South West Maritime Archaeology Group – The 2019 MSDS Marine Award Recipients

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In this blog Ron Howell, the 2019 recipient of the MSDS Marine Grant Award for work on protected wreck sites highlights the exceptional work done by the team to date and how they have spent their award.

A team of divers from Northampton BSAC searching for an Armada wreck on the Clyde coast were asked to assist a small team of divers from South Devon in surveying cannon found in the River Erme Estuary, that year was 1989. A year later the teams merged into the South West Maritime Archaeological Group continuing their work in the Erme Estuary diving on two wreck sites which were given protected wreck status.  One of the sites The ‘Tin Ingot site’ gained them the 1993 Duke of Edinburgh Gold Medal Award which was presented to the team by the Duke of Edinburgh himself at Buckingham Palace.

Continuing their work in the Erme five of the team from Northampton made the journey down for the first diving weekend of the year in April 1995. On the first dive divers surfaced quickly stating that diving was impossible as the underwater visibility in the Erme was zero so an alternative was discussed. The divers chose to take the boat some 15 miles to sheltered waters off Salcombe and dive what was known as a “boring cannon site” determined to do some diving thus justifying their long trip down from Northampton.

As it turned out the alternative dive plan more than worked, it re-wrote the maritime history of Northern Europe as well as changing the lives of some of the team forever.

In the 25 years following the first discovery of Islamic Gold on the seabed of South Devon the same team have gone from strength to strength having their discoveries exhibited in the British Museum, The Plymouth Museum Art Gallery, Royal Albert Museum, and Salcombe Maritime Museum, they made another trip to Buckingham Palace to meet the Duke, Pressed the National Lottery button, appeared in a live ITV programme ‘Find a Fortune’, and were the subject of BBC 2’s Time Watch programme ‘White Slaves, Pirate Gold’, as well as many articles and publications about their work.

Over the years the team are regular attendees at all the Shipwreck and Nautical Archaeological Conferences and recently it was at one of them that they heard of the MSDS Marine Grant supporting work on Protected Wreck Sites so they applied for it and were delighted a few months later to have been presented with the award at the NAS Conference in Portsmouth.

Since their formation the South West Maritime Archaeological Group have been self-financing having had no help from any outside sources apart from salvage awards that have been small compared with the priceless artefacts that now adorn Museum showcases. The advent of underwater photography in recent years has come too late for the early important discoveries made by the team but their work will continue once the Covid-19 pandemic is under control, so it was decided that we would spend the grant money on the latest underwater GO-PRO camera to record our future work which is far from finished.

Unfortunately the national lockdown has halted work on the team’s other two Protected Sites off Salcombe, the ‘17th Century Cannon Site’ and the ‘Salcombe Bronze Age Sites’ but rest assured the camera  will feature in the future diving on one of the world’s most important Bronze Age sites in recent years. Our thanks go out to MSDS Marine for their contribution for furthering the work on protected wreck sites.

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