Sophie Winton, ACHA’s archaeologist at large, is back with an update from Hoi An

Field Notes: Vietnam Training in Underwater Archaeology

Week 2 Wrap Up


Field school life has settled into a busy but steady rhythm and the second week of training flew by! The trainees have been split into 4 teams and have been working on various projects under the guidance of their team leaders and supervision of the trainers. Some of these projects are under water while others are taking place around Hoi An.

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Underwater search and recording methods

The shallow, sheltered waters of Cu Lao Cham provide relatively safe training grounds for new divers; except for when curious tourist boats come a little too close to diving operations or the Vietnamese military schedules artillery target practice! Despite these disruptions, the teams have been steadily improving their underwater communication, search and recording skills in areas of high underwater cultural heritage potential that were identified during the previous field season. This week, teams re-located and recorded a stone anchor, possibly of Arabic origin, and nearby ceramic scatter in shallow water.

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Ethnographic boat building

One way to better understand what we are searching for underwater, is to spend time with local boat builders to study the methods and materials that are used for constructing local vessels. This is also a great opportunity to get to know some of the locals and in doing so, learn more about local culture and possibly new sites to investigate. The teams spent time at various boat-building yards, recording interviews with the workers and the boats that were being built or repaired.

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Shipwreck ceramics

As mentioned above, we have found some ceramics on the beach and in shallow waters around Cu Lao Cham. Some of these ceramics have been tentatively dated to about 3000 BP! Ceramics are an indicator of the type and level of trade that has taken place in the region and so it is important for us to be able to identify and record them in as much detail as possible. The Hoi An Centre for Cultural Heritage Management and Preservation has a collection of shipwreck ceramics from archaeological and salvage operations in Vietnam and we were given access to them to study. This gave me flashbacks of first year archaeology where I was horrified to learn that LICKING the artefact is one way to ascertain what type of ceramic it is! Luckily, such drastic measures were not necessary in this instance and instead, we spent time honing our drawing skills, describing the artefacts in a database and practicing the 3D photogrammetry that Ian has been teaching us.

Foreign traders in Hoi An

Hoi An was a major center for trade between the 16th and 19th centuries, attracting traders from India, China, Japan, Portugal, England, Holland and more. The built environment of the Ancient Town bears testament to this period, as do the tombs of the foreign traders that can be found on the outskirts of town. We were tasked with locating and recording some of these tombs; a task that was easier said than done for some teams! We spent a rather hot morning trooping through the rice paddies in search of the elusive “third tomb” and learned some very important lessons in planning!


We were joined this week by Jun Kimura from Tokai University in Japan. A long-time partner in the VMAP, Jun is an expert in Asian anchor development and the evolution of shipbuilding technology. He presented two enlightening talks on Asian anchors and the 12 / 13th century wrecks in East Asia and Southeast Asia, and joined the dive teams at the stone anchor site.

Saturday is our day off and (ever the archaeology nerds) we visited My Son, the ancient Cham religious site, 60kms from Hoi An. Between the 4th and 14th centuries, this valley was the religious center for Champa kings and ruling dynasties, who constructed temples to worship the Hindu god, Shiva. Recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999, the temple complex at My Son is widely regarded as being one of the principal historical temple complexes in Southeast Asia, not to mention the paramount heritage site of its kind in Vietnam. Despite being abandoned and engulfed by the forest in the 14th century, then bombed during the American War, the temples that remain have a powerful presence over the landscape.

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To round off the week, Sunday was spent in lectures on some of the theory behind underwater cultural heritage management and museology, presented by Mark and Sally. Clyde presented a case study on the management proposal for the World War II wrecks at Subic Bay, Philippines (giving me another reason to return to that part of the world as soon as possible) and the teams caught up on some admin, sleep and pool time. Rested and refreshed (mostly…) we’re ready for week 3!


Follow the project’s Facebook page daily updates from the field!

Many thanks to everyone for their photos J

  • Sophie

Sophie Winton, reporter at large, writes from Hoi An, Vietnam

Field Notes: Vietnam Training in Underwater Archaeology
Greetings from Hoi An, Vietnam!

Hoi An riverfront by night 

I am here with a group of over 30 participants from 10 countries who have come together for the Vietnam Training in Underwater Archaeology. This 4 week field school is being hosted by the Institute for Archaeology and is supported and funded by SEAMEO SPAFA and the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands (RCE). UNESCO has granted its patronage to the project. 
I am thrilled to be representing ACHA at this field school. 
The team poses for a photo after the Opening Ceremony. Trainers and trainees come from Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Australia, the Netherlands, Hungary and South Africa. 

The 2015 training is the eighth fieldwork training and research season to have been conducted in Vietnam since 2008 by an interdisciplinary, international team of researchers, research associates, students and trainers. These initiatives take place under the auspices of the Vietnam Maritime Archaeology Project Centre (VMAPC). The VMAPC “is dedicated to supporting the Vietnam government and Vietnamese people in building maritime archaeology to investigate, protect and preserve maritime and underwater cultural heritage. VMAPC conducts research, education and training about the importance of Vietnamese maritime and underwater cultural heritage.”
A view of Cu Lau Cham where we have been doing some orientation dives ahead of next week’s survey projects 

We are at the end of the first week, which has mainly revolved around getting to know one another, exploring Hoi An and getting organized for the survey projects that we will be starting next week. Some participants have been completing their PADI Open Water Diver courses while others have been refreshing their diving skills in the waters around Cu Lau Cham. 

Check back next week for another update and follow the project’s Facebook page for more information 
Special thanks to Ian McCann for all the images!

UNESCO UNITWIN Underwater Archaeology – by Luvuyo Ndzuzo


2nd Workshop on Underwater Archaeology for African Countries (12 – 23 May 2015) in Kemer (Turkey)

Purpose: the purpose of this document is to highlight some of the activities of the 2nd Workshop on Underwater Archaeology as outlined in program. Furthermore the document seeks to show the interventions that UNESCO hopes to make in relation to Underwater Archaeology.

Background: part of the build up to the 50th meeting on Underwater Archaeology in Paris at UNESCO South Africa joined in the number of member states that signed the Convention on Underwater Cultural Heritage of 2001. South Africa is one of the countries that have a long history of ship wrecks and have less Underwater Archaeology studies in the recent past fits the requirement UNESCO’s areas of intervention. With a coast line of about 2300 kilometers and more than a hundred ship wrecks around the Cape of storms. In the same vein there are very few underwater Archaeologists in the mandated institution of the Heritage regulator namely; South African Heritage Resources Agency (SAHRA). The workshop was offered as a platform for capacity building for African countries.

Host: Selcuk University, Turkey supported by the central government through the Department of Culture and Tourism, the Turkey UNESCO National council and various partners. The hosting professor Dr. Hakan Oniz spearheaded all the logistical issues together with his team based in the new center in Kemer.

UNESCO: represented by the head of the secretariat of the Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage Dr. Ulrike Guerin, editor of the Manual for Activities directed at Underwater Cultural Heritage. She was supported by the able Arturo Da Silva as organizer and facilitator.

Lecturers and tuition: leading intellectuals in the field of Underwater Archaeology offered lectures based on their work and experience. A variety of topics and areas of study in the field were ably presented. This group of scholars carefully demonstrated the key principles of Underwater Archaeology. This laid the foundation for the work that must be done underwater when diving on wrecks and submerged sites. New forms of examining Underwater Cultural Heritage were also presented and it was emphasized that these do not substitute the traditional forms of examining archaeological sites.

The central issue of the workshop revolved around the “in situ preservation issue. Dr. Ulrike Guerin of UNESCO presented a lecture that paved the way for a better understanding of the in situ principle as articulated by UNESCO. Scholars added to the issue by presenting some of the key issues of the in situ principle debate. Ideas like excavation and intrusive measures of Underwater Archaeology were brought forward.

Diving lessons and practice were organized in the second week where two important ideas were taught. The idea of safety underwater was taught, in the main, by Diving Network specialists who offered lessons on diver first aid procedures and the elimination of bubbles in the blood circulation system. The second part of the diving lessons revolved around making use of Underwater Archaeology techniques. Techniques such as photography, measuring, drawing and cleaning the site were put to practice.

Ceremonies: Organizers hosted a welcome gala dinner for the participants. It was supported by the ministry of Culture and Tourism. Here there was good representation from the national council of UNESCO in Turkey. A certification ceremony was organized at the end of the second week. Here both UNESCO and Selcuk University handed participation certificates to all participants.

Two outings were organized over the two weekends; one was a tour of the ancient city called Clup Phaselis and the other were tours of Antalya Aquarium and Antalya Museum.

Conclusion: the workshop better equipped participants in dealing with issues of Archaeological importance. The logistical arrangements were anchored at the new center in Kemer under the leadership of Dr. Hakan Oniz. It was a diverse and well connecting session of the affected disciplines. This workshop afforded me the grand opportunity of coming into contact with practitioners from the continent and leading scholars in the field. I am thankful RIM and the South African state party for this opportunity.

Talking about Sustainable Heritage

20141031_121027On October 31st, ACHA hosted a round table event focused  sustainable heritage resource management. A number of heritage industry practitioners joined the event and actively participated in the discussions that took place during the morning. The purpose of the event was share ACHA’s experience during the recent Lake Fundudzi project. Lake Funduzi has recently been declared a National Heritage Site for the country by SAHRA and it is important that such a declaration is supported by an effective management plan. The purpose of this event was to explore the potential implications for sustainable heritage resource management based on the project findings and the experience of the project team during the process and to make recommendations for the site management going forward.

The round table event began with a presentation from Jonathan Sharfman, the Director of ACHA and Robert Parthesius, the Director of CIE. Their comments encouraged participants to share their personal experiences in the field with one another during the session! They were followed by a panel of presentations from the project team. Heather Wares discussed the important of creating a historical context for such work by reviewing relevant background documentation. Lusanda Ngacaweni shared her experience of conducting the field work in the Lake Fundudzi catchment area, highlighting significant practical and theoretical considerations for meaningful field work of this nature. The third presentation was by Ian Durbach, He presented his perspective on the significance of including quantitative data into work of this nature and how to go about the process in a meaningful manner. The panel concluded with a presentation by Jonathan Sharfman outlining recommendations and potential strategies that would support sustainable heritage resource management based on his professional experience in the field and work through ACHA.

Following the panel of presentations, the group engaged in creative conversations around each of the four areas that featured. They looked at historical context, field work, data and strategy. The purposed of their conversations were to make specific recommendations that would support future work in these areas going forward. It was an exciting, information rich and at times emotionally charged conversation!

I finally did it, grin and all


A view of Lake Fundudzi on an overcast morning in Tshiheni village

Last week I expressed my disappointment at not being expected to observe the traditional greeting of the chieftaincy by Venda women. No sooner had I lamented my exclusion from observing this custom did I find myself lying on the floor, on my side, in a semi-foetal position, with my hands  together, before a chief.

I had given up on this happening so I was caught completely off guard when I was just about tackled in an attempt to prevent me from shaking the chief’s hand. Before you judge me, let me assure you that I know better than to approach a chief in his homestead to shake his hand, but there were extenuating circumstances.

You see, after the haunched humming, people (Ramudingane, the chief’s advisor, the headman and the chief) started shaking hands. This had not been done during our prior meetings with chiefs, so, unsure what to do, I decided to follow Ramudingane’s lead. I too shook the advisor’s hand, then the headman’s. As I moved my extended hand from the headman to the chief, the headman leapt in between us, hurled himself on to the floor, and demonstrated what I was to do.

Ramudingane started to protest on my behalf (I had asked him about this form of greeting on my first day here, and he said it was only expected of Venda women), but I was on the floor before the words fully formed in his mouth. I couldn’t believe I was finally doing it! I was on the floor just like the Venda women I’d seen on television. Except I was all teeth. I couldn’t wipe the humongous grin off my face. At least I wasn’t giggling, which would not have come as a surprise because its not uncommon for me to giggle at the most inopportune times.


Re-enacting the greeting; I hope I did a better job than this with the chief!

(Something that has had me giggling for days now though is a chat I had with Ramudingane on our way back from one of the villages. I was asking him about the traditional attire of Venda women. He said if I was interested in getting something he would go with me into town to shop around. I told him I had seen some outfits through a shop window, and that I’d also seen them being sewn and sold by street vendors. The second those last two words passed my mouth I was sniggering uncontrollably. I know its silly (read childish), but it gets me every time. [For those who don’t get my ‘humour’, the words ‘street vendors’ only started being funny when I was using them here in Venda.] Tee hee)

Back to the long-awaited traditional greeting, I could see on their faces that the chief and the headman really appreciated my effort. I’m sure the advisor did too, but my back was to him so I couldn’t see his face.

The grin on my face was eventually wiped off a few hours later when Ramudingane and I had to abandon our bakkie on our way to another village because the alleged ‘road’ was so bad. We trekked up the steepest hill, in the scorching heat, with me in flipflops, for 46 minutes! Only to find that the village we were headed to only had two homesteads, one of which had two occupants, the other of which nobody lives in anymore.

We learned that this village used to be like any other village, with plenty of homes spread out over a large area. But the impossible roads (that 4×4 enthusiasts would love) and the remoteness of this village had over the years driven all but one family out and in to the surrounding villages. There wasn’t even a sign of other homesteads ever having been there.

The only occupants of this village – a daughter and her elderly mother – made the trek worth it though. We had such a lovely visit with them. And they turned out to be relatives of Ramudingane that he didn’t even know existed!


After the tough trek we had a lovely visit with Ramudingane’s long lost relatives

We’ve managed to visit eight villages in eight days, receiving a warm welcome in each home. Even the people we are clearly disturbing by our unannounced visits have not shown even the slightest hint of annoyance; instead  immediately stopping whatever they are doing to sit and answer our long list of questions. My favourite visits have been with the elderly and the younger generation. We were fortunate in one village to interview two young men in their early twenties, together with their grandparents, in one session.


Interviewing this family was one of the highlights of my week

Oh, and I finally saw Lake Fundudzi! I gasped when I saw it. And I continue to gasp every time I see it. Every time. It’s breathtaking. Breathtaking. (Fellow Seinfeld aficionados will appreciate this description from ‘The Hamptons’/Breathtaking baby episode) Pity my photographs don’t do the lake justice.


A view of Lake Fundudzi from the road to Tshitangani and Sindande villages


A view of Lake Fundudzi from Tshiheni village joins ACHA

Welcome back to the Blog. After a long break, we’ve now become part of the new African Centre for Heritage Activities (ACHA), a not-for-profit organisation that has been set up to promote heritage in general, and Maritime and Underwater Cultural Heritage in particular, in Africa and to develop capacity and infrastructure in the field.

ACHA and its partners are already involved in some exciting projects in South Africa and Mozambique and will use the blog to publish updates on what its up to, discuss various issues and encourage conversations and opinions around heritage and development. There’s also lots of fun stuff to get involved with so keep an eye on the blog, on the ACHA Facebook page and the @ACHAtweets twitter account.

We’re about to start a project in Mozambique so you’ll see some updates on that soon.

Guest Post from Simon Bakker – participant in the SAHRA MUCH Field School 2012

Writing as a recreational diver with no real commercial diving background, being a part of an archaeological team that are working on a wreck just off Dolphin Beach, near Cape Town in South Africa was quite an experience.  Coming from a strictly land based archaeological background, this was an opportunity which I could not ignore.

Maritime archaeology is something which appeals to the inner Indiana Jones in all of us: Wrecks, pirate treasure and the very nature of underwater exploration. These all make for a pretty picture, but in reality strict procedures have to be followed during a wreck excavation, or interpretation. To start with, our team (one of two teams based at Robben Island namely the land team and the dive team) went out to begin setting up base lines for our control network at a wreck we named ‘The Barrel Wreck’ due to the many barrels of various sizes found on and inside it. Due to rough sea conditions we abandoned this plan for the moment, and went to our secondary site, ‘The Cannon Wreck’, where we began the same process.

Measurements were taken, sketches were made and site assessment took place. We continued this for a few days due to the very low visibility of about 1-2m found at ‘The Barrel Wreck’.  Eventually conditions improved and we could finally dive on the main site. Once the base lines were put it, dive plans were made, tasks assigned and the work began in earnest. Many a dive was spent taking measurements between control points so as to get an accurate picture of the site after we upload the data acquired into a program called Site Recorder. Control points had to be placed all over and around the wreck. Detail sketches of key features on the wreck also had to be made, and in strong surge these proved to be quite a challenge.

Sticking to the strict procedures of archaeological practice, under the guidance of two expert conservators, the dive team learnt how to do PH testing of concreted cannons found at the wreck. This was done using a compressed air powered drill and many fancy pieces of equipment. Using power tools underwater was quite an eye opening experience to the group. Core samples were also taken under the watchful eyes of the conservators and the resident crayfish.

Coming back off our long days on the boat and in the water, we returned to Robben Island, where we would receive lectures on Maritime Archaeology, Conservation, Heritage Management and many other interesting fields relating to the maritime landscape.

Working in the maritime environment and doing active archaeology underwater is something which not many people can say they have done, but is something which I hope many more people will be exposed to in the future, not only because of the job satisfaction, but also because of the importance of conserving and managing our maritime heritage all over the world.

NAS Training Update Cape Town Oct/Nov 2011

South Africa’s underwater heritage is a finite resource that belongs to us all, and should be enjoyed and studied by anyone with an interest in it. However, it needs to be managed it in such a way that ensures it will be available for future generations. This means that sites need to be found, recorded, mapped and monitored, and protected from those pesky treasure hunters. With approximately 3 000 known shipwrecks along 3 000kms of coastline, this is quite a mammoth task. And it’s not just shipwrecks; there is maritime-related infrastructure, sacred lakes and a multitude of other forms of underwater heritage that fall under SAHRA’s mandate.

Now, Jon likes to be busy, but as omnipotence is a skill he has yet to master, he needs some help. By providing divers and non-divers who have an interest in their underwater cultural heritage with some basic training, we not only increase awareness of this resource, but also give individuals the knowledge and skills they need to get involved and assist us with successfully managing some of these sites.

Over two weekends (29 October; 5&6 November 2011), SAHRA’s MUCH Unit conducted training for 8 such individuals. Using the curriculum developed by the Nautical Archaeological Society (NAS) in the UK, the participants were introduced to various key concepts in underwater archaeology, including archaeological site types, archaeological dating methods, South African legislation regarding underwater heritage, searching for and then surveying a site, and conservation techniques. They were presented with South African case studies and encouraged to develop their own projects in collaboration with SAHRA. The participants practiced practical surveying skills, on land and underwater, and discovered the necessity of proper planning and team work when working underwater. The ladies also discovered the joys of being unable to talk underwater, as this was the only time that Alex was quiet.

The NAS curriculum is divided into 5 parts, and the modules can be spread out to accommodate even the busiest individuals. This group completed the Introduction to Foreshore and Underwater Archaeology and Part 1 Certificate. The next step is to practice the skills they learned on a real site and create a site map and a site report for the Part 2 qualification.

A big thank you to Rochelle, Monica, Marianne, Feier, Paul, Alex, Sean and Justine for being such an interested, interactive and entertaining group. We look forward to continuing your training and working with you in the future. Last but not least, thank you to Heather for all her help!

Heather, Jon, Rochelle, Alex, Monica, Marianne, Sophie and Sean

Announcement – SAHRA Field School 2012


The South African Heritage Resources Agency will be hosting a Field School in maritime and underwater cultural heritage, better known as underwater archaeology. Together with the Robben Island Museum and Iziko Museums, the Centre for International Heritage Activities and the University of Leiden, the team will be investigating archaeological sites on Robben Island and the “Barrel Wreck” in Table Bay. This is an as-yet unidentified shipwreck which research indicates dates to the mid-nineteenth century.





The course is designed for both divers and non-divers who want to gain experience in Maritime and Underwater Cultural Heritage. You will gain experience in various archaeological activities such as surveying methods, site reconnaissance, recording, drawing, mapping, position fixing, in-situ conservation, lab processing and artefact conservation. You will also attend lectures presented by internationally recognized specialists in heritage management, maritime archaeology, and conservation. Through archaeological investigation and archival research, you will learn about the history and culture of the colonial Cape and assist SAHRA and Robben Island in the management of some of South Africa’s unique heritage resources.

The Field School runs from January 16 – February 10 2012 and the team will be based on Robben Island. Accommodation and catering are provided at no cost to you. The Field School is split into modules to accommodate those of you who can’t be there for the duration.

For more information or to apply, please contact Sophie –