Maritime Archaeology. It’s all about shipwrecks and treasure, right?!
Well, no, not exactly.
Shipwrecks are critical to our understanding of the human past. But, to limit maritime archaeology to the science of shipwrecks is to limit Amazon.com to selling one title.
Maritime archaeology is – by definition – the scientific study of the material remains of past human activities on, and relationships with, our oceans, seas, interconnected waterways, and adjacent locales. You can quote me on that!
People have depended on our ocean for over 2.5 million years. During that time, sea levels rose, coastal areas inundated, beaches eroded, fish stocks dwindled, and our relationship with the sea changed with it.
Maritime archaeology helps us to understand that changing relationship. In doing so, archaeologists study scuttled ships, buried boats, remnant ports and harbours, as well as sunken cities, submerged settlements, drowned landscapes, and isolated finds—the detritus of past societies.
Although we may focus on material remains, maritime archaeology is not the study of maritime objects for, and of, themselves. Instead, it is for the insight they provide into the people who made or used them. If, for example, we can understand why past people filled their ships with stones and sank them, then we can learn about their approach to strategy and warfare.
Water covers about 71% of the earth’s surface. As such, an unparalleled, largely untouched archaeological record exists on, in, under and around our seas and oceans. It is there for present and future generations to discover, explore, understand, protect, and most of all, enjoy. So, please join me on my journey to learn more about the people who came before.
My Field Notes will be delivered weekly, on a Wednesday.
Image: © Kester Keighley