6.2 Key challenges

The key challenges identified in this research framework document are listed and discussed below as: Research, management and communication; Fieldwork specific issues; and Data issues.

6.2.1 Research, management and communication

Much research in this field has to date been of an ad-hoc nature, with discoveries often occurring by chance. We should continue to embrace the fortuitous contribution that archaeology can make, especially when it comes to the discovery of new sites, landscape features and artefacts and their subsequent investigation. However, especially in the coming years when public sector resources will be severely constrained, there would be benefits in a more structured approach which maximises the contribution archaeological research can make to strategic priorities, government policy, and commercial interests. This approach has been adopted by the Scottish Marine Science Strategy 2010-2015 (http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Resource/Doc/343328/0114215.pdf) which seeks to focus marine scientific effort on supporting Scottish Government priorities for sustainable management of Scotland’s coasts and seas. It also promotes effective collaboration across sectors to ensure the most efficient use of resources. Links with archaeological research interests are acknowledged and doors opened to collaborations with the heritage community. In England, research undertaken for the Aggregates Levy Sustainability Fund (http://cefas.defra.gov.uk/alsf.aspx) has already involved fruitful cooperation between industry, the public sector and archaeological organisations. Fresh insights into the past have arisen together with a greater awareness about how to manage the marine aggregate resource sustainably. As we look to the future in Scotland, improved archiving of and access to important legacy marine data, better coordination of new seabed mapping and monitoring effort, and a major push for renewable energy offshore represent opportunities for the public and private sector to work effectively together towards common goals. In turn this should provide opportunities for researchers to address ‘old’ and ‘new’ questions alike and to communicate hitherto unseen aspects of the archaeological resource to the public in new and exciting ways.

6.2.2 Fieldwork specific issues

Figure 32: An archaeologist using a drawing-grid and plumbing-device on the Duart Point wreck. Archaeological features under water require assessment by appropriately qualified archaeologists who can dive, ©Colin Martin.

An archaeologist using a drawing-grid and plumbing-device on the Duart Point wreck. Archaeological features under water require assessment by appropriately qualified archaeologists who can dive, ©Colin Martin.

The two main areas where there are fieldwork issues are the intertidal zone and the submerged zone. Low tides bring diurnal opportunities which allow windows of investigation, ranging from many hours to very limited periods of exposure. Conversely, high tides bring submergence and the erosive power of in-rushing water, movement of suspended sediment in the water column, localised scouring around temporary research equipment, and the potential for the loss of data as a result of erosion and or deposition of sediments, deposits and artefacts.

Intertidal research is dependent on the tide and this is also true of the survey techniques that are appropriate. For example, the Fairey Coastal Colour aerial photographs (see photo below), which were taken at approximately 1:10,000 scale, were not all taken at low tide and hence some of their coverage for the intertidal zone is limited (see Dawson 2004 for a discussion on the use of aerial photographs for locating intertidal features). Recent intertidal surveys, such as those in the Severn Estuary (see SELRC papers at (http://www.selrc.org.uk/publications.html)), the Shannon estuary (O’Sullivan et al. 2001), Strangford Lough (McErlean, McConkey & Forsythe 2002) and site-specific work (for example Hale 2004) has enabled a corpus of intertidal survey and research techniques to be developed that largely deal with the broad range of sites, deposits and artefacts found in this environment.

The increase in use of coastal and near shore sites by both industry and leisure activities are placing ever greater pressure on the environment and heritage of these areas. Over the last decade, the archaeological community in concert with the offshore survey industry has responded to this by the development of a number of new technologies for very high resolution marine survey. Deciding on the particular technology to use will depend on the primary survey objectives: the resolution needed for the survey and what spatial sampling is therefore required; the logistics for deploying the equipment; and unfortunately, the cost of the survey. Further information is given in detail in the EH briefing note on the Use of Geophysics for Maritime Archaeology, and each survey method is briefly described and summarised and is available from the ScARF wiki, but note that this summary is not exhaustive and only gives examples of manufacturers plus examples of spacing/coverage/resolution issues.

The technologies can be divided into two basic types, namely those for measuring features that are on or above the seafloor and technologies for measuring features buried beneath the seafloor. Techniques for both categories are dominated by acoustic-based methods with a few techniques relaying on other physical properties such magnetic and electromagnetic signatures.

6.2.3 Data issues

Figure 33: Fairey Coastal Colour vertical aerial photography provides high quality imagery of parts of Scotland's coastline taken in the 1970s. SC380355, ©RCAHMS

Fairey Coastal Colour vertical aerial photography provides high quality imagery of parts of Scotland's coastline taken in the 1970s. This has considerable potential for further research.  SC380355, ©RCAHMS

The lack of visibility of datasets and especially the absence of cross-sector awareness of the existence of certain datasets appear to be re-occurring issues regarding marine and maritime data. Additional issues include the sizes of datasets, storage capacity, archive and curation problems, dissemination of data in appropriate formats, intellectual property rights issues and the sharing of data through appropriate knowledge dissemination networks.

The ‘maritime’ national dataset for Scotland currently includes disparate sources of information and it is difficult for the user to fully understand, interpret and engage with this fundamentally important resource. Project Adair (http://www.rcahms.gov.uk/rcahms-projects/project-adair), a partnership project between RCAHMS and HS, aims to identify these records by providing greater clarity and making subtle but important global changes. A first priority has been establishing a much clearly distinction between the c1600 wrecks that are recorded in Scottish waters (of which only a handful are designated), and around 18,000 losses of shipping that have been identified through desk-based assessments. The wrecks are a finite and crucial part of Scotland’s unique heritage assets, while the latter is an indicator of the great potential of marine archaeology over the coming years.

RCAHMS and HS have teamed up to improve access to information about Scotland’s shipwrecks and maritime cultural heritage. Project Adair has the central aims of a) updating, incorporating and disseminating important national datasets through Canmore, b) working in partnership with organisations and individuals to improve the quality of information, and c) reporting to the project partners on the best way forward. One of the most important longer term results of this project will be the introduction of clearer symbology, the introduction of ‘discovery’ polygons, and the development of density mapping. These approaches will combine to help the user more easily distinguish between known heritage assets and potential.

Additional mention should be made here of data availability and licensing issues. Data availability to marine and maritime community users is one area where the heritage sector can demonstrate that it is successfully listening to community needs, in the broadest sense. Data availability is a major priority for the heritage sector and one of the central tenets in working across the range of communities of interest. Marine and maritime heritage information can be used across a broad range of spectrums, from interpretative information presented at sites of significance, to national historic environment archives that underpin planning, management and research bases for whole nations. Making archives relevant to the nation and enabling people to freely and easily interact with the data within archives, is fundamental in the process of historic environment engagement. If institutions charged with the responsibility to create, maintain, curate, promote and keep their archives relevant today and in the future are to achieve their potential usefulness, then they have to make their data freely and easily available. Archives are still sometimes perceived as bastions of knowledge where specialists maintain power and control over their resources by limiting access to information.For an example see Mark Greene’s 2008 address, as the president of the Society of American Archivists (2007-8) http://www.archivists.org/governance/presidential/GreeneAddressAug08.pdf.

Although sea changes in such attitudes are happening across the archive and museum sectors (Merriman 2004), there are still areas and institutions that are lagging behind. New business models have recently been developed that demonstrate good practice, which include the bare minimum of bureaucracy and few if any charges for use. People increasingly expect open, freely available data and resources that can be redistributed and not restricted through contracts and licensing agreements – a bureaucracy that can otherwise add to people's perceptions of poor engagement practices with marine and maritime historic environment sector institutions.  See the example of good practice from the British Museum, for example (http://www.britishmuseum.org/join_in/using_digital_images/using_digital_...). Policies initiated by UK government (http://www.data.gov.uk), in part developed as a result of groundswell organisations such as the Open Knowledge Foundation (http://okfn.org) which propose codes of practice and toolkits (http://opendatacommons.org) , are improving the ways that heritage institutions engage with a very broad range of community members, through facilitating their access to data.

See also the ScARF Case Study: Marine Data Comparison

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