Top award honours project to map forgotten marine heritage

A project to map and protect Scotland’s forgotten marine heritage has won a prestigious European prize.

Photograph by: Wessex Archaeology

The Scottish Atlantic Maritime Past: Heritage, Investigation, Research & Education Project (SAMPHIRE) worked closely with communities to record important archaeological sites along the west coast of Scotland

The £100,000 project, which ran from the end of 2012 until the end of 2015, covered the entire west coast of the mainland from Kinlochbervie to the border.

The research, funded by the Crown Estate, worked by ‘crowd sourcing’ information about possible archaeological sites in the marine environment through face-to-face meetings with harbour masters, scallop divers, recreational divers, fishermen and other local residents in the towns and villages of the west coast.

Locations identified were recorded before the most promising were visited by teams of professional and volunteer archaeological divers to verify the information received.As a result of the work carried out the project has been named winner of the European Union Prize for Cultural Heritage/Europa Nostra Award 2017.

Devised and run by leading heritage and archaeology practice Wessex Archaeology the exercise utilised the expertise of Dr Jonathan Benjamin and John McCarthy marine archaeology and dive experts based at Flinders University in South Australia.

Photograph by: Wessex ArchaeologyWorking with local fishermen on Skye

“We are delighted to have been announced as a winner of this prestigious European prize which celebrates best practice in heritage conservation, research, management, education and communication,” Chris Brayne, Chief Executive of Wessex Archaeology, a not for profit company and registered charity promoting culture, arts, heritage and science through the pursuit of archaeology.

“This was an innovative, collaborative, project which involved over 100 members of the local community along the coast of West Scotland.  We were very fortunate in being able to partner with a great many local and national organisations including community dive clubs and scientific partners such as the Scottish Association of Marine Science.”

Wreck sites recorded by the project include:

• The Lady Middleton (a schooner lost in 1868)
• The Yemassee (an American cargo ship lost in 1859)
• The SS Viscount (lost in 1924)
• The Hersilla (an armed iron naval yacht lost in 1916)
• The Sheila (an early MacBrayne ferry built in 1904 and sunk in 1927)
• The Mafeking (a salvage vessel lost in attempts to recover the Sheila)
• The schooner Medora (lost in 1860)
• The Iris (a brig lost in 1874)
• The SS George A. West (a wooden steam trawler lost in 1927)
• The Thalia (a steam yacht lost in 1942)
• The Cathcartpark (a steamship lost in 1912 near the island of Iona)
• The Lord Bangor (a wooden ship lost in 1894)
• The Carrigart (a steam drifter lost in 1933)
• The Falcon, a previously unlocated paddle steamer built in 1860 and lost in 1867 with great loss of life.

Photograph by: Wessex Archaeology

“This project has been a real labour of love for our team of maritime archaeologists, allowing us to work closely with the people who live on and visit the beautiful west coast of Scotland,” said John McCarthy from Flinders University.

“We’ve been constantly amazed by the depth of unique knowledge of local maritime heritage held within these communities, which has allowed us to record a large number of previously unknown shipwrecks, many of which would have been impossible to find using sonar surveys.”

Mr McCarthy said he hoped the success and recognition of the all the work involved would encourage more projects.

The SAMPHIRE team will be presented with their award by EU Commissioner Navracsics and Maestro Placido Domingo at an event in Finland on 15 May.

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