Trash to Treasure: Methods of Preserving Maritime Archaeological Artefacts.

Artefacts associated with submerged sites experience vastly different environmental and chemical effects than their terrestrial counterparts. Submerged sites often contain artefacts that terrestrial sites rarely exhibit, making the protection of these artefacts for future generations vital. Maritime archaeologists often have different approaches and methods of conserving previously submerged artefacts. For example, artefacts or materials that have been located in a sodium chloride solution (salt water) for extended periods are often well preserved but also friable in nature while artefacts recovered from anaerobic marine environments are also in better condition than those recovered from aerobic environments.

In the vast majority of cases, artefacts and materials that have survived have done so by reaching a chemical and physical equilibrium with their environment. If researchers do not conserve these artefacts properly and in a timely manner after their recovery, they are likely to deteriorate at an extremely rapid rate (Hamilton, 1997:4). Artefacts that are allowed to dry without conservation treatment produce sodium chloride crystals, which, in some cases, cause the artefacts to break and splinter, thereby destroying them. It is also important to note that organic and inorganic materials react differently to salt water (Hamilton, 1997:4). This blog will identify and outline some basic conservation techniques used to conserve both organic and inorganic artefacts, focusing primarily on chemical conservation.


Successful conservation of wood depends upon knowledge of wood structures and types. Two broad categories exist: hardwood and softwood. Defining these types of wood is beyond the scope of this blog, but oaks and birch are examples of hardwoods, while pine is a typical species of softwood. Wooden artefacts located on submerged sites for long periods lose much of their cellulosic components, making them more permeable (Hamilton 1997:32). This loss of structural cellulose means that while the wood is water logged, it will maintain its shape. However, if the artefact is exposed to air, and the water within evaporates, the surface tension holding it together will break, causing considerable structural shrinkage and distortion (Hamilton 1997:33). Two methods of conserving waterlogged wood are discussed below.

Polyethylene Glycol (PEG) Method

This was the first reliable method of treating waterlogged wood and is simple to carry out (Hamilton 1997:33). PEG variants have similar physical properties to wax but are different in that they are freely soluble in alcohol and water. This method is only appropriate for small objects. PEG is also corrosive to metals (primarily iron), so it is necessary to ensure that the conserved wood is not in close proximity to metal after conservation (Hamilton 1997:35).Figure 1

Figure 1. The various stages of the PEG conservation process (Image created by author)

Figure 2

Figure2.  The third stage of the PEG conservation method. The first beaker is the wood in the PEG solution. The second beaker identifies the increase in solution temperature as well as the percentage of PEG penetration of the wood. The third beaker, at 60°C, shows full penetration of the PEG solution in the wood (Image created by author)

Acetone-Rosin Method

This method is one of the more expensive ways to treat wood, and involves replacing the water in wood with natural rosin (usually pine) called colophony.  Acetone-Rosin conserves hardwoods that PEG method cannot penetrate (McKerrell, Roger and Varsanyi 1972). It is generally considered the wood treatment of choice as the finished product is light, dry, strong, can be easily glued and repaired, and does not negatively react with metals (McKerrell, Roger and Varsanyi 1972).

Figure 3

Figure 3. Recommended procedure for the Acetone-Rosin method of wood conservation (Image created by author)

Bone, Ivory, Teeth, and Antler

Bone, ivory, teeth and antler are comparable in that they are made of an inorganic lattice composed of calcium phosphate, carbonates and fluorides, and an organic ossein. However, their precise compositional percentages differ significantly depending on several factors, including utility, species, and geographical location (Lafontanine and Wood 1982). Bone, ivory, teeth and antler are warped by heat and moisture and decompose when exposed to water. Ossein is decomposed by hydrolysis and acids disintegrate its inorganic framework (Hamilton 1997:22). When waterlogged, these artefacts can be reduced to a sponge-like material while in arid environments become dry, brittle, and fragmented.

figure 4

Figure 4. The inorganic lattice of bone and ivory, and organic ossein that forms the collagen of bone (Smithsonian  Institution 2013)

In order to remove soluble salts from bone, ivory, teeth and antler, rinse these objects in successive baths of water (a percentage fresh and a percentage salt) until the mixture is 100% fresh. Upon completion of this phase, begin the process anew using fresh and distilled water (Lafontanine and Wood 1982; Hamilton 1997:22-4). The following image identifies further steps in conservation.

Figure 4

Figure 5. Stages of bone, ivory, teeth and antler conservation. (Image created by author)


Before conservation, it is necessary to remove all soluble salts; this procedure is the same as the one used for bone, ivory, teeth and antler (Hamilton 1997:43). Conservation methods for leather include the PEG method (described above) as well as freeze-drying. The freeze-drying technique follows the PEG method but includes the use of a fungicide in the PEG solution, after which the artefact is immersed in acetone and frozen carbon dioxide (CO2). The artefact is then placed in a freeze drying chamber for 2-4 weeks (Hamilton 1997:47).


Glass consists of 70-74% silica, 16-22% potash or soda ash and 5-10% flux (lime) (Hamilton 1997:29; Brill 1962). The sodium (Na) and potassium (K) carbonates in the glass can leach out, especially in salt water, which leaves only a porous silica (SiO2) network. This typically creates a frosty appearance. Alternatively, decomposed glass appears laminated with iridescent layers. Conservators have different opinions about how to effectively treat glass, and have proposed methods ranging from storing or exhibiting the glass in low humidity to applying resins to seal it. Newton and Davison (1989), and Plenderleith and Werner (1971) discuss various methods of conservation for glass. The latter (Plenderleith and Werner 1971:345) present a treatment of unstable glass shown below (Figure 8).Figure 6


Figure 6.  Treatment of unstable glass presented by Plenderleith and Werner in their 1971 publication The conservation of antiquities and works or art: treatment, repair and restoration (Image created by author)


Metals are usually defined as cathodic (noble) or anodic (less noble). A complete overview of conservation methods for each type of metal is beyond the scope of this blog; consequently, only anodic metal iron will be reviewed.

Figure 7

Figure 7. Galvanic Corrosion Chart ranging from gold (a cathodic metal, which is more protected) to zinc (an anodic, which is less protected and more subject to corrosion) (Image created by author)

Iron usually presents the most puzzling issues with conservators due to the variety of conditions and environments in which iron corrodes. Iron corrodes five times faster in salt water than it does in soil, and ten times faster than in air, and this corrosion is normally electrochemical (Hamilton 1997:54-60). The process of conservation is determined by a preliminary evaluation of the condition of the object. Treatments for iron include electrochemical cleaning (including galvanic cleaning and electrolytic reduction), alkaline sulphite, and chemical cleaning including tannic acid, annealing, and water diffusion in alkaline solutions (Argo 1981).

Alkaline Sulphite Treatment

This treatment can be used on both cast and wrought iron, and is most effective on artefacts that are moderately or highly corroded; however, the iron object must have a metallic core or treatment will be unsuccessful (Bryce 1979:21).

Figure 8

Figure 8. The stages of Alkaline Sulphite Treatment (Image created by author)

Conserving artefacts recovered from submerged sites is a lenghtly and sometimes costly process. It is, however, a very important aspect of archaeological investigation. Each artefact, depending on its chemical composition and level of decomposition, has numerous methods of conservation. The aforementioned methods and techniques are by no means an extensive or  complete list of every method used for every artefact; they merely act as a starting point for those looking to conserve items from the archaeological record.


Argo, J.

1981 On the Nature of ‘Ferrous’ Corrosion Products of Marine Iron. Studies in Conservation, 26(1):42-44.

Brill, R.H.

1962 A Note of the Scientist’s Definition of Glass. Journal of Glass Studies, 4:127-138.

Bryce, T.

1979 Alkaline Sulphite Treatment of Iron at the National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland. The Conservation and Restoration of Metals.  Scottish Society for the Conservation & Restoration of Metals, Proceedings of the Edinburgh Symposium 1979: 20-23.

Hamilton, D.L.

1997 Basic Methods of Conserving Underwater Archaeological Material Culture. U.S. Department of Defence, Washington.

Lafontaine, R.H. And P.A. Wood

1982 The Stabilization of Ivory Against Relative Humidity Fluctuations. Studies in Conservation, 27(3):109-117.

McKerrell, H., Roger, E., and A. Varsanyi

1972 The Acetone/Rosin Method for the Conservation of Waterlogged Wood. Studies in Conservation, 17:111-125.

Newton, R.G. and S. Davison

1989 The Conservation of Glass. Butterworth-Heinemann Limited, London.

Plenderleith, H.J. and A. E.A. Werner

1971 The Conservation of Antiquities and Works of Art: Treatment, Repair, and Restoration. Oxford University Press, London.

Smithsonian Institution

2013 An Inside Look at Bone. Electronic document,, accessed  September 7, 2013.

Further Readings

Angelucci, S., Florentino, P., Kosinkova, J., and M. Marabelli

1978 Pitting Corrosion in Copper and Copper Alloys: Comparative Treatments Tests. Studies in Conservation 24:147-156.

Dowman, E.A.

1970 Conservation in Field Archaeology. Methuen and Co., London.

Koob, S.P.

1986 The use of Paraloid B-72 as an Adhesive: Its Application for Archaeological Ceramics and Other Materials. Studies in Conservation, 31:7-14.

Kotlik, P., Justa, P., and J. Zelinger

1983 The Application of Epoxy Resins for the Consolidation of Porous Stone. Studies in Conservation, 28:75-79.

Wanhill, R.

2013 Stress Corrosion Cracking in Ancient Silver. Studies in Conservation, 58(1): 41-49.

Watson, J.

1987 The Application of Freeze-Drying on British Hardwoods from Archaeological Excavations. In Gratten, D.W. (ed), Proceedings of the ICOM Waterlogged Wood Working Group Conference, pp 237-242. ICOM, Committee for Conservation, Waterlogged Wood Working Group, Ottawa.

Deep-water Technology: The Future of Maritime Archaeology

While maritime archaeology is a rather new discipline compared to terrestrial archaeology, deep-water archaeology (greater than 100 metres) is so recent that it is still largely in its infancy.  This is due to the extreme conditions of the deep ocean and lack of technology necessary to reach such depths.  In addition, there is the prohibitive cost of deep-water exploration.  Expeditions that use ocean-class research vessels can cost $40,000 USD or $44,697 AUD per day and easily exceed $1 million over a month-long period (Ballard 2008:x).  However, multi-disciplinary projects that foster cooperation with oceanographers, biologists, and engineers can reduce the cost of research and allow each scientist to collect much needed data.  Continuous advancements in the technology of human-operated vehicles (HOVs), remotely operated vehicles (ROVs), and autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) are allowing maritime archaeologists to reach greater depths and explore hidden cultural clues in this largely unexplored world.

Techniques commonly used by maritime archaeologists for shallow-water surveys, such as side-scan sonar, magnetometers, and sub-bottom profilers, are being applied to HOVs, ROVs and AUVs to explore the depths of the ocean.  Side-scan sonar emits sound waves that strike the sea floor and creates imagery by recording the timing and amplitude of those sound wave reflections.  Magnetometers are used to locate man-made objects by detecting anomalies in the normal magnitude and direction of the earth’s magnetic field.  Sub-bottom profilers are similar to side-scan sonar in that they emit sound waves towards the sea floor; however, the sub-bottom profiler’s sound waves penetrate the sea floor in order to identify different layers of sediment (Ballard 2008:263-274).  By utilising these devices in conjunction with HOVs, ROVs and AUVs, archaeologists are able to map and survey depths greater than 100 metres.

Human-Operated Vehicles

HOVs are also known as human-operated submersibles or simply submersibles.  Many submersibles are limited in their ability to survey large areas.  This is due to their reliance on a human occupant/operator, which limits the amount of time they can stay on site.  Although HOVs are limited by time, they provide an advantage over ROVs and AUVs because they can “typically lift heavier objects and carry more equipment and/or samples” (Ballard and Coleman 2008:12).  An excellent example of an HOV is Alvin, a U.S. Navy-owned Deep Submergence Vehicle built in 1964.  It is able to dive to a depth of 4,500 metres and remain below the surface for up to  10 hours (WHOI 2013).  Alvin is outfitted with video cameras, lights, and two robotic arms that allow the vessel to carry 680 kilograms of samples.  Alvin is perhaps best known for its involvement in the exploration of RMS Titanic in 1986 (WHOI 2013).


Figure 1: Human Occupied Vehicle Alvin (Photo by Mark Spear, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution 2013)

Remotely Operated Vehicles

ROVs are similar to HOVs except that instead of having an occupant inside the vehicle, the ROV is controlled from a support vessel on the surface.  ROVs are tethered to the surface vessel by fibre-optic cables and controlled via fibre-optic telemetry (Gregory et al. 2008:17).  These cables allow the operator to control the movement of the ROV as well other functions such as lighting, cameras and manipulator arms.  ROVs are better adapted for surveying larger areas than HOVs, but are still limited by the cables that attach them to the support vessel.  ROVs are sometimes used in tandem with a towsled that is positioned between the support vessel and ROV.  The benefit of using a towsled is that it absorbs the movement of the support vessel and prevailing sea conditions, which allows the ROV to work undisturbed.  The towsled often sits above the sea floor and provides additional lighting to reduce backscatter from particles in the water when images are being taken.  Besides surveying, ROVs can be used to excavate artefacts from the sea floor.  One example of this type of vehicle is the ROV Hercules and its towsled ArgusHercules is equipped with digital cameras and sonar for site mapping, as well as tube corers to extract samples of sediment in preparation for excavation (Webster 2008:45).  The ROV also features jets that provide a flow of water to clear sediment from artefacts, as well as a suction hose to lift material (Webster 2008:53).  In addition to this useful tool, Hercules’ manipulator arms can be fitted with various hand tools such as brushes and scrapers (Webster 2008:56).


Figure 2:  ROV Hercules viewed from towsled Argus (NOAA 2013)


Figure 3: Towsled Argus being lowered into the water (NOAA 2013)

Autonomous Underwater Vehicles
AUVs differ from the two previously mentioned vehicles in that they are not controlled by an operator but rather programmed to survey a certain area.  In addition to not requiring an operator, the major advantages of AUVs over HOVs and ROVs is that they can be deployed and left to survey large areas for between 24 and 72 hours without the need for a support vessel.  This saves thousands of dollars in operating costs (Bingham et al. 2010:703).  While AUVs tend to be used more for commercial purposes, such as surveys for natural resources, their role in archaeology is significant and growing.  AUVs have precise on-board navigation systems that make use of global positioning system (GPS) and differential global positioning system (DGPS) that link to the support vessel.  The exact position (3-5 metre accuracy) of the AUV is essential to mapping and surveying the sea floor (Warren et al. 2007:4).  Many AUVs carry chemical sensors for testing the environment in addition to multibeam sonar (similar to side-scan sonar), a sub-bottom profiler, and magnetometer.  AUVs are limited by the power supply needed to both run the vehicle and maintain its illumination lamps (Bingham et al. 2010:703).  Despite their limitations, AUVs are ideal for conducting general surveys and producing photomosaics of the sea floor with limited detail.  A great example of AUV application within deep-water archaeology is the SeaBED model used to document the Chios shipwreck site in the northeastern Aegean Sea (Bingham et al. 2010:702-715).


Figure 4: Model of SeaBED AUV being deployed (Bingham et al. 2010:705)

The future of maritime archaeology is continually evolving as technological advances in various underwater vehicles allow for the ocean to be explored and mapped at greater depths.  Multi-disciplinary cooperation has facilitated archeologists’ access to these forms of technology and increased the amount of data they can collect.  This in turn has enabled the discovery and documentation of ancient shipwrecks and landscapes previously unknown to modern archaeology.


Ballard, R. and D.Coleman

2008 Oceanographic Methods for Under Archaeological Surveys. Archaeological  Oceanography, edited by Robert Ballard, pp. 3-14. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey.

Ballard, R.

2008 Glossary. Archaeological Oceanography, edited by Robert D. Ballard, pp. 263-274. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey.

Ballard, R.

2008 Introduction. Archaeological Oceanography, edited by Robert Ballard, pp. ix – x. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey.

Bingham, B., B. Foley, H. Singh, R. Camilli, K. Delaporta, R. Eustice, A. Mallios, D. Mindell, C. Roman, and D. Sakellariou

2010 Robotic tools for deep water archaeology: Surveying an ancient shipwreck with an autonomous underwater vehicle. Journal of Field Robotics 27(6): 702-717.

Gregory, T., J. Newman, and J. Howland

2008 The Development of Towed Optical and Acoustical Vehicle Systems and Remotely Operated Vehicles in Support of Archaeological Oceanography. Archaeological Oceanography, edited by Robert Ballard, pp. 15-29.  Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

2013 Hercules (ROV) and Friends, Electronic document,, accessed 10/9/13.

Warren, D., R. Church, and K. Eslinger

2007 Deepwater Archaeology with Autonomous Underwater Vehicle Technology. In Offshore Technology Conference. Houston Texas Electronic Document,, accessed 10/9/13

Webster, S.

2008 The Development of Excavation Technology for Remotely Operated Vehicles. Archaeological Oceanography, edited by Robert Ballard, pp. 41-64 Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey.

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

2013 Human Occupied Vehicle Alvin. Electronic document,, accessed 9/9/13.


By Chantal wight

Throughout this semester I have been working with industry partner Dr Lynley Wallis, principal archaeologist with Wallis Heritage Consulting (WHC) as part of a cultural heritage practicum. During my placement with WHC I’ve performed myriad duties ranging from general business, logistical and administrative tasks, to gaining experience in writing and submitting grant applications, and the preliminary analysis of ochre samples.

By far the greatest extension of my knowledge has come from working with ochre samples collected from the Gledswood Shelter 1 (GS1) site, northwest Queensland. Having no past experience with ochre, (other than having possibly read a paper that mentioned ochre in passing) I have been madly reading in an effort to understand the importance of ochre in the archaeological record, preservation factors, chemical structure, provenancing and known trade routes. I have also been comparing the uses, benefits and shortfalls of current analytical techniques such as neutron activation analysis (NAA), particle induced x-ray emission (PIXE), X-ray fluorescence (XRF), X-ray diffraction (XRD) and laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy (LIBS).

My initial task was to complete a preliminary sort of the GS1 ochre, and then to count, weigh and re-bag the ochre by spit. I’m currently in the process of sorting the ochres into groups based on colour. At this stage there are three dominant colour groupings: red, weak red and yellow.


Figure 1 Ochre samples from GS1

Next, following Smith and Fankhauser (2009), I’ll sort these groupings further by their appearance (such as waxy, metallic or greasy), and by texture (friable/talcy or hard).

Already it’s apparent that many of the ochre pieces show evidence of use with clearly identifiable striations from grinding, which I’ll be examining further with low power microscopy and then photographing. Stay tuned for my next update on this exciting research!


Smith, M. and B. Fankhauser 2009 Geochemistry and Identification of Australian Red Ochre Deposits. Paleoworks Technical Papers 9. Canberra: National Museum of Australia and Centre for Archaeological Research.

Video ethnography in modern archaeology

On the first day of my practicum at Australian Cultural Heritage Management (ACHM. I was introduced to all the staff in the office, including Clive Taylor, a digital ethnographer. Video ethnography was not something I had considered in the context of consulting archaeological work before, and I was lucky enough to be able to spend a few hours with Clive, discussing the kind of work he does.


Video ethnography is a form of documentation that records ethnographic and anthropological material. According to David MacDougall (2001) the  role of a video ethnographer is not only to record information for later analysis and parsing, but to tell the ethnographic story, the life story of a person, through film. MacDougall also notes that the advent of digital technology has revolutionised ethnographic film by eliminating many of the cost and equipment related restrictions that video ethnographers once faced.


When it comes to the application of video ethnography in archaeology, the ability of film to tell a story could lend an entire new dimension to oral histories and the connection of individuals to archaeological material. The unique ability of film to go beyond audio recording opens up new ways for archaeologists to understand the connection of people to the past and place. People who know a lot about film are also useful to have around generally, as they can often offer solutions to problems of recording data that are insoluble to the non-initiated.


MacDougall, D 2001 Renewing Ethnographic Film: Is Digital Video Changing the Genre? Anthropology Today  17 (3): 15-2.


Significance of the torpedo boat: HMVS Lonsdale

Jane Mitchell

My directed study project set out to analyse 18 excavated shipwrecks and assess their significance statements. So far I’ve completed some research into the history of shipwreck significance and the significance statements within the overall Victorian Heritage database (which you can read about here), but since then my research has kept me locked inside the Victorian Heritage Register, sifting through all the information attached to each of the 18 ships’ records.

My research is now complete and my next task is to update (or write) statements of significance for some of these wrecks. Not all of the wrecks I’ve been looking at have management plans in place and the statements and their evidence-based evaluation criteria are designed as a jumping-off point for ongoing management of these wrecks.

First cab off the rank is the HMVS Lonsdale.  The current statement of significance in the Victorian database reads: “The HMVS Lonsdale is historically significant as a relic of Victoria’s colonial navy” (Victorian Heritage Register 2005:S425).

It’s important to bear in mind there isn’t any way to ascertain when this statement was written, but when you research  the history of the vessel, there’s more to HMVS Lonsdale than just historical significance.

HMVS Lonsdale. Photo courtesy Heritage Victoria

HMVS Lonsdale. Photo courtesy Heritage Victoria

Brief History:
Ten torpedo boats served across Australia from the early 1880s onwards. They were purchased by the individual colonies in response to a perceived threat of a Russian (and briefly French) invasion (Hunter 2011:1). The British-based Thornycroft, the builder of HMVS Lonsdale, went on to build the fast PT attack boats used with great success in World War II. HMVS Lonsdale and HMVS Nepean, another Thornycroft second-class Victorian torpedo boat, were commissioned in 1883 and arrived in Australia in 1884.

HMVS Lonsdale never saw battle action but did take part in the annual and rather festive Easter exercises, even hitting HMVS Cerberus in 1885 with one of its spar torpedoes – the only time Cerberus came under fire in its career (Hewitt and Tucker 2009:13). Based on British advice the second-class torpedo boats underwent some Australian modification to their torpedo gear, which subsequently improved their speed and performance (Argus 23 February 1888). By 1892, Victoria had three-second class torpedo boats, two first-class boats and 32 torpedoes (Cahill 2009:134).

The torpedo boats were handed over to the Commonwealth after Federation in 1901 and put up for sale in 1902, but, with no buyers, Nepean and Lonsdale continued to take part in manoeuvres (Cahill 2009: 132). When the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) was officially formed, Lonsdale and Nepean, considered ‘outmoded’, were again unsuccessfully put up for sale in 1914 (Hewitt and Tucker 2009:13). What happened to HMVS Lonsdale over the next six years is unclear, but, sometime before 1920, the vessel ended up on the beach at Queenscliff, briefly becoming a meeting point for local beach goers before the sand slowly swallowed it and it faded from memory.

The remains of HMVS Lonsdale were first located in 1983 by members of the Maritime Archaeology Association of Victoria (MAAV) by following the long-buried 1920s shoreline (Cahill 1999). A short survey followed to confirm the identity of the vessel. The conning tower was re-excavated in 1997 for an attempted geophysical survey, but it was largely unsuccessful due to the large amounts of extraneous ferrous material scattered around the site (Shwartz 1997:2). Due to the recent redevelopment of Queenscliff Harbour, HMVS Lonsdale was re-excavated in 2005/2006 in an effort to determine the full extent of the wreck (Hewitt and Tucker 2009).

Significance Criteria
As discussed in my blog post here, the criteria I used to assess the significance of HMVS Lonsdale is based on AIMA’s Guidelines for the Management of Australia’s Shipwrecks, incorporating the values listed in the Burra Charter.

Criterion 1. Historic
HMVS Lonsdale has historical significance as a key element of the Victorian Colonial Navy. International wars, threats of invasion and local rebellions encouraged uncertainty, fed partly by popular press, in Britain’s ability to protect its colonies. As an early member of Victoria’s Colonial Navy, HMVS Lonsdale was a significant part of Victoria’s defence. Along with the other first- and second-class torpedo boats—Nepean, Childers, Countess of Hopetoun and GordonLonsdale formed part of the frontline defence for the last twenty years of the Victorian Colony.

Criterion 2. Technical
HMVS Lonsdale was built at the shipyard of John Thornycroft, who went on to produce the fast attack Patrol Torpedo (PT) boats used with great effect in the Pacific during WWII. Lonsdale represents a rare, early example highlighting the development of these fast, hit-and-run type vessels.

Criterion 3. Social
HMVS Lonsdale has minor social significance. The vessel had some social significance as a member of the colonial naval defence force of the late 19th century.

Criterion 4. Archaeological
The 2006 excavation results appeared to indicate that the section forward of the machinery space is no longer coherent, although a 1.7 metre section of the bow exists lying on the port side, disarticulated from the main structure. Information gathered to date suggests that the ship, aft of the conning tower, still exists, although its condition is unknown (Hewitt and Tucker 2009:32).

HMVS Lonsdale Conning tower. Photo courtesy Heritage Victoria

HMVS Lonsdale Conning tower. Photo courtesy Heritage Victoria

Abandoned watercraft and subsequent site formation processes are a current and ongoing research topic in Australia (see Richards 2008, Hunter 2011). HMVS Lonsdale has contributed to this topic and further study and conservation of the vessel has the ability to continue to add to this subject literature.

Criterion 5. Scientific
Anodes were placed on the wreck during the archaeological survey in 1997, but there has been no subsequent electrode potential survey. Due to high ground water and tidal fluctuations, the wreck is frequently exposed to water and is at risk of collapse (Hewitt and Tucker 2009:32). Although HMVS Lonsdale has been scrapped and hulked, it still has possible scientific significance through contributions to ongoing work on corrosion studies.

Criterion 6. Interpretive
HMVS Lonsdale is currently the subject of a small interpretive display at the Queenscliff Maritime Centre. The vessel has future interpretive significance not only in regards to the development of the Navy in Australia, but also the types of vessels that contributed to the defence of the colonies.

Criterion 7. Rarity
HMVS Lonsdale is a rare surviving example of a second-class torpedo boat and the only surviving example of a second-class torpedo boat from the Victorian Colonial Navy.

Criterion 8. Representativeness
HMVS Lonsdale is significant as one of only three surviving second-class torpedo boats that were used in the defence of the Australian and New Zealand colonies.

Using the criteria above, I’ve re-written HMVS Lonsdale’s significance statement:

HMVS Lonsdale Significance Statement:
Ten torpedo boats made up part of the frontline defences of several of the Australian colonies in the late 19th century, when there was a real and perceived threat of invasion by the Russians and French. HMVS Lonsdale is historically significant as a rare and representative example of a Victorian second-class torpedo boat. Lonsdale demonstrates technical significance as an early example of the development of the fast attack torpedo craft, culminating in the ‘PT’ boats used so effectively in WWII. The vessel has archaeological significance, contributing to the study of abandoned watercraft and subsequent site formation processes and scientific significance through future corrosion studies.

HMVS Lonsdale on Williamstown slipway pre 1915. Image courtesy Australian War Memorial.

HMVS Lonsdale on Williamstown slipway pre 1914. Image courtesy Australian War Memorial.


Anon. 1888 ‘Improvements in the Naval Defence.’ The Argus (Melbourne, Vic.: 1848 – 1957), 23 February, p. 13, retrieved 13 August 2013, <;.

Australia ICOMOS 1999 The Burra Charter: The Australia ICOMOS Charter for Places of Cultural Significance.

Australian Institute for Maritime Archaeology. Special Projects Advisory Committee & Australian Cultural Development Office & Australian Institute for Maritime Archaeology 1994 Guidelines for the Management of Australia’s Shipwrecks. Canberra: Australian Institute for Maritime Archaeology and the Australian Cultural Development Office.

Cahill, D. c.1999 HMVS Lonsdale 1882—1914. Retrieved 12 August 2013 from <t>

Cahill, D. 2009 The Lonsdale: A Victorian torpedo boat. In M, McCarthy (ed), Iron, Steel & Steamship Archaeology: Proceedings of 2nd Australian Seminar, held in Perth, Melbourne and Sydney 2006, pp 133–135. Fremantle: Australian National Centre of Excellence for Maritime Archaeology.

Hewitt, G. and C. Tucker 2009 Queenscliff Harbour. Consolidated Excavation Report. Unpublished report prepared for Queenscliff Harbour Pty Ltd.

Hunter, J.W. III 2011 Abandonment issues: An assessment of military vessel discard trends derived from Australasia’s torpedo boat defences, 1884-1924, The MUA Collection. Retrieved August 12 2013 from <;

Richards, N. 2008 Ships’ Graveyards: Abandoned Watercraft and the Archaeological Site Formation Process. Gainesville: University Press of Florida.

Shwartz, T. 1997 TM-4 and TM-4E survey for positioning of Lonsdale, unpublished report to Heritage Victoria, Geophysical Technology Limited, Armidale.

Victorian Heritage Register, 2005 VHR Number S425.  Retrieved 13 August 2013 from

Shipwreck Significance: past, present and future

Jane Mitchell

I’ve been working with Heritage Victoria to evaluate the significance statements of the shipwrecks located in Victorian state waters. If you missed the first installment you can read about it here.

Australia is currently considering ratifying the 2001 UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage. The Convention and its accompanying Annex have at its core an approach towards in-situ preservation and non-invasive survey methods. Considering ratification will require changes to legislation and perhaps a reassessment of current methodologies and techniques, I thought it a good time to look at where we’ve come from and where the future might lie for shipwreck significance.

The Commonwealth Historic Shipwrecks Act was passed into law in 1976, with every wreck treated on a case-by-case basis (Ryan 1977:24-25). This, in effect, required an assessment of significance in order to justify a wreck’s inclusion on the Register, however the Act was in force before an established, and published, set of assessment criteria was developed.

The first suggested set of criteria was put forward in 1977. A wreck could be considered for protection if it:

  1. was significant to the discovery, exploration and early settlement of Australia
  2. was relevant to the early development of Australia
  3. was relevant to a person or event of historical importance
  4. contained relics of historical or cultural significance
  5. was representative of a particular design or development
  6. was a naval wreck (other than one that had been scrapped or that had no particular interest) (Ryan 1977:25).

These criteria were very descriptive of the types of shipwrecks Australia was concerned with at the time, including the Dutch wrecks off the coast of Western Australia, and the then more recent wreck of HMAS Voyager, sunk close to Jervis Bay.

In 1985, blanket protection with a rolling date of 75 years was introduced to the Historic Shipwreck Act (1976). An inherent characteristic of blanket protection is a level of significance to a wreck or relic without the requirement to demonstrate it. It was expected that this amendment would give practitioners more time to manage the wreck resource, rather then having to spend time justifying its protection (Cassidy 1991:5).  After the 1993 historic shipwreck amnesty, blanket provision was applied to the states and the number of protected shipwrecks jumped from 156 to over 5000 overnight (Jeffery 2006: 127). It could be argued that underwater heritage managers responsible for these shipwrecks have been playing catch-up ever since.

AIMA’s Guidelines for the Management of Australia’s Shipwrecks was published in 1994 and is, to date, the only national publication outlining significance criteria for the assessment of shipwrecks:

  1. Historic
  2. Technical
  3. Social
  4. Archaeological
  5. Scientific
  6. Interpretative
  7. Rare
  8. Representative

Interestingly, the analysis of the Victorian Wreck Register has revealed only one shipwreck that has a statement of significance and evaluation criteria assessed according to the AIMA Guidelines. A detailed conservation plan for the brig, Columbine (VHR S134), was produced in 2009 and can be found on the Heritage Victoria website (Steyne 2009). Both the Statement and the qualifying criteria were uploaded to the Victorian Wreck Register.

S136 (1)_Columbine_Jul 03_015

In 2001, the Plenary Session of the General Conference adopted the UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage (UNESCO 2010:2). The Convention set out principles for protecting underwater cultural heritage and provided rules for treatment and research.

UNESCO Manual governing management activities for Underwater Cultural Heritage

UNESCO Manual governing management activities for Underwater Cultural Heritage

Rule 14 of the UNESCO Annex outlines the requirement for assessments of site significance in the preliminary stages of any archaeological project, describing these assessments as a very important step in the process (Maarleveld 2013:85).

UNESCO’s criteria for determining the significance of a site, are:

  1. Archaeological significance
  2. Historical significance
  3. Research significance
  4. Aesthetic significance
  5. Social or spiritual significance and remembrance value
  6. Visibility and experience value
  7. Economical significance

Additional comparative criteria are used to evaluate the degree of significance of a site in comparison with other sites in an area:

  1. Provenance
  2. Period
  3. Representativeness and group value
  4. Rarity/uniqueness
  5. Condition/completeness/fragility
  6. Documentation
  7. Interpretive potential
  8. Accessibility  (Maarleveld 2013:84).

These criteria incorporate and build on the criteria outlined in AIMA’s Guidelines. Whether or not, Australia ratifies the 2001 UNESCO Convention, UNESCO’s assessment criteria could be well utilised within Australian underwater cultural heritage management. It must always be remembered that assessing the significance of heritage is an exercise in understanding an item’s value to the community and thereby the best means of managing it (Pearson and Sullivan 1995:17).

Clarence Protected Zone © Jane Mitchell.

Clarence Protected Zone © Jane Mitchell.

There are over 6000 wrecks recorded in the Australian National Shipwreck Database (ANSDB). All states and territories in Australia assess the significance of their shipwreck resources slightly differently, according to different criteria and methodologies. In light of the possible ratification of the UNESCO convention, perhaps now is the time to revisit a national approach to significance assessments for Australia’s underwater cultural heritage. The development of a unified national approach to significance assessments of shipwrecks and other underwater archaeological sites would benefit the national wreck resource and assist in interpretation and management across all the states and territories of Australia.

I’ve rewritten the significance statement for HMVS Lonsdale. You can see the significance criteria and new statement here.


Cassidy, W. 1991 Historic shipwrecks and blanket declaration. Bulletin of the Australian Institute for Maritime Archaeology, 15(2): 4—6.

Jeffery, B. 2006 Historic Shipwrecks Legislation. In M Staniforth and M Nash (eds) Maritime Archaeology: Australian Approaches, pp 123-135. New York:Springer – Plenum series in underwater archaeology.

Maarleveld, T.J, U. Guerin and B. Egger (eds) 2013 Manual for Activities directed at Underwater Cultural Heritage. Guidelines to the Annex of the UNESCO 2001 Convention. Paris:UNESCO.

Pearson, M. and S. Sullivan 1995 Looking After Heritage Places: The Basics of Heritage Planning for Managers, Landowners and Administrators. Melbourne: Melbourne University Publishing Ltd.

Ryan, P. 1977 Legislation on Historic Wreck. Papers from the First Southern Hemisphere Conference on Maritime Archaeology, pp 23-27. Newport: Australian Sports Publication.

Special Projects Advisory Committee and Australian Cultural Development Office and Australian Institute for Maritime Archaeology 1994 Guidelines for the Management of Australia’s Shipwrecks, Australian Institute for Maritime Archaeology and the Australian Cultural Development Office, Canberra.

Steyne, H. 2009 The Brig, Columbine, Ocean Grove, Victoria. Conservation Management Plan. Melbourne:Heritage Victoria.

UNESCO 2010, The History of the 2001 Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage, Retrieved on 18 September 2013 from <;

Ritual Rock Art Sites in the Southern Mount Lofty Ranges

Ritual rock art sites in the Southern Mount Lofty Ranges
By Robin Coles
August 2013

The number of recorded rock art sites in the southern Mount Lofty Ranges of South Australia has now reached seventy six (Coles, 2000). Most of these assemblages have been attributed to the Peramangk Aboriginal people. Of the forty two reviewed so far, six have revealed a regional subgroup that fit the criteria of ‘ritual rock art sites’ outlined by Ross and Davidson in 2006.

The criteria adapted in the study area are as follows: ‘ritual rock art sites’ are linked to large specific gathering places, in regions where ceremonies were held at specific times of the year, and they were probably associated with trade. The groups involved were the Peramangk, Ngarrindjeri and Ramindjeri who lived in the Mount Lofty Ranges, Lake Alexandrina and Victor Harbour regions. To the eastern Murray River plains were the Warki, Naralte and Nganguruka. The ‘ritual rock art sites’ are close to significant archaeological occupational sites and near permanent water courses. These water courses were once major trade routes.
The rock art motifs occur in rock shelters near extensive camping areas that were able to accommodate a large audience. The art is often done in bi-chrome colours, with figures larger in size. Many of the motifs show groups of people in profile performing dances or in active movement. These images are reminiscent of corroborees that were performed at specific times and places.

Other criteria aligning with the concept of ‘ritual rock art’ are the “characterisation of panels of repeated motifs produced using a similar and persistent vocabulary of core motifs” (Ross and Davidson 2006:327). Some prominent motifs may have held sacred significance within the rock art complex and they have been re-marked to indicating the continuation of “convention and participation of others at the sites” (Ross and Davidson 2006:332).
From the first analysis of the southern Mount Lofty Ranges rock art assemblage it is evident that sites fall into two different types: those that are related to supernatural ritual and those that relate to every day ritual and existence.

Coles, R.B. and Hunter, R. 2010 The Ochre Warriors. Stepney Adelaide: Axiom Publishing.
Chilman, J. 1999 Barossa Aboriginal Heritage Survey. A report to the Aboriginal Heritage Branch, South Australia Department of Environment and Planning.
Ross, J. and Davidson, I. 2006 Rock Art and Ritual: An Archaeological Analysis of Rock Art in Arid Central. Australia Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 13(4):305-341.
Tindale, N.B. 1974 Aboriginal Tribes of Australia. Canberra ANU Press.