A new voluntary initiative for reporting and recording underwater discoveries in England and Wales has been unveiled.
The Marine Antiquities Scheme (MAS) provides a central facility designed to help protect the nation’s marine heritage by recording archaeological and historical objects or sites found by scuba divers, as well as fishermen, boat-users and others.
Launched at London’s British Museum last week, MAS is funded by the Crown Estate and managed by Wessex Archaeology, experts from which will form a support team to evaluate and research all finds. They aim to provide emailed feedback to individual finders about the origin and history of their discoveries within a month.
Finders can upload data and photographs using a free app. The information will later be published on a database freely accessible to the public, although the exact locations of sensitive sites will be disguised and the identities of the finders will not be published.
MAS is modelled on the British Museum’s Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) for onshore finds which, in 19 years of existence, has built a database of more than a million discoveries reported mainly by metal detectorists.
The difference from PAS, as was pointed out in subsequent discussion of the MAS scheme, is that terrestrial metal-detectorists and others rarely leave their finds in situ, whereas scuba-divers are expected to leave theirs untouched.
The app reminds finders of their statutory obligations, including the need to report within 28 days any wreck-finds to the office of the Receiver of Wreck. The RoW has been involved in the 14-month setting up of MAS along with the National Maritime Museum, Nautical Archaeology Society and British Sub Aqua Club.
Because finders are not identified under the voluntary MAS scheme, in contrast to the legally required reports to the RoW, it was not felt appropriate to link the two levels of reporting any more closely at this stage, Receiver of Wreck Alison Kentuck told Divernet at the launch.
The Crown Estate, an independent business returning all profits to the Treasury, manages the UK seabed and half the foreshore, including awarding leases for offshore energy, cables, pipelines and aggregate extraction. “We have funded MAS through our stewardship programme to secure the future of our marine heritage while also supporting its responsible and sustainable development over the long-term,” said senior development manager Matthew Clear.
“The Marine Antiquities Scheme provides a means for people to take a truly active part in front-line research into our past and allows them to make real contributions towards the understanding and the preservation of our marine heritage,” said Chris Bayne, Chief Executive Officer of Wessex Archaeology.
“Users will benefit from the very best expert knowledge available and will have free, open access to the most up-to-date information.”
The MAS app is available for iOS and Android phones and tablets. While it allows for automatic input of the co-ordinates of a find-site, uploading the all-important photographic evidence while still at the site (on a dive-boat, for example) could be problematic. An alternative is to note the co-ordinates and report the find later using either the app or at the MAS website here
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