Underwater Archaeology Research Centre

Underwater survey

This project brings together expertise in underwater archaeology, robotics, and image processing to map the submerged 17th century town of Port Royal in Jamaica.

Port Royal, with its low visibility and challenging environment offers the opportunity to test and develop an optical system capable of working under the full range of conditions experienced by underwater archaeologists.

Port Royal dive

Project overview

The project will carry out a high resolution survey of an internationally important partially submerged 17th century settlement site, the Port Royal in Jamaica. 

Using optical mapping and robotic technology, Port Royal will be mapped, for the first time, in three-dimensions with photo-realistic detail.

The project will refine optical mapping tools and techniques for underwater archaeology. A new robust system will help archaeologists in the field to produce detailed, photo-realistic plans and models of submerged sites quickly, economically and to a level of accuracy comparable to that achieved on terrestrial sites.


 Project location

The Port Royal site is located in Kingston Harbour on the southern coast of the island of Jamaica. 

During the 17th century, the town was the English mercantile capital of the New World and, as such, an important and wealthy centre for trade and commerce for the entire West Indies. Known as the 'Wickedest City on Earth', Port Royal was famous for its loose morals, pirates and bullion. But Port Royal's status as an economic centre of the Caribbean came to an end on 7 June 1692, when large portions of the town disappeared beneath the waves due to an earthquake. Although efforts to rebuild the city were made after the earthquake, these were thwarted by a fire in 1703 and then by several hurricanes through the 18th century.

The submerged portion of the site presents the optimal environment to develop a robust set of standards for large scale surveying. It also presents an excellent baseline for image processing as it suffers from challenging visibility (usually around one to three metres) and its dispersed remains are covered in soft sediments and re-deposited coral, conditions which will push the envelope of existing approaches. It is hoped that a good survey will help support the Jamaican application to obtain UNESCO world heritage status for the site.


Funding and collaboration

Funding and
Funded by a United States NOAA Ocean Explorer’s Grant, this project is research collaboration between the University of Michigan (USA), the University of Sydney (Australia) and UARC (UK) building on previous work together developing optical instrumentation and image processing approaches during the Pavlopetri Underwater Archaeology Project and Egadi Islands Project. The Port Royal project will be executed in the field in full collaboration with the Jamaica National Heritage Trust.  

Photogrammetric survey in low visibility in Lime Street, Port Royal

Underwater Archaeology Research Centre

The University of Nottingham
School of Humanities
University of Nottingham
University Park
Nottingham, NG7 2RD

telephone: +44 (0) 115 951 4842