NAS Training 2005

Several CISMAS members were keen to undertake further training and broaden our experience of underwater archaeology.

Courses run by the Nautical Archeology Society (NAS) were organised, and several CISMAS members participated. The first course was titled "Introduction to Foreshore and Underwater Archeology", and took place on the 12th March 2005 at Penzance. The introduction course is designed to give you a basic understanding of the rules and legislation surrounding underwater finds, and how to start surveying a site. You do not have to be a diver to participate, and much of the course can be completed on the surface. Several non-divers took part as well as CISMAS members. We had representatives from the Cornwall Archeological Unit (archeologists), CISMAS (divers), and geologists/surveyors, so a real mix of experience and knowledge!

The morning of lectures covered site types, basic dating methods (absolute e.g. carbon dating, or relative e.g. stratification), measuring methods (datum offsets and trilateration), and generally basic archeological principles.

Although CISMAS members are enthusiastic and have a strong interest in underwater archaeology, few of us had much formal experience of archaeological techniques, and there was a lot of new information to take in. However we found that when it came to the practical sessions that because we were used to completing measurements underwater that it was a lot easier when you could talk to one another! We tried to discuss the tasks before completing the site measurements and drawings as if we were underwater, and it really brings home just how much more planning is required to prevent wasted time underwater on a real project. Dive time is the most valuable asset of an underwater archaeology project and requires extremely careful planning to prevent wasted time, as a wasted dive often means that dive cannot be repeated until the divers have desaturated from their previous dive.

After lunch we had a practical session on the quayside which involved practising all the previously taught measuring techniques for the position fixing of artefacts, relative to a few set control points which we knew the position of. We also practised using drawing frames, over more complex collections of artefacts. Drawing and plotting of our results took up the rest of the afternoon, and comparing the accuracy of the methods of position fixing gave us interesting results!

The NAS Introduction to Foreshore and Underwater Archeology leads smoothly onto the NAS Part I Certificate in Foreshore and Underwater Archeology. Several CISMAS members completed this course as well on the 19th and 20th March 2005 at Penzance. Many of the same non-divers were also on this course which can also be run without a diving component.

This 2-day more intensive course introduces a 3-dimensional component to the measurements previously experienced on the introductory course, as well as introducing underwater survey methods, including magnetomers, multibeam and narrow-beam sonar, sub-bottom profiling, and further exploring how to investigate your site. It explains the problems and costs involved with the preservation of artefacts raised from the seabed, and whether it might be better to leave the artefacts in the environment which has preserved them so far, as well as how the nature of the materials in the artefacts affects our ability to preserve them.

We also explored the types of licensing involved in the legislation protecting our wrecks, and historic underwater sites, and then moved onto the practical sessions again. This involved a lot more measuring, but with more complex relative positions and measurements, with some of us on dry land and some of us mapping a real wreck site underwater.

We then spent the following few sessions transferring these measurements onto laptops into a specialist program called Site SurveyorTM, luckily with its designer on hand to help us iron out any problems! Most of us managed to produce tolerable efforts, but this session really brought home how important it was to have enough measurements taken at the time to be able to eliminate any rogue measurements.

This was followed by the exam, which covered elements of the two courses. Everyone managed to pass, and we are now proudly bristling with a whole bunch of NAS Part I certificates amongst current CISMAS members, which will help build our experience for future projects. Several CISMAS members have expressed an interest in going on to complete further NAS training - either the part III courses targeted at specific subjects in underwater archaeology, or the part II project on an underwater archaeology field study. Watch this space!

Helen Butcher