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Maritime Archaeology

The National Monuments Record of Wales (NMRW) contains over 8,000 maritime entries. These span from the high-water mark to the Welsh continental shelf boundary in the Irish Sea and St George’s Channel. The maritime element of the NMRW includes sites and records for shipwrecks, crashed aircraft, submerged forests, harbours and fishtraps. As part of its work, the Royal Commission aims to enhance our understanding of these records, while also incorporating any new discoveries from the coasts and seas of Wales.

Wales has a rich maritime history, from the earliest prehistoric voyages along and across the Irish Sea, to the present day. This human activity has left behind a wide range of archaeological material along the coast, in the inter-tidal zone of our beaches and estuaries, and submerged offshore. The ongoing impact of climate change means that new unknown sites are often revealed, or known sites re-exposed, after storm events. The process is particularly apparent in the inter-tidal zone (the area between the high and low water mark). We use digital technologies such as high precision GPS, laser scanning, photogrammetry and UAV (drone) surveys to undertake rapid recording of these sites when they appear, and to monitor their condition in the longer term. A key part of this is our programme of Aerial Archaeology which includes coverage of the Welsh coast. Meanwhile, the Royal Commission leads the EU-funded CHERISH project which has been doing important work to allow a better understanding of the impact of climate change on our cultural heritage.

Prehistoric tree trunk, 5.4m long, and associated peat layers exposed at Newgale beach, Pembrokeshire in the Autumn of 2021.

Marine Planning

The Royal Commission is also a statutory consultee for marine license applications. This means that we review proposals for large-scale development work such as offshore windfarms or coastal defence, as well as smaller schemes such as aquaculture or installing moorings. This work can be in the offshore zone (the area beyond the low water mark), the inter-tidal zone, or straddle both. The purpose of our consultation is to ensure that Wales’ maritime archaeology, in all its forms, is properly considered and safeguarded during planning, construction and decommissioning. Therefore, our remit extends all the way to the continental shelf boundary, rather than just the 12-mile territorial limit.

To promote wider understanding of this work, we have worked with Natural Resources Wales to produce an ‘Area Statement’ to introduce people to the ‘Marine Historic Environment’ and to the different types of ‘historic assets’ that are contained within it, and which might be encountered during marine development. You can download the Marine Historic and Natural Environment: Marine Area Statement here.

Have you discovered some Maritime Archaeology?

The coastline of Wales is constantly changing and archaeological remains, like those described above, can suddenly appear in areas where they have not been seen before. This is true underwater, and on beaches/estuaries. The Royal Commission is always very happy to hear about newly discovered piece of maritime archaeology, because its impossible to continuously monitor the entire coast and offshore area! If you discover a newly exposed (or re-exposed) maritime archaeological site on the Welsh coast we would like to hear about it so please Contact Us. If you are able to take a photo of what is there, with any location settings enabled on your camera or phone, that is really helpful for understanding the archaeological remains, finding them again, and adding them to the ever-growing set of maritime sites within the National Monuments Record of Wales.

Maritime Archaeology Publications

You can learn more about some of the maritime archaeology of Wales in these Royal Commission publications, which include e-books and free publications.

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