By Meshellae Payne , Former NMB Intern, current Museum Ship-Keeping trainee at the National Museum of the Royal Navy

Archaeology | July 1, 2020

Reading time: 5 minutes

Before the Coronavirus lockdown came into effect in the UK I was on a placement at the National Museum of the Royal Navy in Portsmouth, working with the Conservation team to conserve artefacts for the reopening of the museum’s HMS Victory Gallery. Unfortunately, the museum has closed down due to the lockdown, and I am not able to return to that project until the conservation team is allowed to return to work.

In the meantime, I have been spending my days learning more about museums and the maritime world. This has been in the form of online courses, digitisation projects, and some interesting online resources which I will be exploring further in this blog. The resources below are just a few examples of the way that the maritime and museum communities have adjusted to lockdown and are expanding their reach more fully into the digital world.

National Museum of Bermuda (NMB): Digital Volunteer Transcription Project

NMB’s online transcription project invites volunteers to transcribe references to Bermuda’s maritime activities in the Bermuda National Library’s digital collection of newspapers and can be done from home at whatever time suits your schedule; all you need is an interest in Bermuda history and a computer with Internet access.

Working on this transcription project has been a great chance to get a glimpse into Bermuda’s past. As the island moves further away from the maritime culture that once characterised us, recording and highlighting the evidence of that culture becomes more and more important.

Beyond that, many of the historical newspaper advertisements showcase the Bermudian mindset, making it clear how long some of our habits have existed. One thing I found particularly amusing is how many adverts mention that if it was raining, they would wait until the weather was fair; showing Bermudians have never been inclined to do things in the rain! Living in England I’ve had to get used to the fact that people here do not care if it’s raining and will go ahead with whatever they had planned for that day (even barbeques!)

Nautical Archaeology Society: CovED Talks          

Since the end of March, the Nautical Archaeology Society has been hosting weekly talks on underwater archaeology, maritime heritage, and foreshore archaeology. These have all been incredibly interesting and informative, and a highlight of my week! My favourite talks this month have been:

The digital reconstruction of the Sutton-Hoo ship:

This talk was given by Julian Whitewright, a lecturer in Maritime Archaeology at the University of Southampton. Sutton Hoo is a 7th century Anglo Saxon ship burial; the talk discussed the background of the burial and its excavations, and the process for digitally reconstructing it. Julian Whitewright was one of my lecturers when I was doing BSc Archaeology at Southampton, so it was great to get an update on his current research project and learn from him again!

Vietnam’s Shipwreck Coast:

This talk was given by Ian McCann from the University of New England in Australia. It provided an overview of the work being done by the Vietnam Maritime Archaeology Project, which has been investigating Vietnam’s maritime heritage.

I found this lecture particularly interesting as it tapped into my passion for learning about traditional maritime practices. I wrote my Masters dissertation on fish ponds in Bermuda so I was delighted to find that they had uncovered possible evidence of a similar form of fish trapping in Vietnam.

You can catch up with the NAS CovED Talks here.

Caring for the Mary Rose – A Coronavirus Case Study

Another series I’ve been closely following is bought to us by ICON. This blog has been taking us through the process of conserving the Mary Rose whilst in lockdown. It has been really interesting to read about the concerns and steps that have been taken to ensure that the condition of the ship and artefacts doesn’t deteriorate during the lockdown.

This month, the blog was written by Karoline Sofie Hennum, an Erasmus student doing an internship in conservation science at the Mary Rose Trust. When the lockdown came into effect Karoline decided to stay in England and continue with her internship, and it was really interesting to read about how she has organised her time over the lockdown to ensure that she is keeping engaged and focused.

Historic England Virtual Dive Trails

Historic England has used multi-image photogrammetric recording and virtual reality techniques to allow people to access some of their amazing protected wreck sites.

When volunteering in Bermuda a few summers ago I was working with the Custodian of Wrecks, Philippe Rouja, and he had just started working on a new project called The Bermuda 100 Challenge, where the goal is to digitise 100 or more of Bermuda’s shipwrecks so people could explore them online. This is an amazing concept and a great way of allowing people who would be unable to access wrecks (for a variety of reasons), to explore and experience those incredible environments.

I hope that I get the chance to be involved in projects like this again in the future, but for now, getting the chance to use similar tools is a great way of making me feel like I am back underwater again!

Another photogrammetry project I’ve been exploring was instituted by the Scottish Maritime Museum, which has made their collection of boats available to be explored in 3D online.

More routes to explore the maritime world from home are appearing every day. One of the effects of this pandemic is the increased digital presence of museums and heritage organisations in general. My hope is that this increased presence has meant that the reach of these organisations has expanded considerably, bringing in more people and communities who wouldn’t have visited or learned about them in normal circumstances.

Former NMB Intern Meshellae Payne was born in Bermuda and knew from an early age that she wanted to study and promote Bermuda’s maritime culture. She studied Archaeology at the University of Southampton and spent her summers volunteering with the Custodian of Wrecks in Bermuda and interning with the National Museum of Bermuda. After completing her undergraduate degree Meshellae shifted her focus to conservation and completed a Masters in Principles of Conservation at University College London, Institute of Archaeology. Her MA dissertation focused on the loss of traditional maritime practices and skills in Bermuda. Meshellae is currently undertaking a traineeship at the National Museum of the Royal Navy, which focuses on combating the loss of traditional sailing skills in the UK.


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