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Clues from the deep

06 April 2006

Clues about a shipwreck believed to date from the 16th century are being uncovered this week, thanks to University of Plymouth experts using the latest surveying methods, which involve no diving or excavation.

The ‘Cattewater Wreck’ was the first wreck to be protected in the UK after its discovery during dredging in 1973. (Subsequently over 50 wrecks have been protected by the UK government, including the famous Mary Rose in Portsmouth.) Since partial excavation in the 1970s the wreck has mostly been left undisturbed in the mud, opposite the entrance to Sutton Harbour.

Thanks to the latest technology, the team of archaeologists and students from the University – together with a team from Bristol University – is carrying out its survey without any diving or excavation, gathering information about the wreck.

The wooden wreck is believed to be of an unidentified armed merchantman of the first half from the 16th century, which sank in the main medieval anchorage of Plymouth. The ship was a three-masted, skeleton-built vessel of between 200 and 300 tonnes. Pottery on board indicates links with Holland and France, as well as parts of England.

Leader of the project, Martin Read, who lectures in the School of Earth, Ocean & Environmental Sciences at the University of Plymouth, said: “We are using some of the most modern techniques available, including equipment especially brought over from Germany for the purpose.

“Modern techniques will allow us to visualise aspects of the site which were previously impossible without excavation. The information gained from the survey will be passed to English Heritage to help them in their management of this internationally important site.”

As well as the two universities involved, the project is being supported by Innomar Technologie and 3H Consulting Ltd.


For further information, please contact Paola Simoneschi, PR manager, on 01752 588004 / email:

Notes for Editors:
Members of the media wanting to film/take photographs of the survey boat with equipment can meet the boat coming in on Friday 7 April (at approx 11.30am). Martin Read, project leader, will be available for interviews from 2pm at Queen Anne’s Battery, Plymouth. Weather permitting, this allows for photographs/filming looking down on the site in Cattewater from Breakwater Hill.

To make arrangements for filming, photographs and interviews, please contact Paola Simoneschi on the number above.

The Secretary of State has power under the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973 to designate wreck sites which he is satisfied ought to be protected from unauthorised interference on account of their archaeological, historical or artistic importance. Before making a designation order, the Secretary of State is required to consult with appropriate persons (unless he is satisfied that the order should be made as a matter of immediate urgency). Once designated, it is a criminal offence for a person to dive on or interfere with the site except under the authority of a licence.

English Heritage is the government's advisor on all aspects of the historic environment in England, including the marine historic environment, since the National Heritage Act (2002) enabled EH to assume responsibility for maritime archaeology in English coastal waters. English Heritage has responsibility for the management of the 42 historic wreck sites designated under the Protection of Wrecks Act in English Waters.

About the University of Plymouth
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