Mensun Bound

Mensun Bound (born 1953) is a British maritime archaeologist born in Port Stanley, Falkland Islands. He is best known for directing the excavation of the Etruscan 6th-century BC shipwreck off Giglio Island, Italy,[1] the oldest known shipwreck of the Archaic era, and the Hoi An Cargo which revolutionized understanding of Vietnam’s art-historical Golden Age.

Mensun Bound
Academic background
Alma materFairleigh Dickinson University and Rutgers University
Academic work
DisciplineUnderwater archaeology
InstitutionsOxford University

In recent years, Bound has become more involved in deep-ocean archaeology. In 2014–15, he led a search for the Imperial German East Asia Squadron, sunk during the Battle of the Falkland Islands in 1914, and since then in AUV and ROV surveys in depths up to 6000 m. He eventually located the squadron's flagship, SMS Scharnhorst, in December 2019, 105 years after her sinking.[2]

Most recently, Bound was in Antarctica as Director of Exploration for the Weddell Sea Expedition 2019, tasked with finding Ernest Shackleton's ship, Endurance, which sank under the ice in 1915.

Early life and education

Mensun Bound was born in Stanley, Falkland Islands. He is a fifth-generation Islander whose great-great grandfather arrived with the first colonists in the 1840s. Bound’s early education was in the Falkland Islands and Montevideo, Uruguay. After high school, he worked at sea on the steam ship Darwin. In 1972, he received a scholarship from the Leopold Schepp Foundation to attend Fairleigh Dickinson University, from where he graduated Summa Cum Laude in Ancient History. Whilst undertaking a further degree in Classical Art and Archaeology at Rutgers University, he was a research assistant in Greek Pottery at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. In 1976 he was awarded a Commonwealth scholarship to Lincoln College, Oxford University, to study classical archaeology. In 1985, he was given a Junior Research Fellowship at St Catherine’s College, Oxford University. At the same time, under the Chairmanship of Alan Bullock, he was appointed Director of Oxford University MARE, the first academic maritime archaeological unit in England. In 1994, he became the Triton Fellow in Maritime Archaeology at St. Peter’s College, Oxford. He retired from academic life in 2013 to pursue his interest in deep-ocean archaeology.

Early archaeological experience

Bound’s student experience as an archaeologist was on land, where he worked on Roman villa sites outside Rome and various sites in the English Midlands. Bound’s underwater archaeological career began in 1979 when he worked for George Bass of the Institute of Nautical Archaeology in Texas on sites off the coast of Turkey. This was followed by the Madrague de Giens shipwreck off the South of France and the Mary Rose in England.

Principal excavations and surveys

The following are some of the surveys and excavations directed by Bound:

  1. The Giglio wreck. 1981–86. Island of Giglio. Greek or Etruscan wreck from 600 BC at 50 m in Campese Bay, Island of Giglio,[3] discovered in the early 1960’a by British diver, Reg Vallintine. Cargo of Greek and Etruscan painted figure-ware pottery; Etruscan bucchero finewares; Etruscan, Greek and Punic amphorae; jars containing pitch, olives and olive oil; lead and copper ingots; writing plaques; musical pipes;[4] decorative woodwork; bronze helmets; arrowheads; amber, etc.[5] The ship itself was of ‘sewn’ construction. The material occupies the entire top floor of the National Underwater Archaeological Museum at Porto Santo Stefano.
  2. Survey of Punic port, Marsala, Sicily. 1982–83. Co-directed with Professor Giocchino Falsone of Palermo University. Finds consisted mainly of amphorae of Punic and Roman origin, now on display or in storage at the Antiquario, Marsala.
  3. Survey of reported wreck off the island of Giannutri, Tuscany. 1983. The ‘wreck’ was found to be an anchorage where sheltering ships discarded their refuse. Amphora and broken tableware of Roman origin covering some 300 years. Material in storage with the Superintendency of Archaeology for Tuscany.
  4. Survey of Roman wreck in 60m off Punta Fenaio, Island of Giglio. 1983. Ship contained Tubi Fitilli and amphorae of North African origin. Material in storage with the Superintendency of Archaeology for Tuscany.
  5. Survey of deep-water 6th-century Etruscan wreck off Galbucina Island of Giglio. 1983. Etruscan and Punic amphorae. Material in storage with the Superintendency of Archaeology for Tuscany.
  6. Falkland Islands. 1983–84. Survey of hulked 19th- and 20th-century sailing ships.
  7. Roman wreck. Punto Diavolo, Island of Montecristo. 1985–87. Dispersed wreck at 60–75m containing type Pelichét 47 Roma amphorae. Material in storage with the Superintendency of Archaeology for Tuscany.
  8. Punta Gabiannara, Island of Giglio. 1986. Survey and recovery of Roman wreck remains. Material in storage at Superintendency of Archaeology for Tuscany.
  9. Datillo wreck, Island of Panarea, Lipari Archipelago, Aeolian Islands. 1986–89. 4th-century BC. Black-glaze fineware (lamps, plates, dishes, bowl, cups) located in a submerged live volcano.[6] Material on exhibition in the Museum of Lipari.
  10. Survey of 1st-century AD Roman wreck beside the Formiche Rocks, island of Panarea, Aeolian Islands. 1987. Redware and Roman amphorae. Material in storage at the Museum of Lipari.
  11. Zakynthos, Greece. 1990–92. Co-directed with Katerina Dellaporta. Survey and excavation of wreck from Venetian period. A part of the cargo was hazelnuts. Material in storage at Ephoria of Underwater Antiquities, Athens.
  12. Island of Gorgona, Tyrrhenian Sea, Italy. 1990–92. Survey of Byzantine-period wreck off Italian prison island.
  13. HMS Endymion, Turks and Caicos Islands. 1992. Survey of wreck for National Museum of Turks and Caicos.
  14. Gibraltar. 1992–93. 1995. Survey of cannon site in front of port. Conducted for the Museum of Gibraltar.
  15. Rhyl, Wales. 1992–93. Survey of hulked 19th-century sailing ships.
  16. Salvador. River Plate, Uruguay. Early 19th-century ammunition ship. Work ceased when site was found to contain a large quantity of human remains. Was in collaboration with the Uruguay Government’s Department of Patrimony.
  17. HMS Agamemnon. Maldonado Bay, Uruguay. 1993. 1997–98. Lord Nelson’s first major command; fought in Nelson’s column at Battle of Trafalgar, recovered a cannon[7] which, based on its number, has been confirmed as the only securely identifiable gun to have been fired at the Battle of Trafalgar. On display in the Naval museum of Montevideo, Uruguay. Artefact on display at the Museum of Buckler’s Hard where the ship was built.
  18. Mahdia Shipwreck, Tunisia. 1993. 1996. Survey co-directed with Fethi Chelbi of the Inst. Nat. de Patrimoine of Tunisia.[8] 1st century BC Roman wreck with cargo of bronze and marble statues and architectural pieces. Discovered by Greek sponge divers in 1907; probably the most famous wreck from antiquity. Early finds on display at the Bardo Museum, Tunis.
  19. Bound Skerry, Shetland Islands 1993–94. Co-directed with Tim Sharpe. Danish warship Wrangels Palais, lost 1687. Material in storage at Shetland Museum.
  20. Alderney wreck. 1993–94. Co-directed with Mike Bowyer. Elizabethan wreck carrying munitions.[9] Three cannons recovered and variety of Tudor weaponry, pottery and Tudor remains.[10] Material on display in the Alderney Museum.
  21. Hulked Cape Horn sailing ships around Falklands, South Georgia and Patagonia. 1994. General survey. In particular the Jhelum, Charles Cooper and Lady Elizabeth in Port Stanley and the Vicar of Bray at Goose Green.
  22. Straits of Malacca. 1995. Dutch East Indiaman lost in the Battle of Cape Rachado in 1606. Contract excavation conducted for the Government of Malaysia. Weaponry, pottery, silver 8 real coinage. All material in storage or on display in the National Museum of Malaysia.
  23. German ‘pocket’ battleship Admiral Graf Spee, River Plate. 1997. The ship self-destructed following the Battle of the River Plate, 1939. Bound instigated and lead the recovery of a gun from the wreck that is now on display outside the Maritime Museum of Montevideo. In later years, Bound was part of the small team (with A. Echegaray, H. Bado and S. Pronczuk) that raised the range-finder (now on display beside port gates of Montevideo) and the bronze eagle from the stern (now in storage in the Museum of the Cero, Montevideo).[11]
  24. Hoi An, Vietnam. 1997–99. In the South China Sea, off the coast of Da Nang. Deepwater cargo of Vietnamese porcelain. 70–80m, the deepest hands-on excavation there has been and the only time saturation diving techniques have been used in underwater archaeology. Six different Vietnamese museums have major collections from the wreck on permanent display; the main finds on display in the National Museum, Hanoi. In terms of new knowledge, this was Bound’s most important excavation. The work was licensed by Vietnam’s Minister of Culture, and Bound was directly responsible to the Prime Minister.
  25. Cape Verde Islands 1998–2001. Co-advisor with Margaret Rule on survey of three wreck sites around the archipelago.
  26. Fort San Sebastian wreck, island of Mozambique, East Africa. 2001–03. Blue and white Ming porcelain, trade beads and gold. Under license and in collaboration with the Ministry of Culture, Maputo.
  27. Alderney Elizabethan wreck, Channel Islands. 1999–2013. Cargo of munitions from the wars in France.[12] Cannon, swords, muskets, powder flasks, armour: on display or in storage at the Alderney Museum.
  28. Southern Oceans. Led a five-month search in depths of up to 300 meters in the Southern Ocean for Graf von Spee's lost fleet from 1914. In December 2019, it was announced he had located the wreck of SMS Scharnhorst.[2]


Bound has authored or edited over 100 articles and several books on archaeology (Excavating Ships of War (ed.),[13] Lost Ships (Simon & Schuster),[14] The Archaeology of Ships of War,[15] Archeologia Sottomarina alle Isole Eolie,[16] (Pungitopo), Cast Away about Alderney with Jason Monaghan. Books about Bound’s work include The Dragon Sea by F. Pope (Penguin Books)[17] on the South China Sea excavation; The Tarquin’s Ship (Souvenir Press) by A McKee, on the Giglio ship excavation. Also, children’s book The World’s Oldest Shipwreck by D. Thornton tells the story of the Giglio Ship.

Permanent museum displays

Artefacts recovered by Bound are on permanent exhibition in twelve museums around the world. Several prominent museums (including the British Museum: statuette of a rising dragon) hold individual items recovered by Bound.

Special exhibitions

  1. Florence. In 1986, the National Archaeological Museum in Florence opened its new wing with a special exhibition that was devoted entirely to the recently conserved finds from the Giglio wreck.
  2. Tower of London. In 2009, a special exhibition was held at the Tower of London to mark the recovery of Elizabethan artillery from the Alderney wreck. During the course of the summer-long exhibition the conservation of artefacts from the wreck was carried out in front of the public, the first time this has been done with a maritime archaeological excavation.
  3. Oxford. In 2016, there was an exhibition on underwater archaeology at the Ashmolean Museum which featured the artefacts from the Datillo wreck, Panarea.

Other activities and awards

Bound has been (or still is) trustee of several museums, marine archaeological, historic ship preservation or marine wildlife trusts and has been the sole, or principal organiser of four international conferences on maritime archaeology (two-day conference at National Maritime Museum on ‘The Archaeology of Ships of War’; two day conference on ‘Fresh Water Archaeology’, Univ. of Bangor; ‘Maritime Archaeology in Italy’, Inst. Archaeology, London; ‘Metals from the Sea’, Oxford). He is a Fellow of the Explorers Club, New York.

He has lectured widely on maritime archaeology for the British Council, and a range of museums, universities, learned societies, archaeological organisations and cruise ships. Has edited a book series, held Visiting Fellowships (University of North Wales), conducted coursework and been a doctoral examiner. His awards include ‘Diver of the Year, Italy’ 1985, and in 1992 he received the Colin McLeod medallion from the British Sub Aqua Club for ‘Furthering international co-operation in diving’.

Milestones in archaeology

The Hoi An excavation[18] was the deepest and most complex hands-on excavation there has been (80 m) and the only occasion that saturation diving techniques have been used to excavate a wreck. Bound was also the first in maritime archaeology to use ROVs (Giglio excavation) and mixed gas techniques (nitrox during the Giglio excavation and surface-demand heliox systems on later projects). In 1982 Bound was loaned ten DecoBrain dive computers by Divetronic AG of Switzerland to test on the Giglio ship. For three months the computers were tested twice a day to 50m and were found to be totally reliable; the following year the computer was released on the diving market. Both nitrox diving techniques and dive computers have since become standard in underwater archaeology. Bound was also the first to use re-breathers in archaeology (several test-sets from the manufacturers were used on projects in Italy and Greece) before they were made available on the European market; however, following malfunctions and other problems Bound desisted in their use.

The Giglio Ship

In 1961, a diver named Reg Vallintine, who had a dive school on the Island of Giglio off Tuscany, discovered a wreck from 600 BC in 50 meters of water beside a reef in Campese Bay. Between 1982 and 1986, the wreck was excavated by an Oxford University team led by Bound.  Fine wares from the site consisted mainly of Corinthian, Laconian, Ionian and Etruscan fabrics representing a range of shapes.  Some were painted with human figures, animals, florals and mythological motifs.  The storage jars (amphorae) were of Etruscan, Samian, East Greek and Punic-Phoenician origin; some contained pitch, olives and olive oil.  Other finds included amber, lamps, arrowheads, parts of helmets, copper nuggets, iron bars, gaming, bones, musical pipes, a wooden writing plaque, callipers, lead and copper ingots.   Surviving ship’s timber displayed ‘sewn’ joinery techniques.  In 1961 an intact bronze helmet decorated with etched boars and snakes was found on the wreck by a sports diver and taken to Germany; its whereabouts are currently unknown. The entire top floor of the national underwater museum at Porto Santo Stefano is dedicated to the finds from the Giglio ship.

The rescue excavation of the Hoi An Wreck

The Hoi An wreck was a mid-15th century junk that was lost in the South China Sea, 22 kilometres to the west of the Da Nang headland, with a cargo of Vietnamese porcelain that had been made at Cu Dao on the Red River Delta.  The wreck was discovered by fishermen around the early 1990’s.  For several years the site was intensively plundered resulting in pieces turning up on the market all over the world.  The method employed by the looters was to drag a series of hooks across the site with nets behind the catch to dislodge artefacts.

The wreck was discovered by the Vietnamese Authorities following the arrest of two dealers at Da Nang airport who had in their possession suitcases full of pottery from the site. The problem was that the wreck was beyond standard diving depth, but something had to be done quickly to prevent further looting.  Bound’s maritime archaeology unit at Oxford University was contracted to conduct  a rescue excavation of the wreck, with York Archaeological Trust providing conservation services.  Over three seasons the team excavated a third of a million pieces of pottery, far more than expected and enough to fill two large warehouses.  Most of the pottery was repetitive everyday table ware of little artistic value but there were also items of outstanding artistry.  An ‘Evaluation Committee’ of leading Vietnamese archaeologists and art historians selected all the most important pieces for the National Collection in Hanoi and then other museums were invited to select what they wished.  Six museums in Vietnam now host permanent exhibitions of material from the wreck. What was left was put on the market with part of the proceeds being used to pay for the display, curation and study of the selection that went into the National Collection.

The Hoi An excavation (1997–99) was the deepest hands-on excavation there has been.  Involving three large vessels, three deep-ocean tugs, two gun-boats for protection and over 150 people, this was also the most expensive excavation there has been.

Diving was a 24-hour operation working at a maximum dive-table depth of 82 meters. Saturation diving techniques were employed in which divers lived in pressurized modules on the deck and were transported to and from the site in a dive-bell. This is the only time that this advanced method of diving has been used in underwater archaeology. Bound considers this to have been the most important project of his career, however, it is known that following the excavation, looting of the site resumed.

Lord Nelson's Agamemnon

In 1997 Bound led a survey of the frigate HMS Agamemnon (built 1781).  This was Nelson’s first major command, the ship upon which he first fought the French and which, in 1805, was part of his column at Trafalgar. It was also the ship upon which he first met Lady Hamilton.  In 1809, the ship was lost in Maldonado Bay near the mouth of the River Plate.  The main result of the survey was the discovery of a cannon which, because of the number on its breach, was confirmed by the Woolwich Arsenal to be the only cannon in existence that can be proven to have been fired in the Battle of Trafalgar. The cannon was conserved in the Uruguayan Navy Yard and is now on display in the Maritime Museum of Montevideo.

Pocket Battleship Admiral Graf Spee In 1997 Bound conducted the first archaeological survey of the ‘pocket’ battleship Admiral Graf Spee which blew herself up not far from Montevideo following the Battle of the River Plate in December 1939. The wreck was found by dragging an anchor through the water. A sidescan survey showed that the wreck was upright but heeled to starboard and that she was in two parts, the separation occurring where the after turret had exploded during scuttling operations. Following the survey, Bound was given permission by the Uruguayan Navy and Ministry of Culture to recover one of the 5.9-inch guns which is now on display outside the maritime museum in Montevideo. Bound was also part of the small team which in subsequent years, under the leadership of H. Bado and A. Etchegaray, recovered the range finder (now on display in the port of Montevideo) and the bronze stern eagle (now in storage in the Cerro Museum, Montevideo).


Bound’s work has been the focus of many documentaries in England, Italy and the US, including an award-winning, four-part series entitled Lost Ships by the Discovery Channel, which covered the Agamemnon, the Hoi An wreck, the Graf Spee and the Mahdia ship. The BBC has made several documentaries on Bound’s work the most recent being on the recovery, replication and test-firing of an Elizabethan iron cannon from the Alderney wreck. The most recent documentary was on his search in 3000m of water for the lost fleet from the Battle of the Falklands in 1914.


  1. "Mensun Bound - Etruscan Shipwreck & Flute Presentation - Isola del Giglio".
  2. "German WWI wreck Scharnhorst discovered off Falklands". BBC News. 5 December 2019. Retrieved 5 December 2019.
  3. Bound, M.; Vallintine, R. (1983). "A wreck of possible Etruscan origin off Giglio Island". International Journal of Nautical Archaeology. 12 (2): 113–122. doi:10.1111/j.1095-9270.1983.tb00120.x. ISSN 1095-9270.
  4. "Mensun Bound - Etruscan Shipwreck & Flute Presentation - Isola del Giglio".
  5. Nardò, Livio. "Il commercio etrusco arcaico nel Tirreno Settentrionale: l'evidenza archeologica dei relitti navali, dall'Isola del Giglio alla Francia Meridionale". Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  6. Bound, Mensun (1989). "The Dattilo wreck (Panarea, Aeolian Islands): first season report". International Journal of Nautical Archaeology. 18 (3): 203–219. doi:10.1111/j.1095-9270.1989.tb00197.x. ISSN 1095-9270.
  7. "Ghost of Trafalgar Shipwreck with Mensun Bound".
  8. "Galley of the Gods Shipwreck - with Mensun Bound".
  9. "Meet the Excavation Director".
  10. "Queen Elizabeth's Lost Guns".
  11. "German Battleship Last Broadside Shipwreck - Mensun Bound".
  12. "BBC Timewatch Queen Elizabeths Lost Guns".
  13. Excavating Ships of War [International Maritime Archaeology series no.2] by Bound, Mensun [editor]: Anthony Nelson - McLaren Books Ltd., ABA(associate), PBFA.
  14. 9780684852515: Lost Ships - AbeBooks - Mensun Bound: 0684852519.
  15. 9780904614527: Archaeology of Ships of War: International Conference : Selected Papers (International Maritime Archaeology) - AbeBooks: 0904614522.
  16. Archeologia sottomarina alle isole Eolie - Mensun Bound - 2 reviews - Pungitopo - Other - Italiano - Anobii.
  17. Dragon Sea.
  18. Bound, Mensun (2001). "Aspects of the Hoi An Wreck: Dishes, bottles, Statuettes and Chronology". Taoci, Revue Annuelle de la Societe Francaise d'Etude de la Ceramique Orientale, Paris: 95–103.
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