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New shipwreck map of Scotland published as maritime record is enhanced

18 March 2014

A new “wreck map” showing the density of 1200 years of shipwrecks in Scottish waters is published today [Tuesday 18th March 2014] as part of a drive to enhance the maritime record for Scotland.

This map was produced as part of Project Adair, a two-year partnership between Historic Scotland and RCAHMS, to collate and promote information on the marine historic environment as a time of increasing interest in our coasts and seas.

It has drawn on thousands of records held digitally by RCAHMS in the online portal, Canmore; on a huge private collection of photographs and materials recently donated to RCAHMS by the pioneer of nautical archaeology in Scotland, Dr Colin Martin and on records from commercial consultants, Wessex Archaeology Coastal and Marine and Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology (ORCA).

Scotland has a rich maritime history: at the start of the 16th Century, the Scottish-built ‘Great Michael’ was the largest warship in Europe. Some of the best known historic wrecks in Scotland’s waters include the SS Politician in the Outer Hebrides (inspiration for the story of ‘Whisky Galore’); the wreck of a Spanish Armada ship in Mull, known as the ‘Tobermory Galleon’ and the scuttled German High Seas Fleet in Orkney.

Archaeologists have long argued that seaways brought communities together in the past, when overland transport was time consuming and difficult.  Historic settlements on the northern and western isles and other areas around Scotland’s coast that might now be considered by some as remote, were once at the centre of a network of sea-faring routes linking Northern Europe with the rest of the world.

Thanks to Project Adair, funded by Historic Scotland, the national maritime record for Scotland has been greatly increased, with nearly four times more records of shipwrecks and a 40% increase in maritime records overall.

Freely available to the public, the records, photographs and data can now be accessed via Canmore and include:

  • The “wreck map” showing the ‘density’ of ship and aircraft losses in Scottish waters. The map gives a clear sense of the historical importance of particular ports and harbours (such as Aberdeen, Stornoway and Scapa Flow), of shipping routes (such as the Sound of Mull and the Firth of Clyde) and of navigational hazards (such as Fife Ness or the Mull of Kintyre). The data includes vessels built as recently as 1992, as well as shipwrecks reported as early as AD800.

  • 1,200 digital images from the Colin and Paula Martin collection, including never-before published photographs of shipwreck dives off the coast of Scotland providing public access and long-term protection to a fantastic resource.  The photographs are currently the subject of a BBC audio gallery here

  • 5,200 records from the UK Hydrographic Office Wrecks database; 18,500 records from Ian Whittaker's Off Scotland database; 600 records of Orkney Waters and the Pentland Firth; data from the recent Scapa Flow Survey and fieldwork undertaken on coastal settlements at Caolas Stulaigh and Hairteabhagh in South Uist

Speaking about the project, Archaeology Projects Manager and maritime archaeology specialist at RCAHMS, George Geddes said “As Scotland’s marine environment is undergoing its latest change, with the growth in offshore renewable energy and proposals for marine protected areas, we have collated a number of datasets in one place for the first time, to present marine heritage information in a more intuitive way.”

Philip Robertson, Historic Scotland’s marine archaeology expert, commented: “Scotland has a very rich maritime heritage spanning the centuries including many thousands of shipwrecks. While we already have some knowledge of this heritage we are eager to enhance this and make the information more accessible. Project Adair has been so valuable in bringing to light new information about large numbers of wrecks. There are many fascinating stories to be told but this information will hopefully also be of use to developers and planners who are planning offshore developments and are looking to help us protect our most important marine heritage sites for the future.”

RCAHMS will continue to actively manage the maritime component of the Canmore database, and further data enhancements are planned for coming years through two partnership projects with Wessex Archaeology Coastal and Marine and Historic Scotland; projects Samphire and Coalie.

For images please contact


  • Project Adair was initiated in July 2011 as a partnership between Historic Scotland and the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS). Named after John Adair, the author of the Description of the Coast and Seas of Scotland published in 1703, the project sought to improve the record of the marine historic environment in a cost effective way and to ensure information is efficiently and effectively disseminated, thereby underpinning Scottish Ministers' policies for encouraging sustainable economic growth in the coasts and seas around Scotland through implementation of the Marine (Scotland) Act and UK Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009.

  • RCAHMS is the National Collection of materials on Scotland’s built environment that connects people to places across time. It is the first port of call for information about the built environment of Scotland, from prehistory to the present and records the changing landscape of Scotland and collects materials relating to it.  

  • RCAHMS holds information on over 4,500 known wrecks and nearly 23,500 losses that date from the seventeenth century to the present day, as well as an extensive collection of photographs, drawings and reports. Further information on RCAHMS maritime records can be found at Examples of records held on historic shipwrecks are here The El Gran Grifon;  The Adelaar;  The Dartmouth

  • Historic Scotland is an executive agency of the Scottish Government. Its statutory function is to protect and promote the historic environment, helping to ensure that the historic environment delivers economic, social, cultural and environmental benefits for Scotland. Historic Scotland cares for 345 historic properties and sites  

The two bodies have worked closely together for many years and will be merged through an Act of Parliament into a single new, Non-Departmental Public Body that will seek charitable status. The merger will enable the new body to provide more effective and efficient support for the historic environment of Scotland, investigating, recording, caring for, protecting and celebrating it. Further information on the Historic Environment Strategy for Scotland and the Bill can be found here For legislative purposes the new body will be called Historic Environment Scotland; however a public-facing name may be chosen in due course. Following parliamentary process, the new body is expected to be launched in 2015. It will be established in two stages, with the inauguration of the body corporate and the Board appointed in April 2015 and the transfer of operational powers to the new body in October 2015

For further information

John MacNeil
Media Relations Manager
Communications and Media
0131 668 8714 or 07854 366 827