wall face. We are also starting to see a curving alignment of rubble to the south of this, which could be overlaying a structural wall in this direction.
Thanks to the P7-9 classes from Watten and Thrumster primary schools for their hard work helping to uncover this tantalising addition to the site on Monday.
We have only a few days left of this season, Friday the 7th is our last day on site. There is still plenty to do, so if you would like to get involved, come along and see us.
The community dig at Swartigill in Caithness is now underway and Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology (ORCA) Project Officer Rick Barton continues the story from last year………
“We are approaching the halfway point of this season’s excavations of early Iron Age structures at the Burn of Swartigill at Yarrows in Caithness, and we are making good progress. We have had a lot of help from some fantastic volunteers throughout the dig so far, and the team has been getting bigger every day. The alluvial layers shrouding the archaeology on the site are gradually being removed to reveal some interesting structural features and deposits.
So far we have defined the edges of what appears to be a large sub-oval structure, with the hint of a central hearth setting defined by a ring of stones and darker patch of soil which contains lots of charcoal and ash layers. The structure is bound by an external passage to the north, which was accessed from the west where a threshold stone and pivot mark the entrance. The passage has a very well made surface of flat boulders, which form the capstones for a very substantial drain.
We are starting to investigate the walls showing along the erosion edge of the burn. It was the natural the exposure of these features that originally led to its discovery. This part of the site seems to be ceramic central, with lots of sherds of prehistoric pottery present within the layers overlying the walls. There are also traces of some peat ash starting to show, which we will be investigating and sampling later in the week.
There is still lots of work to do this season, and there are tantalising traces of other structural features coming to light. Some of the alignments of the walls, taken together with what we know from the geophysics, suggests that there are multiple structures on the site, and we may be seeing just a small part of a larger settlement.
All visitors and volunteers are very welcome, and no previous experience is necessary.”
The Swartigill excavation is a joint community project involving the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute and Yarrows Heritage Trust.
Has a community archaeology team found a previously unknown prehistoric settlement in Northern Scotland?
The community around Thurso were invited to take part in the latest archaeology event in the Caithness Broch Festival last week in which a team were trained in basic archaeological techniques by archaeologists from Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology (ORCA) and the University of the Highlands and Islands.
Over 40 people attended the event organised by Caithness Broch Project and experienced ‘hands on archaeology’ in a series of trial trenches at Thusater Burn near Thurso in the North of Scotland.
In fact, so many people turned up that an additional trench had to be opened. This trench was soon commandeered by the children of the volunteers who under supervision from the ORCA team started to develop their excavation skills at a pace!
All three excavated trenches soon revealed archaeological features consistent with that anticipated by a previous geophysical survey conducted by the ORCA team several weeks ago. Rubble and stony deposits containing cultural material were encountered, although perhaps the most exciting structural find was a perfectly preserved hearth constructed of orthostats, a base slab and packing stones.
Under the blazing sun, the team’s hard work was rewarded by finding a hammer stone and possible striking stone used for starting fires and a wonderfully preserved pigs tooth. The latter find is usually associated with high status sites.
The investigation raised the possibility of the mound containing prehistoric structural remains although more research is needed to confirm their extent and the actual period of occupation. The hearth, together with the finds point to domestic use – perhaps a ‘wag’ or, even more excitingly for the Caithness Broch Project, the remains of a broch.
Pete Higgins, Senior Project Manager ORCA, said, ” It is incredibly exciting to be involved with the team from Caithness Broch Project and local people investigating this site, especially as this is the first time that it has been excavated. This is the first stage of a project which aims to investigate the wider prehistoric landscape of this area of northern Scotland and ultimately help provide the community with the tools to boost tourism in the area.”
Caithness Broch Project member Kenneth McElroy added, "The dig was a really exciting community event - I was especially pleased to see that for many of the volunteers this was their first experience of an archaeological dig.It was a superb few days and we'd love to come back and try and find out a bit more about the site!"
The Caithness Broch Festival Archaeology Programme aims to provide CBP members and the general public with training in field-walking, geophysical survey and excavation within Caithness. These will develop skills in project set-up, survey, field-walking, finds recognition, finds cataloguing, GIS and reporting, as well as basic excavation techniques.
The result of these activities will be to form a skilled and engaged group that can develop and sustain archaeological projects within the county. Participants will contribute to the wider understand of these sites and landscapes and present the results.
The Archaeology Programme also presents an opportunity to stimulate tourist interest in the region by providing events which can be publicised and promoted in order to draw in higher numbers of visitors. Tourism could also add to the funding opportunities through visitor donations to, and additional memberships of, the Caithness Broch Project.
Thanks to the following for supporting the project:
The team from Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology were back on the island of Rousay two weeks ago to work with the Deutsches Archäologisches Institut Römisch-Germanische Kommission (DAI) and the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute (UHI) on the largest geophysical survey ever undertaken on the island.
Once again, Frank Forrester, our work placement student from the University of Bradford, continues the story of the project..........
"Our first day, Dan Lee and I travelled to Rousay, meeting up with Jane Downs and Steve Davis of University College Dublin and going through the different sites of Rousay. before meeting the DAI team. The four team members of DAI where Knut Rassmann, Ruth Beusing, Johannes Kalmbach and Andreas Grundmann.
The team ventured out into the brilliant sunshine and travelled around the Rousay landscape, looking over the sites to be surveyed and finalising the overall approach. The UHI team then had to travel back to Kirkwall, while I stayed with the DAI team, helping them set up the surveying equipment.
The equipment itself was a 14 magnetometry system. Built on a carbon fibre frame, the 14 sensors where placed at the back-on wheels with high suspension. This frame was designed so that no metal from the quad bike, that pulled the system would interfere with the results. The cart had its own GPS attached, which was feeding back to a known base station point. This guaranteed the accuracy of the location of the cart, which in turn located the sites revealed from the survey.
Surveying started on the second day. An amazing 45 hectares were surveyed in a single day. The quadbike, allowed the team to be very moveable when surveying the fields, and yet still be fast enough to cover the large area detailed in the overall plan.
In the morning of the third day I had the chance to go through the results of the previous day. This was an amazing opportunity, as I had never seen magnetometry data on such a large scale. Being able to already pick out sites from the first set of data showed the importance of this survey and how much it can help understand the archaeology and landscape of Rousay.
Ruth and I went and collected some magnetic susceptibility data of the stone from around the area of the survey. These points included a field dyke, Midhowe Broch, Swandro, Broch farmstead and Skaill farmstead. This data was collected by using a probe sensor, first taking a measure from a control sample, then of the air around the different spots, of the stone itself and finally of the surrounding air again. This is to make sure that there is a clear measure between the stone measurement and the surrounding area.
Thursday the 19th April saw the start of the Gateway to the Atlantic: Rousay Workshop. We met the speakers and delegates at the ferry, before going on a fieldtrip of the island. This was followed by a late lunch before the start of the talks.
The second day of the workshop started with coffee at the Rousay community school, before moving into the talks. After lunch, and to stretch the legs after a long period of talks, the group went and saw some clearance sites on Rousay, as it is the only island of Orkney that was cleared. This small break was followed by a round table discussion and brainstorming session of possible future collaboration and projects. This workshop experience was incredible to see as the collaboration of all these different partners coming together is something I had never seen before. It showed me how projects can be formed between different organisations dealing with big questions."
The Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology (ORCA) team not only use the standard methods to survey archaeological sites, but also aerial drone photography and video.
This section of coast on the small island of Papa Westray in Orkney has experienced severe coastal erosion which has exposed significant archaeology. ORCA were commissioned by Historic Environment Scotland to complete a survey of the area around St Boniface's Church as part of a larger community archaeology project which will provide a baseline assessment of coastally eroding archaeology.
The drone video clip will form part of the baseline assessment and, together with the 3D models produced by Jim Bright and the ORCA team, gives the archaeologists a unique perspective on the structures eroding out of the cliff. The drone videos provide a very quick and cost effective method of assessing a coastline and in future may be used to create 3D models.
The coastline is eroding at an alarming rate at this point and has already receded 30cm in one year. The plan is to undertake further drone flights in subsequent years which will enable the team to assess the damage quickly and cost effectively. Using such technology also allows a client to examine a structure or remains remotely from a connected computer anywhere in the world.
The drone is operated under strict guidelines by a fully trained member of the ORCA team.
For more information on the 12th Century St Boniface's Church, cross slab and the Norse hogback grave stone see Canmore.
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.