British

Archaeology

The voice of archaeology in Britain and beyond

Cover of British Archaeology 106

Issue 106

May / June 2009

Contents

news

Breton hoard of stone axeheads is first for UK

Flint finds point to Scotland's first people

Antiquities Scheme unearths second Roman pan

In the press

In Brief & Phase 2

features

Beneath the Sea Special: Part 1
Discovery and work on HMS Victory

Beneath the Sea Special: Part 2
Underwater landscapes and the Swash Channel wreck

THE BIG DIG: Wallingford
Community research project in this historic Oxfordshire town, said to have been founded by King Alfred

The Nighthawing Report
While most metal detectorists give positive contributions to the archaological world, nobody is perfect. Pete Wilson considers tackling the rogues

spoilheap

Proud of all humanity – and Homophobic (Latin or Greek?)

on the web

Recommended websites
Discovering historic landscapes, and a major Gallo-Belgic pottery resource

letters

your views and responses

CBA Correspondent

Gill Chitty introduces some recent examples from the CBA's advocacy files

 

ISSN 1357-4442

Editor Mike Pitts

features

Beneath the sea

The threat to HMS Victory and other shipwrecks

In February, Odyssey Marine Exploration announced that it had located the wreck of Admiral Balchin's HMS Victory, a famous Royal Navy flagship that sank in the English Channel in 1744. Sean Kingsley, who has "dived" with Odyssey on the site, describes the wreck and says he fears for its survival.

On October 22 1744, Britain went into shock. The greatest and most heavily armed man-of-war in the world – the first-rate Royal Navy warship HMS Victory, the modern equivalent of an aircraft carrier with nuclear capability – had vanished in the western English Channel. On board were up to 1,100 men, the 74- year-old Admiral Sir John Balchin (the most accomplished seaman of his age, who served England for 58 years) and 50 volunteers drawn from the noblest families of the land.

Three days earlier the Admiralty had received the news that Britain feared. Off the Channel Isles gun carriages, a ship's pump, boats' oars, decorated stern timbers, 74- and 64-foot-long topmasts (22.5m and 19.5m) labelled VICT, and Captain Cotterell's portmanteau had washed onto shore. Reporting the Georgian equivalent of the loss of the Titanic, the Daily Advertiser announced that "Abundance of Persons, whose Sons or Relations were Officers or Volunteers on board the Victory, are going into deep Mourning; and it is impossible to express the Sorrow which appears on every Brow on this melancholy Occasion".

Physical evidence tied the wreck of the Victory to the Casquets, 8km west of Alderney and infamous as the graveyard of the channel – 392 shipwrecks dating between 1278 and 1962 cluster around Alderney, Guernsey and Sark. The local lighthouse manager, Mr LeCoq, was later accused by a court martial of allowing the lights to go out on the fateful night of October 4 and thus partly causing Victory's loss. Modern Alderney postage stamps even depict the warship foundering off the Casquets as the lighthouse stands idle. The geographic context of the wreck was institutionalised.

Site 25C: HMS Victory

Since 2005, Odyssey Marine Exploration, a pioneer in deep-sea shipwreck exploration, has identified 675 anomalies by side-scan and magnetometer survey in the English Channel and Western Approaches. In May 2008 Zeus, an 8 tonne remotely operated vehicle, splashed down at one of these, which barely registered as a series of pinpricked scars on the seabed adjacent to a vast snaking sand wave. Site 25C proved to be a concentration of rare bronze cannon, disarticulated wooden planking and other artefacts.

The site was formally arrested in a US court sitting in admiralty, after which Odyssey claimed legal status as the wreck's guardian. With the agreement of the UK Ministry of Defence – whom Odyssey contacted as owner of the Victory – an intermittent pre-disturbance site survey between May and October 2008 recorded all the surface features during 23 dives, and produced a master photomosaic from 2,821 still photographs. A small-scale trial trench in the stern area exposed the 10m-long rudder, but otherwise the wreck's integrity remains untouched.

In February Odyssey revealed to the world's media that it had found the wreckage of HMS Victory. Though the Admiralty's own investigations in 1744 and 1745 had produced seemingly unchallengeable evidence for Victory's loss off the Casquets, site 25C is around 100km to the west, beyond the territorial waters of England and France. Had Odyssey misread its data, or had it really solved one of the greatest mysteries in British maritime history?

The case is compelling. Lying at a depth of around 100m, the wreck site is enormous, measuring 61m×22m, which, allowing for a typical dispersion of debris, dovetails neatly with the size of the Victory, at 53mx15m. An iron bower anchor tentatively measured at 6.9m long exceeds the length of the 90-gun Association's anchor and even the 6.45m example on Nelson's Victory. Clearly site 25C was an exceptional vessel.

The 32 rectangular iron concretions spanning the south-western flank of the site typify contemporary ballast used at Deptford dockyard and recorded on the wreck of the fifth-rate warship HMS Fowey, lost off Florida in 1748 after seeing service in the English Channel. A copper cauldron to the north-east and dozens of red hearth bricks scattered across the wreck reflect the technology used in Royal Navy kitchens before Alexander Brodie patented his iron stove in 1780; this "modernistic" stove was found on the wreck of HMS Swift, which sank off Patagonia in 1770.

A Georgian date is confirmed by the royal arms of King George I (1714–27) on nine of the 41 bronze cannon visible at the site, and the arms of George II (1727–60) on a 10th gun. Founders' dates of 1726 and 1734 on two cannon place site 25C directly within the timeframe of Victory, whose build started in 1726. This first-rate was designed to accommodate 16 sixpounder cannon on the forecastle and quarterdeck, 28 12-pounders on the upper deck, 28 24-pounders on the middle deck and 28 42-pounders on the lower deck. All of these calibres coexist on site 25C, and the 42-pounders, the largest cannon used in naval warfare in the age of sail, are in every way a "smoking gun" for the wreck's identification.

By 1726 bronze cannon (at the time known as "brass") were rare. They cost three times as much as iron, and their muzzles had a tendency to droop. As this gun's long history drew to a close, bronze was restricted to the most prestigious Royal Navy first-rate flagships; following the 1716 Naval Gun Establishment only three warships in the entire navy carried all bronze cannon. Given that the 42-pounders on site 25C (eight recorded so far) were a form of artillery restricted to first-rate warships, the key to the wreck's identity is a simple question: which first-rates sank in British waters?

Only four were lost in the world's oceans between the reign of King George I and 1810. One went down off Newfoundland, another off Livorno, while just two foundered in British waters. The Royal George sunk while being repaired off Spithead in 1782 and was subsequently salvaged. The only other British first-rate man-of-war wrecked after 1734 – the founder's date for the 12-pounder cannon C28 – was HMS Victory, which was lost in the English Channel. The case for site 25C being the unique predecessor for Nelson's Victory is a 100% certainty.

It is virtually impossible for the ship to have struck the Casquets and then been blown 100km back west into the channel. The logbooks of the Duke, which was accompanying Admiral Balchin back to England, describe the wind as blowing from the west and south-west on October 4. To sail into a westerly storm would have required the Victory to have defied the laws of physics. Wreckage from the Victory washed up onto the Channel Isles nine days after she sank. The Casquets legend turns out to be a case of mistaken identity.

Museums of the deep

The preservation of the Victory is a far cry from that of the Mary Rose and the Stirling Castle, an exceptional wreck on the Goodwin Sands. The mobile sediments that cushioned her impact on the seabed have failed to save her from brutal deterioration. Her three decks have been ground down to the ballast. The six-pounder forecastle and quarterdeck cannon lie on the same stratigraphic horizon as the lower deck 42-pounders. Iron ballast along the keelson is contextualised next to the middle deck's copper cauldron. Scattered between are modern bottles, tin cans, cereal boxes, video cassettes and plastic rubbish. At a depth of 100m, Victory is far from frozen in time.

An acute concern raised by Odyssey's surveys is the abundant primary data for trawler damage to the shipwrecks of the western channel. Almost every site contains snagged fishing nets, deep "plough" marks and dragged wreckage. In addition to fishing net cable and a lobster trap on site 25C, 24 of the 41 visible cannon lie parallel to the keel line, a perplexing site formation for a warship. Whilst some scrambling is to be expected, the lower deck 42-pounders would likely have reached the seabed in their original gun stations at right-angles to the keel. Some of the Victory's four-tonne great guns have been displaced, and cable friction marks are apparent on the recovered 12-pounder cannon C28. No trawler marks can be seen passing through site 25C, but such furrows are quickly eroded away by ever-shifting sediments.

In search of 182 species of marine life that inhabit the channel, trawlers can displace up to 30cm of seabed annually as they draw 83,000 tonnes of fish into nets, which themselves weigh up to 8 tonnes. Trawlers are bulldozers of the deep. Their effects on the marine ecology are as devastating underwater as the clear-cutting of a rainforest is on land.

This may be an inconvenient truth for British marine archaeology, but in managing deep-sea wrecks our thinking is luddite. We may hide behind UNESCO's mantra of preservation in situ, but the reality is that unless the Victory is excavated, future generations may judge us as having signed the death warrant of the most archaeologically important warship in the world – the only first-rate in existence with a full complement of 100 bronze cannon, including the only 42-pounders to survive history's smelting pot. If we cannot save the Victory, then what chance do the thousands of anonymous merchant vessels of the deep – the museums of the English Channel – have of being spared obliteration?

Sean Kingsley is a marine archaeologist and director of London-based Wreck Watch International. NC Dobson & S Kingsley, HMS Victory, a first-rate Royal Navy warship lost in the English Channel, 1774. Preliminary survey & identification (Odyssey Papers 2) is available online.


British Archaeology asked Dave Parham to comment on Sean Kingsley's interpretation of the threat to the wreck

HMS Victory – there is no doubt that Odyssey is right about the wreck's identity – suffered a serious structural failure (through poor design or wrecking), fell 100m and then decayed for 265 years. It is simplistic to assume that this followed a perfectly organised pattern. From the available evidence, the wreck is in a state we would expect from decay and natural destruction.

Guns from the upper decks are now mixed with those from the lower decks and the ballast from the bottom of the hold, because the organic structure that held them in place has decayed. This might well have taken over a century, considering sites like the Mary Rose and the Royal George. During that time objects will have fallen to the seabed and been displaced, in many cases by over 15m, eventually lying next to each other. At the Swash Channel wreck (see printed issue, p24), a carving from the ship's upper works was found within the floor timbers. It is unlikely that all of the guns would have fallen in the same ordination as they had when the ship was afloat.

Modern rubbish, often including small bits of fishing gear damaged elsewhere, is all over the place in the sea: it drifts until it catches on something like a shipwreck, which can be covered in such debris. Whilst visually unpleasant, it need not be a problem to a wreck's survival. But trawling is causing damage. A number of historic wrecks, such as the late 15th/early 16th century Studland Bay wreck, have been found by fishing. It is sufficient a problem for the recreational diving industry to see it as a serious health and safety issue. Striking wreck is also a problem for fishermen, as they have no desire to lose expensive gear or their boat, which can happen in extreme circumstances; as a result they know the seabed and its hazards very well. Curiously, there is some evidence from the Stirling Castle that abandoned nets may be helping preservation, by trapping sediment and reburying those parts of a wreck that they cover.

I am sure Odyssey has plenty of evidence for fishing activity damaging wrecks. However they have shown us none at the Victory: no discarded trawling gear, no history of fishermen recovering material from the area, no indication on the seabed of fishing activity and no apparent damage on the site. I would be happy to accept that the site is under threat if evidence was presented that it is, but to date none has been.

On what we have seen so far, in my opinion Odyssey's interpretation of the threats to the Victory is flawed, as it does not appear to be evidence-based. Kingsley seems to be resorting to an emotive interpretation, ignoring the other, more likely, possibilities. He describes "cable marks" on the recovered 12-pounder cannon; I noticed one mark on the muzzle of the recovered 42-pounder. But bronze is a soft metal, so such marks could easily have occurred in service, during the wrecking or subsequent decay. We would need to know what fishing gear is used here, but running wire rope over these guns is likely to cause very deep cuts. If Odyssey has a huge collection of evidence for fishing damage to wreck sites in the channel, the proper position is to release it to aid the responsible management of these sites.

This is clearly an important wreck that deserves protection if it is under threat (though we do have a lot of historical evidence for the period and a number of other sites). However we should question if that protection, or "rescue" by archaeological intervention, should be provided by an organisation that does not seem to me to apply an evidence-based approach to its work and which has a poor publication record (it says it has found "nearly 300 shipwrecks", and has recovered material from several of these, yet has not published one peer-reviewed report). On this record they would be salvaging objects from the seabed, not undertaking archaeology.

Dave Parham is senior lecturer in marine archaeology at Bournemouth University.


Odyssey's Victory is archaeology's dilemma

Robert Yorke puts the wreck of HMS Victory into the complex contexts of sovereign immunity and the UNESCO convention on underwater heritage.

Odyssey Takings Chart
Odyssey Marine Exploration close of week share values from 2003 to mid March this year. Some steep rises coincide with announcements of the discovery of valuable wrecks. After the announcement of the Republic, shares opened at $5.04 with a 15 times increase in volume. At the Black Swan event shares peaked at $9.45, and the Victory at $5.23. OME's main income is said to come from the sale of wreck items, but other sources include deals with National Geographic over the wreck of the Sussex and for a TV series for the Discovery Channel, for which it received $1.9m. OME has only twice made a profit, totalling $5.8m, since going public in 1997 (data from NASDAQ Index Online).

The recent discovery by Odyssey Marine Exploration of what could prove to be Sir John Balchin's Victory, the 100-gun flagship of the British fleet lost on a stormy night in 1744 near Alderney, brings into sharp focus the problem that Her Majesty's government faces in protecting wrecks of historic vessels in international waters. The initial evidence from cannon recovered from the site makes a plausible case that it could be HMS Victory, launched in 1737 and the predecessor of Nelson's famous flagship. It is not, however, the first time that the government has been faced with this shipwreck dilemma.

In 2001 Odyssey claimed it had found the wreck of the British 80-gun warship Sussex, that sank in the Mediterranean in 1694 during a storm just off Gibraltar. The Sussex was believed to have been carrying £1m in gold coins to finance the Duke of Savoy's support against Louis XIV in the war of the grand alliance – according to Odyssey, a cargo worth hundreds of millions of dollars at today's prices (if it exists or can be found).

So far Odyssey has been unable to prove the wreck's identity, but in 2002 the Disposal Services Authority (part of the Ministry of Defence, described on its website as "the only government organisation offering a completely managed service for the re-use, recycling and ultimately disposal of surplus government assets") entered into what is effectively a salvage agreement with Odyssey on behalf of the government to share the proceeds. The first $45m would be split 80/20 in favour of Odyssey, from $45m to $500m 50/50, and over $500m 40/60 in favour of the government.

As a result of near universal outrage from world-wide heritage communities when news of this affair broke, the contract was amended to include archaeological supervision by the government. But it remained in breach of the UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage (2001), which came into force in January 2009 after ratification by the first 20 countries.

The convention's purpose is to offer protection for historic wrecks in international waters where currently there is none. While the UK can control historic wrecks in territorial waters up to 12 nautical miles (22km) from land under the 1973 Protection of Wrecks Act, the government has no workable means at its disposal to protect such wrecks in international waters – or even to regulate their salvage in an appropriate archaeological manner as set out in the annex to the UNESCO convention.

The exception to this rule in international waters concerns warships. Wherever warship wrecks are located, they are sovereign immune vessels: a salvor cannot claim salvage rights or financial compensation under international salvage law. A government is also under no obligation to allow a salvor to work on a site or recover objects. The UK government is therefore within its rights to refuse Odyssey permission to work on the site of the Victory or to recover artefacts. This would also have applied to the Sussex, had the government so wished.

The UK, the US and a number of European countries have still not ratified the convention. The UK maintains its original objections from 2001, which were a worry about possible loss of "sovereign immunity" for vessels in other state's territorial waters, and the potential resource implications (the government may reconsider its position in the near future, as the threats of deep-water salvage, not present in 2001, stare it in the face today). However, it is interesting that Spain and Portugal, whose historic legacy on the world's seabeds is arguably as big as the UK's, have interpreted the convention in a positive manner and signed up. If the UK were to ratify, it could have 99% protection whilst currently, for most ships, it has 100% of nothing.

Sovereign immunity provides an extra layer of protection in the case of the Victory, but most historic wrecks are merchant ships: they have no protection from salvage. The UNESCO convention is still very important for sovereign immune vessels, because it provides a framework for protecting both warships and merchant vessels and a methodology for their excavation if that has to be the final outcome.

Can a wreck both be arrested by a US court, and benefit from sovereign immunity?

Mike Williams, senior lecturer in law at the University of Wolverhampton specialising in underwater cultural heritage.

A salvor can recover an item (a firebrick in the case of HMS Victory), land it in US jurisdiction and ask the court to arrest the wreck. The court will typically issue an order specifying four points and give the salvor possession of the wreck within the box: subject to certain conditions, the salvor has the right to exclude other salvors. Arrest of a wreck in situ is roughly the US equivalent of UK courts giving an injunction to a salvor-in-possession, restraining others from interfering.

Sovereign immunity applies to all a monarch's (state's) property – even his or her personal clothes – and has its origins in the divine right to rule, the ancient principle that both the monarch and their property were above the law. Assuming Odyssey Marine Exploration's claim to have found HMS Victory is correct, the British Foreign & Commonwealth Office could ask the US State Department for proceedings against the site to be stayed: a warship cannot be arrested or detained by another jurisdiction (in principle this includes wrecks of warships, though some argue the point has not been conclusively tested in the US courts). However, the government says the wreck's identity has yet to be conclusively determined, and has sought advice from English Heritage.

Odyssey Marine Exploration

Sovereign immunity of a vessel would not preclude a US court sitting in admiralty from taking jurisdiction over a shipwreck and/or its cargo, and making significant rulings about the status and protection of the site. Sovereign states which own warships on exclusively military, noncommercial missions have certain rights – including the right to refuse salvage in certain circumstances. Whether this can be done when a ship is carrying a commercial cargo – or if it is not in the actual possession of the sovereign – are legal issues which the US court would decide. Odyssey has recognised that HMS Victory is a warship owned by the UK government and, accordingly, has consulted with the UK government at every stage of the operations related to this project.

Odyssey did arrest the site in US admiralty court before the identity of the site was confirmed, in order to protect it, since the US Federal Court can extend its jurisdiction to shipwrecks outside any country's territorial waters. No such protocol exists in UK law to furnish protection to wrecks beyond UK territorial waters. Consequently, the US court does have jurisdiction at this point, which may be important to protect the site against potential intruders in the future on behalf of both Odyssey and the UK government.

Business

Article 2.7 of the convention states that "Underwater cultural heritage shall not be commercially exploited", and rule 2 of the annex elaborates on this: "The commercial exploitation of underwater cultural heritage for trade or speculation or its irretrievable dispersal is fundamentally incompatible with the protection and proper management of underwater cultural heritage. Underwater cultural heritage shall not be traded, sold, bought or bartered as commercial goods."

Despite not ratifying the convention, the government has publicly endorsed the annex and the convention's general principles, and stated that it should be enforced as best practice by English Heritage for protected wrecks in territorial waters. Only if a wreck is under severe threat, or there is a clear research objective, should excavation take place. Otherwise the wreck should be left in situ. In other words the government is implying that artefacts from the Victory should not be sold.

As the cost of a deep-water salvage vessel can be about $25,000 per day, the financial imperatives of commercial salvage are inconsistent with the methodical and painstaking requirements of proper archaeological excavation. Furthermore commercial salvage relies on the sale of the recovered artefacts to cover these costs – clearly in breach of the convention.

There are two financial incentives for Odyssey to excavate the Victory: the sale of its 100 bronze cannons (41 have been located so far), and more importantly money to the value of £400,000 reported at the time by the Amsterdamsche Courant to have been on board. This would equate to about four tonnes of gold coins, and if it were true, the value today could be hundreds of millions of pounds.

Odyssey Marine Exploration Inc (OMEX) is a publicly quoted company on the Nasdaq stock exchange in New York, with a responsibility to its shareholders to make and distribute profits. However, the company lost $24.8m in 2008, $23.8m in 2007, and $51.6m between 2004 and 2006 to a total loss of $100m in five years. The question must be asked, can this business model be sustained? Odyssey relies on selling recovered artefacts, such as coins, gold, and silver, but are there enough collectors to absorb the necessary quantity of coins without driving down prices to uneconomic levels? So far, from the losses reported, it appears not, and now there are considerable political pressures developing against Odyssey.

Spain is fiercely contesting its claim on 17 tonnes of silver coins that Odyssey salvaged, without permission, from a vessel it named the Black Swan and that Spain maintains is the Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes, a sovereign immune frigate sunk in 1804. Spain is also contesting the arrest of the alleged Merchant Royall 40 miles (c 65km) off Lands End, Mexico has refused Odyssey permission to explore and recover artefacts from the 1631 wreck of the Spanish galleon Our Lady of Juncal, and the UK Department for Transport is contesting Odyssey's salvage claims in the Tampa Federal Court of two British ships, the Cairnhill and the SS Laconia.

Mark Dunkley, for English Heritage, describes the current position of heritage protection in the English marine zone.

In April 2008, the UK government published the heritage protection bill. This innovative document proposed legislation to enable a wholesale revision of the existing law that protects the historic environment in England and Wales out to the 12-mile limit of the territorial sea (c 22km).

However, parliamentary time was not found to take the bill forward in the current session. Despite this perceived set-back, we know that the government remains committed to the historic environment, and intends to publish a statement on its vision and priorities later this year and introduce legislation at the earliest opportunity.

English Heritage has therefore set up a dedicated heritage protection reform team. We believe that we can still achieve many of our goals to improve the designation system, widen public involvement and simplify protection processes, without the need for primary legislation.

Within this strategy a maritime designation advisor will initiate and manage key maritime projects. In 2005 the government adopted the annex to the 2001 UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage as best practice for archaeology: this frames the policy background to English Heritage's approach to the marine historic environment.

Where a marine heritage site qualifies for statutory protection, it is intended that future designation decisions will be based on special architectural, historic, archaeological or artistic interest. Detailed "principles of selection" will define what is "special" in the marine environment with particular reference to "vessels". Our Conservation Principles: Policies & Guidance (April 2008, available at www.helm.co.uk), will provide the framework for consistent, well-informed and objective conservation decisions. Our innovative methodology will assist with strategic prioritisation (see Protected Wreck Sites at Risk: A Risk Management Handbook, November 2008, also available at HELM).

Heritage Protection cover

In addition, English Heritage is working towards producing clearer designation records for marine sites, termed designated asset descriptions, to bring them into line with buildings and monuments. A formal consultation on strategic designation will commence in 2009 which is likely to include submarines, East India Company vessels, and inter-tidal wreck sites. We are also mindful that the marine and coastal access bill will provide some level of protection for marine heritage in English waters.

While it is disappointing that parliamentary time has not yet been found for the heritage protection bill, English Heritage welcomes the government's firm commitment to the historic environment.

Although legislation is still required to create a unified list of all heritage assets and identify marine heritage sites on the basis of "special interest", the heritage protection reform programme is already underway. It is estimated that more than two-thirds of the changes set out in the government's heritage white paper (March 2007) can go ahead without primary legislation.

Whatever happens, changes to the way in which our marine heritage is enjoyed, understood, valued and cared for is in progress, and public engagement will be at the heart of this process.

Mark Dunkley is maritime designation advisor, heritage protection reform team, English Heritage.

Threats

Most wrecks beyond territorial limits lie in very deep water, and excavation techniques at depth using remoteoperated vehicles are in their infancy. Salvage today will almost certainly lead to the unnecessary loss of irreplaceable historical information. There is only one opportunity to gather the unique evidence of our past from these time-capsules of history, and this should not be squandered for short-term financial gain. We owe that to future generations.

Odyssey claims that trawl damage will destroy the Victory, and that modern debris, such as plastic bottles, is also endangering it. So is the site under threat, thereby justifying its excavation as Odyssey suggests?

Photographs clearly show that it has reached a stable equilibrium on the seabed after 265 years, and is being covered and uncovered by moving sand waves which give it some measure of protection. There appears to be no sign of trawl damage on the site or on the exposed cannon. Although trawling is a risk that cannot be ignored, there is a high probability that skippers have known of the wreck for generations and so will avoid it in order not to risk losing expensive trawls or, worse still, their boat and perhaps even their lives by being towed under if nets snag on the wreck. If the site is not currently known, the trawling community can be made aware and then it will be in their interest to avoid it.

The biggest threat to historic wrecks seems to be coming from commercial salvage operations. Speculatively and uninvited, Odyssey has spent millions of dollars criss-crossing the Western Approaches and the English Channel for the last three years in search of high value wreck sites, and now wishes to see a return on its money.

In their preliminary paper on the Victory (see end note), Neil Dobson and Sean Kingsley state that Odyssey conducted "limited trial-trenching in an attempt to confirm the identity of the wrecked vessel", including "exposure of an iron anchor" and "excavation of the wooden rudder". Sediment was cleared from around two cannon, which were lifted. Additionally, "Clearance of the upper light layer of mobile sand around the edge of cannon c10 for recovery exposed… a rib bone and skull"; after "further skeletal remains, including rib bones" were disturbed, investigation at this point ceased.

Though Odyssey says it raised items to identify the ship (a "brick fragment" was also taken, to arrest the wreck in a US court), a US Discovery Channel film broadcast this February appeared to show the Odyssey team confident it was on the Victory before anything was lifted. The diagnostic cannon were clearly identifiable on the seabed. No excavation was needed.

If the site does indeed prove to be the Victory, or any other sovereign British warship, measures should be taken to protect it in situ. Her Majesty's government has no obligation to reward Odyssey's shareholders. Furthermore the government should ratify the UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage, so that it has some means of protecting the other 220 or so sites that Odyssey claims it has identified in the English Channel and no doubt will wish to salvage. The Victory could be just the first.

Robert Yorke is chairman of the Joint Nautical Archaeology Policy Committee (JNAPC). NC Dobson & S Kingsley, HMS Victory, a first- rate Royal Navy warship lost in the English Channel, 1774. Preliminary survey & identification (Odyssey Papers 2).


The heritage bill has stalled, but two marine bills with heritage considerations are moving through the UK and Scottish parliaments. Gill Chitty reports on progress.

A Sea Change

The marine and coastal access bill, alongside a separate marine bill for Scotland, provide a framework for sustainable management of the sea and its resources around the UK. Together they will allow integrated planning and conservation for the whole marine environment. New marine management organisations (MMO) will control development (for aggregates, minerals, renewable energy, defence and shipping, to name a few) with licensing for related activity, fishing and recreation. They will balance regulation of these practices with protection of marine ecosystems, and take marine cultural heritage and archaeology into account. The coastal access part of the M&CA bill makes provision for public access around the entire coastline of England; arrangements for the rest of the UK are under separate consideration.

The M&CA bill had its first reading in the House of Lords in December, and so far amendments have not succeeded in getting a specific duty for protecting marine heritage included. However, the debate has drawn welcome commitments from the government to ensure heritage is properly considered and that the MMO must consult heritage agencies like English Heritage. The M&CA bill should be enacted in Westminster this year, though it looks increasingly unlikely to be before the summer recess in July. The marine bill (Scotland) is expected to begin its passage through the Scottish parliament later in the year.

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Gill Chitty is the CBA's Head of Conservation.

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