Archaeological diving falls within the HSE Scientific and Archaeological Diving Approved Code of Practice. This recognises the unique circumstances that archaeological sites underwater can present to divers.
Archaeological diving is carried out for research, commercial and training purposes. All teams employed in these activities must comply with HSE regulations. The popularity of archaeological diving has created a pool of experienced a vocational divers. Their skills are often utilised by maritime archaeologists in mixed teams of volunteer and professional divers. All volunteers must comply with HSE approved qualifications to form part of a HSE dive team.
SCUBA equipment is used as it provides the diver with manoeuvrability and precise buoyancy control – these are vital when working on delicate sites. Surface supplied equipment is utilized when a task requires longer bottom time or heavy duty tools.
The Scope of Archaeology Underwater
Britain’s coastline is home to one of the richest wreck resources. This includes the remains of ships and boats dating from the Bronze Age to modern day. Many archaeological diving projects focus on wrecks, although there are many other types of site on and in the seabed such as crashed aircraft, docks and jetties or jettisoned articles. Another interesting site type is the prehistoric submerged landscape. These have been trapped by sediments deposited during sea level rise over the last 10,000 years. They contain stone tools, wooden track ways and organic remains.
Techniques of Archaeology Underwater
Survey – survey is the predominant archaeological techniques employed as our underwater heritage is often best preserved left in situ. This can involve the use of tape measures and planning frames for manual recording of sites and finds.
Sampling – this is often less destructive than excavation, sampling collects archaeological evidence for detailed analysis. It is a very useful tool for assessing the archaeological resource within the sediments of submerged landscapes.
Excavation – is not to be undertaken lightly. It means destroying the site on the seabed and preserving it by record. For excavation airlifts or water dredges can be used to remove spoil from the site and increase visibility. It is usually necessary to provide a grid frame for the diver to rest on.
Contacts and links for more information
Chartered Institute for Archaeologists (Marine Archaeology Special Interest Group)
http://www.archaeologists.net / http://www.archaeologists.net/groups/maritime
Historic England (Coastal, marine and maritime)
Maritime Archaeology Trust
Nautical Archaeology Society