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Family Activities18th July 2016

Ship Wrecks, Mast Ponds and Archaeology

While most people probably think of gold treasures, dinosaurs or Indiana Jones when they hear the word ‘archaeology’, families spent the day on 16th July learning about what archaeology meant for a 400-year-old dockyard of the age of sail.

As part of the Festival of Archaeology, we ran some free trails around the mast ponds and workshops about archaeological illustration. Children were able to spot wildlife in the North mast pond (even jellyfish!) and to find out where the South mast pond once was (the Dockyard’s oldest Scheduled Ancient Monument and the earliest known example of a mast pond). Families then had a go at drawing some of the finds that were uncovered about a year ago in archaeological digs.


Trainee archaeological illustrators hard at work documenting mast pond finds.

This was the second of our new programme of events that use the Namur Room – a space in our new free to enter Discovery Centre. Families didn’t need to have tickets to come to the sessions, they just needed to register for a place and turn up on the day. Keep checking our website for more free events like this in the future.

Prior to this event we had also run a maritime archaeology ‘pop-in’ session that shared the history of the Invincible.


Conservators Debbie Harris and Debbie Phipps present objects from the wreck.

It’s an incredible story – Built in 1740-44 in France, it was captured by the British and used as a ‘blueprint’ to build many more successful wooden warships at Chatham Dockyard (like Valiant). One fateful morning Invincible set off from Portsmouth and was stranded on a sand bank. Though it was a slow wreckage, the ‘dye was cast’ and eventually the rigging disappeared below the waves. It wasn’t to be seen again for 200 years, when a local fisherman would pull up some interesting looking timbers in his nets – he’d found one of the most important wrecks of the century.

Families learnt and then had a go at the processes needed to excavate and conserve such an old and delicate shipwreck. These include underwater dredging, cleaning, reconstruction, recording and specialist storage.


Volunteers Ann and Alison help visitors make records for their replica objects.

The Historic Dockyard Chatham holds the representative collection, which means that we have objects from the wreck that present the full range of artefacts that were brought up. Many of the objects are on display in our new Command of the Oceans galleries.

Are you and your family based in Medway and interested in coming to one of our free family activities? Join our mailing list by emailing

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