Research Projects on Marine Archaeology
Our seas and coasts hold a rich heritage from millennia of human activity. Read about a range of projects investigating wrecks and early sites by Historic England and partners.
A diverse heritage
Surviving remains from our coasts and seafloor include the earliest human settlement evidence from northern Europe. Numerous wrecks along with cargo and other debris bear testament to our varied marine activity, developing technologies and maritime capabilities.
They reflect the increasing scale of global relationships and England’s rapid growth of 18th-20th century trade, military and imperial power as it became a major player on the world stage.
Centuries of naval competition produced many wrecked military vessels, with aerial combat latterly adding air-crash sites, especially of World War II aircraft.
Enhancing our understanding
Our marine heritage is poorly known with only a tiny proportion of our seafloor investigated. Each year new discoveries are made.
Historic England helps to make sure that these are recorded and assessed by developing protocols for reporting finds made, for example, by the Marine Aggregate Dredging and the Historic Environment: and the wave and tidal energy industries.
Historic England is also a major partner in research programmes to enhance understanding of submerged landscapes around our coasts and seas.
Historic England sponsors research on known wreck sites and has produced guidance on:
- The significance of early ships and boats before 1840 and
- The significance of ships and boats after 1840
To further deepen our understanding of attributing significance to post-1840 wrecks, we commissioned consultants Fjordr to research a possible methodology for the national importance of post 1840 cargo vessels, which are a common type of wrecked vessel encountered in English waters. The study focused on the Tees area.
We have also commissioned research into understanding more about the social and economic value of the marine historic environment, to help us further promote these values.
Encouraging protection and accessibility
Historic England’s advice, for example on Marine Licensing and England’s Historic Environment, helps avoid potential damage to marine archaeology.
Historic England also encourages access to, and enjoyment of, our marine heritage.
Historic England sponsors informative dive trails at some of our important shipwreck sites, accompanied by online resources to benefit divers and non-divers alike, as on the 1798 wreck of HMS Colossus in the Isles of Scilly. You can also read more about Historic England funded investigation in 2015 of the wreck of HMS Colossus.