MAST iconMaritime Archaeology Sea Trust
A wreck on a rocky beachA wreck under the seaAn artefact under the sea

Our mission

  • We believe that to protect our nation's future we must understand our past.
  • We believe that this country's rich maritime heritage can provide a critical insight to our history, through the underwater archaeology resulting from thousands of years of seafaring, trade and warfare.
  • We believe that our underwater archaeology is under threat from human activities and natural processes.
  • We believe that we have a chance to enhance our future, by evaluating, recording and preserving our underwater archaeology for the benefit and education of the public.

MAST's mission is simple

It is to focus its operations on the thousands of archaeological sites that lie off our coasts and along our shorelines. Many of these are shipwrecks which are witness to thousands of years of exploration, war, and trade in cargo, people and ideas. Others are terrestrial features such as historic buildings and fortifications, harbours and submerged prehistoric landscapes. Together they and associated artefacts make up our maritime heritage. This heritage illuminates our understanding of our past, inform our sense of place within the world around us, explain man's extraordinary endeavours on the sea and show what is still possible.

Britain’s maritime archaeology ranges across all periods from the remains of the oldest seafaring craft in the world, dating from the Middle Bronze Age, to the huge numbers of ships, submarines and aircraft lost in the two World Wars. Those sites that have been investigated have made great contributions to our understanding of the past. Underwater mapping in the North Sea is revealing drowned prehistoric hunting grounds and Britain’s earliest human settlements. Ancient wreck sites across the South coast have revealed Bronze Age communities long distance connections with Mediterranean, while excavations in the heart of Roman London’s bustling waterfront have shown the origins of globalization, and the wrecks of the Mary Rose and Invincible have laid bare the personal lives of ordinary sailors in the Tudor and Georgian Navies.

But many more sites have been neglected and risk being lost through lack of awareness or funding. Britain's coasts are littered with the remains of more than 40,000 lost ships, more per mile of coastline that any nation on earth, and their stories remain as yet untold. Winter storms and shifting sands continually expose and degrade forgotten wrecks, while salvage, and illegal treasure hunting causes the loss of others.

Despite the considerable contribution that our maritime past has made both to the UK as a modern nation and the multicultural nature of its people and communities, this internationally important underwater heritage has long been overlooked.

MAST exists to fill a long overdue void in our understanding of our nation's rich maritime heritage, to ensure that there is a sustainable future for such sites, through archaeology, research, study and dissemination.

A close-up of an artefactA diver inspecting a wreckA bell sunk in the sand

MAST's aims

  • To advance the education of the public in maritime heritage, focusing on maritime archaeological material including:
  • The preservation and investigation of shipwrecked vessels and of historically or otherwise valuable maritime material
  • The dissemination of the educationally useful results of such investigation to the public.

MAST's plans

MAST has an ambitious programme. It will be active in heritage policy, archaeological excavation, research, education and public outreach.

Influencing Heritage Policy

The National Museum of the Royal Navy and MAST are jointly hosting a series of private seminars to investigate improvements in the UK’s management of underwater naval remains, and to reemphasise their protection from unauthorised intrusion and illegal salvage. The participants are considering new technologies and monitoring practices for sites, ways of mitigating the complex and potential ambiguous legal framework, and improving cooperation and collaboration between agencies and interested parties. It is hoped such new initiatives will improve the current management approaches and better protect naval remains in a manner that also respects the environment and commemorates naval heroism.

Archaeological Excavation

Our major archaeological programme over the next four years, with partners Bournemouth University and the National Museum of the Royal Navy, working alongside the site licensee Dan Pascoe, will be the excavation, conservation and display of archaeological material from HMS Invincible. The eventual exhibition will be at the National Museum of the Royal Navy in Portsmouth.

Research

As part of a team undertaking the 2001 UNESCO Convention Impact Review for the UK, MAST has recently funded and undertaken a major assessment of the international spread of UK sovereign wrecks. Known as the Royal Navy Loss List, this assessment shows that there are over 4,700 Royal Naval wrecks scattered across the oceans of the world, covering the period between 1512 and 1945. It is now available as a free online resource for researchers.

The Early Shipwreck Project. Prior to the 19th century known shipwrecks are very rare, only a handful have been identified improve the current approach to the UK management of naval remains around the coast of the UK. Very few of these have been subject to any level of archaeological investigation, yet all of these sites contain as yet unrealised evidence of seafaring, trade and human connections. MAST has started a programme of investigation of the UK known pre-1800 shipwrecks sites that will enable them to be characterised and their potential unlocked. The project builds on MAST’s ongoing work at sites such as Alderney’s Elizabethan Wreck (c1590), the Coronation (1691), and the English East Indiaman Halsewell (1786).

Education and Public Outreach

MAST is expanding its education and outreach programme by acquiring Scuba Schools International (SSI) accreditation in its already popular Basic Archaeological Diver course. The BAD course is now available with the three largest recreational diving agencies PADI, BSAC and SSI. The international development of the course in the Far East in under development.

An interpretation programme of UK maritime coastal heritage. We are taking this forward with a number of partners which include the National Trust. These trails, both water and land-based, are designed to promote a greater understanding of our maritime past. Educating the public will also promote a greater awareness of the need to protect, conserve and study our underwater cultural heritage.

Consultancy

A number of consultancy opportunities have been completed by MAST over the last five years. MAST is available for development lead work including desk-based studies, WSIs, dredging/watching briefs and impact studies including monitoring and mitigation works.