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date: 18 August 2019

Conclusion: Future Directions

Abstract and Keywords

This article demonstrates the extent to which underwater and maritime archaeology have developed and expanded over centuries. This article summarizes the study of shipwrecks and wider maritime culture in geographical areas throughout the world. Wrecked vessels reveal the technological achievements of their day. Warships demonstrate developments in aggressive and defensive technologies. Merchant vessels carry evidence of the range of cargoes traded. Underwater archaeology has gained wider acceptance and validity. The development of maritime archaeology targets future research to use resources efficiently. Maritime archaeologists center their work on understanding ships of all periods and all regions, from small vernacular craft to large naval vessels. This is leading to greater appreciation of the subtleties of design, regional variations, and complexity of construction methods. Progress in computing has made it possible to disseminate data. Deepwater archaeology has great potential in the future. Underwater archaeology will spread to more countries.

Keywords: maritime archaeology, maritime culture, technological achievements, naval vessels, construction methods, deepwater archaeology


The chapters in this volume demonstrate the extent to which the subject areas of underwater and maritime archaeology have developed and expanded from the study of shipwrecks and ancient harbors into consideration of the whole maritime cultural landscape, both physical and metaphorical, from prehistory to the twentieth century. The earliest wreck excavated so far is the Uluburun vessel, off the Mediterranean coast of Turkey, dating from the late fourteenth century BCE (Pulak 1998; Pulak 2008), while the location of wrecks from the Second World War has helped to solve mysteries and validate historical accounts (for example, McCarthy 2010; Neyland in this volume). In all periods shipwrecks and other maritime remains are now studied in their wider landscape context (for example, Paddenberg and Hession 2008; Delgado 2009). During the past 50 years, progress has been made not only in diving technology and in underwater archaeological techniques but also, more importantly, in perceptions of the subject and its place in the wider discipline of archaeology. So what might the next 50 years bring?

The assembly of these articles represents much thought and effort. The result is more than the sum of the individual parts and will be of great use to future scholars. The overall effect of 47 chapters summarizing the study of shipwrecks and wider maritime culture in geographical areas throughout the world, for example, is to reinforce the claim that maritime archaeology has much to contribute (p. 1086) to the wider history and archaeology of the regions concerned. Wrecked vessels reveal the technological achievements of their day. Warships demonstrate developments in aggressive and defensive technologies. Merchant vessels carry evidence of the range of cargoes traded. All this adds to our understanding of past worlds and their networks of exchange and interaction.

While we have some way to go in convincing all terrestrial archaeologists and historians of the importance of maritime perspectives, seafaring is fundamental to human history. “Without seafarers, there would have been no Minoan civilization. Without river craft the great Egyptian pyramids could not have been built…. Without great merchant vessels, neither Greece nor Rome … could have prospered” (Bass 2005: 10). And the relevance and contribution of maritime archaeology to archaeology and history more generally goes well beyond the immediate maritime sphere (Domingues in this volume). Trade networks link urban areas with hinterlands. Shipwreck finds can contribute to wider historical knowledge and may lead historians to dig deeper than before among their documentary sources. The discovery of Spanish Armada shipwrecks, for example, stimulated renewed archival research that challenged many accepted theories, often based on secondary or selected published primary sources. Reinforced by the evidence produced by the wrecks, these new discoveries overturned many aspects of the previously accepted discourse from both Spanish and English perspectives (for example, Martin and Parker 1988). The study of American Civil War blockade-runners has similarly helped to redefine the wider historical picture and to emphasize the international dimension of what may appear at first to be a local phenomenon (for example, Block 2007; Graham 2006).

Archaeologists like to create typologies and put their finds into categories. When these typologies are applied to discrete archaeological assemblages, which are often closely dated, such as shipwrecks, these can challenge more theoretical constructs. Life is not so easily compartmentalized. In the early days of the archaeological study of vessel hulls, there was perceived to be a clear regional and chronological distinction between those built “frame-first” and those built “skeleton-first.” George Bass (1972: 10) wrote, “Only now are we beginning to see where and when the revolutionary change from Greco-Roman methods of hull-first construction to our modern method of skeleton-first construction took place.” The picture today is far more complex, with subtleties and variations within, and overlaps between, these two “traditions” both chronologically and regionally, as well as in their underlying design “philosophies” (see, for example, Hocker, Pomey, and Rieth in this volume). Who knows what may be found in the future and what current theories may be overturned. Objects from shipwrecks are also useful in testing and refining archaeological typologies, and sometimes conflict with sequences built on less secure terrestrial contexts. This has not always been appreciated by land archaeologists, and there is more work to be done in this field for every period and every type of find—particularly, perhaps, in interacting with the wider study of material culture in order to prove the value of shipwrecks and other sealed underwater contexts in helping to refine dating sequences.

(p. 1087) Scope

Underwater archaeology was carried out sporadically in the nineteenth and early twentieth century in rivers, lakes, and caves, from Mesoamerican cenotes to Scottish crannogs. Modern shipwreck archaeology began with classical shipwrecks in the Mediterranean but has expanded in both geographical and chronological scope and the range of site types. Prehistoric (Bronze Age) wrecks have been found off the coast of Turkey, Greece, Italy, and other places in the Mediterranean. The recent find of Paleolithic axes on Crete demonstrates the use of watercraft at that early date (American School of Classical Studies at Athens). Other Paleolithic tools, as for example in the North Sea, indicate the presence of drowned landscapes (Firth in this volume). The coast is where some of the earliest settlement evidence is being found (for example, see Blue in this volume). In Australia, “some of the earliest terrestrial archaeological sites associated with Australia’s indigenous peoples have been inundated and now lie beneath the sea” (Staniforth in this volume). Submerged prehistoric landscapes are a field where land archaeologists are now taking underwater archaeology seriously.

In northwestern Europe, early accidental finds included Viking vessels large and small, warships and merchant ships, and later medieval vessels. The five eleventh-century Skuldelev Ships were found near Roskilde, Denmark, in 1957 and recovered in 1962 (Crumlin-Pedersen and Olsen 2002; Olsen and Crumlin-Pedersen 1968), the same year that the Bremen Cog was discovered (Hoffman and Schnall 2003; Lahn 1992). The vessels of the East India Companies and the Spanish Armada attracted much attention, either for their iconic status and historical interest, or for the riches they often carried. Gradually a wider range of vessels have been identified and studied (for an accessible overview, see Delgado 1997). Whereas many early underwater archaeologists, as well as treasure hunters, searched for specific ships lured by the thrill of discovery, it is now more common to thoroughly investigate shipwrecks as they are located, whether intentionally or unintentionally, whatever their date or vessel type. It is also generally accepted that even a partial shipwreck or one in a poor state of preservation can yield useful information. The result is a greater breadth and depth of knowledge; almost every site, whether named or unidentified, large or small, has evidence to offer the inquiring archaeologist.

In some areas of the world maritime contact has been particularly important. In Australia, for example, “until the twentieth century everyone, or their ancestors, and literally every ‘thing’ or artifact that was not made there arrived by sea” (Staniforth in this volume). Many seas, such as the North Sea, the Baltic, the Black Sea, the Red Sea, and the Indian Ocean, as well as the Mediterranean and the Caribbean, served as hubs of trade and contact. For the countries around their edges, the sea was a highway, offering direct and relatively inexpensive routes for carrying goods and people.

The validity of archaeology of the relatively recent past has gained wider acceptance, underwater as on land. While many regard it as unimportant to investigate the material remains of subjects for which we have copious documentary evidence, (p. 1088) documents rarely cover all aspects of any historical process or event. “Although the world wars are far better known than historical events from earlier periods of human history, professional archaeologists have applied archaeological principles and formulated research questions on the ship and aircraft wrecks of these conflicts. Like other research in historical archaeology, such questioning can confirm, complement, or contradict the historical records” (Neyland in this volume).

The ever-increasing breadth of maritime archaeology leads us, however, to the necessity to target future research in order to use our limited resources most effectively. As Van Tilburg (in this volume) has expressed it so cogently, “The Pacific is so large and the potential archaeological resources there so varied that it is immediately important to address the question of directions in research…. What are other major historical themes to which maritime archaeology can make a contribution in the Pacific? What are the gaps in knowledge that can be addressed by this field? Certainly, there is the potential to broaden the focus beyond shipwrecks alone and address indigenous Pacific island resources…. And there is the challenge of understanding the significance of shipwreck sites from island or non-Western perspectives.”

One of our strengths is our internationality. This started early on, as for example with the work of INA in Turkey. Many projects involve collaboration, for instance in Mexico, where “since the beginning, all projects have had a multidisciplinary and multi-institutional approach, including international participation” (Luna Erreguerena in this volume). This is a strength to be built on. The movement of postgraduate students between institutions, countries, even continents, offers great potential for the sharing of ideas, both theoretical and practical, and the growth of networks of people interested in similar topics. In the future this will, we would hope, serve to stimulate higher standards and new fields of research.

Ships and Shipwrecks

Many maritime archaeologists center their work on understanding ships of all periods and all regions, from small vernacular craft to large naval vessels. This is leading to ever greater appreciation of the subtleties of design, of regional variations, and of the complexity of construction methods. There is also a growing willingness to accept that shipbuilding techniques cannot be fitted into simplistic categories. Work on replicas, reconstructions, and “floating hypotheses” is perhaps now being approached with more humility and sensitivity than in the past, as is experimental archaeology more widely (Ravn et al. in this volume). More knowledge derived from whole vessels and partly intact shipwrecks will provide data from which more fragmentary finds of timbers or fittings may be more firmly assigned to dates and types than is the case today. This should lead to a reduced reliance on pictorial or literary evidence as more actual material is found on which (p. 1089) hypotheses can be more firmly based. Hopefully the next 50 years will fill some of the gaps and provide an ever wider pool of data. It is also hoped that vessels will more often be seen not as isolated examples of the technology of their period and region, but within the context of their building and use, and as part of the wider cultural landscape. “The study of a shipwreck is not simply a question of providing a description, however precise it may be, of the discovered remains. Rather, the study endeavors, through the understanding of these remains, to reconstitute the original ship and to interpret it within the framework of a well-defined historical context” (Pomey in this volume).

Recently, interest in ships and boats has extended to the sails and rigging without which the hulls could not have moved anywhere, and aspects such as caulking and ballast (for example, Loewen 2005; Polzer 2008; Sanders 2010), but there is much more research to be done in this area. The next 50 years will almost certainly produce more evidence for the complexities of constructing vessels and using them at sea. This is just one example of how our subject, as it grows, is broadening out in its compass and seeing research topics, such as ships or harbors, increasingly as parts of cultural systems rather than as isolated objects. One urgent area for future work is more ethnographic recording, before fiberglass replaces traditional boatbuilding materials throughout the world. However, in much recent work in this field “boats are addressed as technology rather than as material culture, without recognition of human-object intersubjectivity, or the role they play in producing place, identity, and the social world in maritime communities” (Ransley in this volume). So there is a need not only for more recording, but for more recording of whole communities rather than just the boats they build and use.

As a corollary there is a need for collecting oral histories of maritime communities, despite the problems associated with oral history recording. “On the one hand, they are the voices of tradition; on the other, they are by their very nature partial and subjective” (Ransley in this volume). The formality involved, and the need for clarity of copyright, may also make the voices less natural. Folklore is also problematical, relying much on the agenda of the recorder. “Both oral histories and folklore traditions have a particular value as primary sources, but as a direct result they are ambiguous material to analyze for information on maritime traditions and practices” (Ransley in this volume). Even the definition of a “maritime community” raises questions: “Most coastal communities exploit both marine and terrestrial resources; they are not isolated coastal communities facing only toward the sea” (Ransley in this volume). Raising such questions, however, is to be seen not as a criticism, but as an attempt to help focus future studies.

When Keith Muckelroy (1975, 1978) published his observations on site formation processes, and how ships turned into shipwrecks, he tried to categorize the current information in an attempt to “unscramble” shipwrecks and understand better the complete vessels they once represented (see also Gibbs 2006). Once again, finds have demonstrated that there is perhaps greater variety and complexity than he described—indeed, no two shipwrecks are exactly alike. Even those wrecked in the same event may have reacted to different actions of individuals and different (p. 1090) surface and seabed conditions to produce a different site type. “No two formations are the same, since the complex and interacting variables that constitute the environmental setting, the nature of the ship, and the circumstances of its loss will combine to create a set of attributes unique to each site” (C. Martin in this volume; see also Wachsmann in this volume for different processes operating in deep water). The definition of site formation processes has gradually expanded. “Human activity, particularly salvage, can also be regarded as a formation process (as can archaeological intervention). The deposition of unrelated material by rubbish dumping, constructional work, or the intrusion of a later wreck are other possibilities to be considered” (C. Martin in this volume). It can include evidence such as survivor camps (for example, Clark and de Biran 2010), or bases for salvage expeditions, as well as the effects of environmental changes, for example alterations in sedimentation patterns caused by sea-level change, sand extraction, or intrusive hard engineering.

Our understanding of the technology involved in building and working wrecked and abandoned vessels has implications well beyond the history of technology. For example, the way vessels were constructed can help explain how they broke up. One held together by metal bolts may fall apart quicker than one constructed using wooden pegs. At the same time, however, we are increasingly coming to appreciate the wide range of individual human actions and reactions involved both during and after the shipwreck process, and how these can be influenced not just by the individual’s role, status, and personality but by each individual’s wider social and cultural background (for example, Adams 2003).

Legislation and Management

Underwater archaeology and wider work on the maritime cultural landscape will, we hope, spread to more countries. The regional summaries presented in the preceding chapters have provided a snapshot of what has been achieved so far, and the level of protection provided by different states. Some of the chapters have gone further, as, for example, in suggesting an explanation as to why wrecks are found in some areas and not in others (Werz in this volume). In some areas treasure hunters are a major problem:

While appreciation of this rich and finite cultural heritage exists in the region, the one dominant problem, especially for Caribbean shipwrecks, is the perceived commercial value of real and imagined treasure cargoes. The quest for treasure endangers all underwater cultural heritage (UCH) sites in the Caribbean. The actions of commercial salvors are a persistent menace to heritage professionals and the UCH they seek to study, manage, and protect. (Leshikar-Denton in this volume)

A key feature of management of the cultural heritage is data gathering and dissemination. Progress in computing has allowed the development of databases now (p. 1091) generally known in the United Kingdom as Historic Environment Records, many of which are publicly accessible. It is only such systematic and timely record-keeping that can help to inform other national and regional organizations and reduce the risk of conflict with planners and those working with the natural environment. Hand in hand with management there needs to be public outreach, and several papers in this volume, such as those by Runyan, Staniforth, and Cohn and Dennis, describe what has been done in their areas. Many interesting and imaginative ways of interacting with divers and with the wider nondiving public have been devised. Maturity of the discipline has brought maturity to such systems, which are increasingly allowing not only public access but also public interaction. Much has been achieved, but only time will tell how successful some recent schemes have been (for a range of examples, see Jameson and Scott-Ireton 2007; Spirek and Scott-Ireton 2003).

Many of the chapters in this volume discuss what has been achieved in terms of legal protection of the underwater cultural heritage. The chapter on the Caribbean also highlights how fragile such protection systems can be. A change of government, or even simply of prominent members of a governing group, can lead to changes of attitude, of legislation, or of interpretation or implementation of legislation. While such changes can be positive, they more often seem to tend to undo years of patient work by those interested in the preservation of the underwater cultural heritage. However, “despite the many inherent differences worldwide, the last 50 years have seen lots of international dialogue, convergence and integration of which maritime archaeology can profit” (Maarleveld in this volume). Let us hope that the coming into force in 2009 of the UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage heralds an era of improved appreciation, as well as protection, of our underwater cultural heritage.

The Interface between Land and Sea

Ancient harbors have long been a field of interest, especially those within the Mediterranean.

By at least the Early Bronze Age it had become clear to the inhabitants of the Mediterranean region that travel and the transport of merchandise by sea offered several significant advantages over conveyance by land: ships and rafts could carry very heavy weights; under the right conditions the wind provided powerful, sustained propulsion; and the “pathless ways of the sea” required neither maintenance nor permission for passage. (Oleson and Hohlfelder in this volume)

The symbiotic feedback between the economy and technology is particularly marked in the history of harbor construction, and the study of harbors has now developed into the study of the hinterland that harbors served, the vessels that used them, and how changes were made in reaction to climatic or sea-level (p. 1092) changes, to changing political and mercantile networks, and to developments in vessel technology. Interest has spread not only to harbors in other regions and of all periods, but to shipbuilding sites, dockyards, and the infrastructure associated with maritime activities. “Shipyards are interesting because they are intimately linked with both the ships that they built and the cultures that built them” (Moser in this volume). Abandoned vessels are also increasingly appreciated as a useful source of information (Richards in this volume).

But harbors are not the only features to be found along the world’s coastlines. For long the coast and intertidal zone had fallen into a gap, both administrative and perceptual, between land and underwater archaeology. Worse, modern archaeologists, seeing the world from a land-based perspective, reinforced by the predominance of land and air travel, tend to perceive coasts as boundaries. It is prehistorians who are leading a change of mind-set. “The role of coastlines has been seriously underestimated in the conventional view of human development,” and from the terrestrial viewpoint, “coastlines are seen literally as margins on the edge of continental land masses, rather than as centers of innovation and pathways for movement and communication” (Bailey 2004: 3, 5; see also Firth in this volume). It is heartening to see this argument for the sea as a unifying factor applied to an area as large as the Pacific Ocean (Van Tilburg in this volume).

Within our field, it is now being realized that “the coast links terrestrial and underwater archaeology into a unified maritime archaeology” (Ford in this volume). Wherever serious survey work has been done, a large number and variety of features have been found, some of great significance to the wider archaeological world. Even rapid archaeological assessments of the coastal zone, when carried out sympathetically, can yield a range of new features, sometimes in the most unlikely surroundings (Paddenberg and Hession 2008). Adding a foreshore element to a wider archaeological survey program can produce significant results and serve to open the eyes of the rest of the archaeological community (O’Sullivan 2001). Serious systematic fieldwork can do even more, setting a standard for others to emulate (McErlean, McConkey, and Forsythe 2002). Beyond the basic archaeological survey that is needed to fill long-standing gaps in the record and to provide a basis for analytical work, there has also been a growth in the study of spiritual and cultural aspects of the coast. Place-name evidence, folklore, and evidence for ritual can all inform us about humankind’s use of and attitude toward the coast and particular features on that coast (Westerdahl in this volume).


Remote-sensing techniques have improved tremendously in the last 20 years, as has the computing power necessary to convert the resultant data into a format that can be effectively manipulated and visualized. “Although acoustic systems will never (p. 1093) completely replace diver surveys, they do provide baseline data at rates far exceeding those of experienced dive teams” (Quinn in this volume). Recent years have witnessed remarkable “advances in sonar technology, positioning systems, and computer power that have revolutionized the imaging of the seafloor” (Quinn in this volume). The acquisition, processing, and visualization of such data will continue to progress. “Perhaps most importantly for maritime archaeology, every new phase of development in sonar technology brings an increase in sensors’ resolving capability and therefore an ability to image smaller and smaller artifacts in greater detail” (Quinn in this volume).

Gearhart, writing about the use of magnetic data, said his chapter is intended to encourage “fresh scientific perspectives on the topic while promoting the complementary goals of increased objectivity in marine magnetic interpretation and improved protection of historic shipwrecks.” Both Gearhart’s and Quinn’s chapters offer realistic ideas about what can and cannot be achieved with current technology. This is an area in which the future may see twofold development. First, there will almost certainly be developments in the equipment available, its range, and the detailed information it can provide. This is closely linked to developments in computing speed and visualization techniques. Second, there may be changes in archaeologists’ understanding of the right equipment (or the right combinations of equipment) for the task. Recently much work has been done on how combining information from two different pieces of equipment can help speed up the differentiation between archaeological sites and natural anomalies (for example, Plets et al. 2009; Sakellariou et al. 2007). There is also the potential, now being experimented with, for the extraction of potentially useful archaeological information from existing datasets acquired for other purposes, such as seabed surveys commissioned by the oil industry. The future is open-ended, provided archaeologists and geophysicists continue to interact constructively.

A field with great potential for future development is deepwater archaeology. Although more costly than conventional archaeological projects, deepwater projects carry benefits such as the round-the-clock potential of remote operations (Wachsmann in this volume). Many see the primary objectives of this area of research to be focused on locating and documenting sites, using the information retrieved to help plot trade routes and identify the types of vessels and cargoes visible on the seabed. Others wish to excavate on deepwater sites. The latter should ensure that their enthusiasm for using high-tech equipment does not cloud their judgment as to the quality of work achievable. On the other hand, as Wachsmann has pointed out (in this volume), “technology does not develop on its own: it is purpose-driven and can be improved upon only by initiating actual work.” Excavation, however, must always be approached with humility.

While cameras, ROVs, and equipment such as robot arms are becoming both more skillful and less expensive, archaeology is ultimately a subjective discipline, traditionally carried out close-up by individuals. Although remotely operated technology can now provide better images and handle finds with amazing gentleness, we perhaps need a debate as to whether such technology can ever fully replace the (p. 1094) diver. A few enthusiasts may suggest that remote-sensing and remotely controlled survey and excavation are the only way forward, to the extent that eventually direct human interaction with underwater sites would be unnecessary. At the same time, a traditional archaeologist when excavating relies on his senses of sight, touch, and even smell; a human being processes information in her brain as she uncovers it with delicate fingers. As Underwood explains (in this volume), “The most sensitive excavation tool is the hand, preferably one without a glove…. Some excavators, even in cold water, will cut off the fingertip of at least one finger of their glove to provide additional sensitivity. When excavating delicate material it is often necessary to use a single finger to painstakingly separate an artifact from its surrounding sediment.” Excavation using an ROV’s robot arm may involve the operator’s sense of sight, but not yet that of touch. Perhaps the time is right for a more open discussion about the potential, applications, and limitations of deepwater archaeology.

Progress has also been made in fields beyond the scope of this volume, such as scientific dating methods, perhaps particularly dendrochronology. There has been both an increase in material from which data can be derived, and developments in techniques to source timber ever more specifically (for example, Daly 2007, 2009). The corrosion potential of metals can be more accurately assessed, and some stabilization can be achieved in situ (for example, MacLeod 2006). Modern X-rays and other forms of imaging mean that the interior of concretions can be visualized in much more detail (for example, Troalen et al. 2010). Ways of assessing, conserving, and presenting waterlogged wood have made progress, though one suspects that the conservation of composite objects will never be easy (Hamilton and Smith in this volume).

Recording and Dissemination

Ravn and his colleagues (in this volume) have demonstrated how compiling data for the purposes of “reconstruction” has moved from 1:1 recording on polythene sheets to 3-D digital recording. This is not only faster and more accurate but can also be interrogated more easily. No doubt such technology will develop further in the future. Another field in which technology is advancing is that of computer simulation, virtual reality, and similar technologies. Sanders (in this volume) provides a clear and thorough explanation of what virtual reality can achieve and offers a wide range of examples of how it has helped on an array of sites. He also explains clearly its potential for obtaining further information from sites excavated decades ago: “Re-creations of cultural heritage sites and artifacts can be globally enjoyed in classrooms, museums, excavations, research labs, and living rooms, much the way photography eventually infiltrated those same domains in the late nineteenth century, after decades of wrestling with cumbersome equipment, untrustworthy results, and resistance from the history profession (which utilized some of the same arguments levied (p. 1095) against the use of virtual reality by archaeologists).” But this does not mean that all the other aspects of maritime archaeology described in these chapters will not in their own way move forward toward more detail and better means of interpreting that detail, and of providing more context on which better reconstructions can be based.

Computer modeling, simulation, and virtual reality visualizations have become an important part of the maritime archaeologist’s interpretive skill set. The increasing use of interactive 3D computer graphics technologies for the study, teaching, and dissemination of maritime archaeology information follows their acceptance by the broader discipline of virtual heritage. The advantages for understanding history and its remains interactively and in three dimensions are that they provide not only new research tools but also the ability to ask new types of questions. These should inevitably lead to new insight into how the past actually happened.

A thoughtful article by McCarthy on maritime museums (in this volume), however, raises several interesting questions, and counteracts some of the arguments in the discussion on virtual archaeology. For example, he supports the view that “small, idiosyncratic museums are an essential counterpoint to neat, highly organized exhibitions with prescribed spaces between cabinets, uniform font sizes, set text-to-object ratios, and the other manifestations of ‘best practice.’ Experience shows that the public enjoy their clutter and the strange, colorful characters in attendance. As a result museums, their staff, and their volunteers need be encouraged to maintain their nonconformist individuality.”

Is Archaeology a Science?

As scientific techniques have progressed, and as we criticize our predecessors for lack of objectivity, there have been those who seek to define archaeology within the sciences rather than the humanities. But total objectivity is impossible. We are fallible humans and cannot totally rid ourselves of our own individual cultural baggage. And, indeed, total objectivity can be sterile. In the words of Charles Darwin in 1861 (quoted in Gould 1992: 393), “About thirty years ago there was much talk that geologists ought only to observe and not theorize; and I well remember someone saying that at this rate a man might as well go into a gravel-pit and count the pebbles and describe the colors. How odd it is that anyone should not see that all observation must be for or against some view to be of any service.” Even objective scientific data has to be interpreted: “The success of marine remote-sensing surveys is largely dependent upon the experience of the surveyors and interpreters” (Quinn in this volume).

Human beings in the past are what archaeology is about, and human beings are not always predictable; “we have to assume that the people whose dwelling-places, (p. 1096) artifacts, lives even, we are dealing with were rational, integrated, sane and sensible human beings. Then we look at our own contemporaries and wonder how this belief can possibly be sustained” (Flanagan 1998: 5). Or in the words of Flinders Petrie (1904: 177–178), writing over 100 years ago: “The work of the archaeologist is to save lives; to go to some senseless mound of earth, some hidden cemetery, and thence bring into the comradeship of man some portions of the lives of this sculptor, of that artist, of the other scribe; to make their labour familiar to us as a friend; to resuscitate them again, and make them live in the thought … of living men and women.” We need imagination, enthusiasm, rigor, and humility to do our work, along with an armory of scientific techniques to support them.


“Archaeology is a for-knowledge activity. Treasure-hunting is a for-profit activity. To try to reconcile these two interests is impossible” (Castro 2009). One of the most important chapters in this volume is that on ethics. Thijs Maarleveld explains with great clarity the problems that arise and the subtle shades of argument on both sides of the debate. There is the out-and-out treasure hunter, the treasure hunter who claims to be doing as good a job as an archaeologist but at no cost to the public purse; there are those who “present themselves as true saviors of heritage that would otherwise have been looted or destroyed”; and there are those who encourage archaeologists to work with commercial salvors for the benefit of the archaeological record. But this last argument has no validity, and none of its proponents has produced published results that could confound those who feel that such archaeologists have compromised their integrity. “If one appropriates or alienates heritage material or helps others to do so, one cannot be considered part of the heritage profession, irrespective of professional training. That is not negotiable” (Maarleveld in this volume). He also makes a thought-provoking comparison between archival research, which can be selective because it is nondestructive and can be repeated, and archaeological excavation, which has to be thorough because it cannot be repeated. He is clear about the way some treasure hunters work. “A closer look at the economics often reveals that ‘treasure hunt’ is no more than a decoy to attract money from investors, who will not see a return…. Sites are simply sacrificed in a ‘laundering’ process.”

Maarleveld asks what it is that defines a professional archaeologist: is it educational qualifications, or is it a code of ethics? He provides a considered response by stating that it is “certainly true that a level of knowledge, a level of skills, and the ability to think analytically are very helpful, even essential. But … these skills are of no avail if they are used contrary to the central principles of the profession.”

The debate about the ethics of treasure hunting and whether or not such people are capable of achieving archaeological standards of survey and excavation, and subsequently of publication, is perhaps the area in which least progress has been (p. 1097) made in the past 50 years. Archaeologists still need to convince the rest of the world that archaeology is much more than simply systems of searching and recording, and much more than the sum of the individual objects identified. There is a long way to go before we can hope to win the battle. Søreide (in this volume) has observed that even though many treasure-hunting companies state that the goal for their exploration is protecting the cultural heritage found in shipwrecks, their “practical standard for commercial and academic coordination on shipwreck exploration and recovery” looks like archaeology but fails in many important ways, since the focus is not on archaeology but on recovery.

McCarthy (in this volume) is honest about the dichotomy faced by museums. As the gulf between archaeologists and treasure-hunters widened in the late twentieth century, the maritime museum, as the chief recipient of the objects intended for exhibition, found itself in a quandary.

Financial administrators were especially vexed when offered exciting exhibitions and “blockbuster” draws showing “treasure” or objects sometimes wrested from iconic ships in immense depth. “Financial ambitions were stymied, … primarily because the proposed exhibits contained objects raised in a nonarchaeological fashion. From that time on, maritime museums were forced to line up across the same deep divide between archaeologist and salvor. Notwithstanding the pros and cons of that argument, an opportunity to show both sides of the argument to the hundreds of thousands who would have poured onto the exhibition floor to view the treasures and iconic objects was lost” (McCarthy in this volume).


Our main weapon against treasure hunters is good and timely publication, supported by well-informed public outreach presented in a compelling way. Flinders Petrie (1904: 48) described archaeological recording as “the absolute dividing line between plundering and scientific work, between a dealer and a scholar.” What he meant was not just basic recording, but interpretation, as is made clear later in the same paragraph: “The unpardonable crime in archaeology is destroying evidence which can never be recovered; and every discovery does destroy evidence unless it is intelligently recorded. Our museums are ghastly charnel-houses of murdered evidence.” I have heard otherwise respectable archaeologists argue that an object is doing more good cherished by a collector than languishing in a museum storeroom. Once the collector dies, however, or sells the object, it becomes inaccessible, and often untraceable, while the object in the museum is accessible for scholarly research indefinitely.

Nor is it acceptable to argue that print publication is becoming obsolete and that electronic media are the future. Print publication will not die, and at the (p. 1098) moment it is still the safest medium in which to archive material. Film did not destroy the theater, sound recording did not stop live musical performance, and television did not supersede radio. Indeed, advances in technology have made printing less expensive and more flexible, making archaeological publication, with its need for numerous illustrations, easier and less expensive to achieve.

If you look at the chapters in this volume on maritime archaeology by authors from many regions of the world, and then look at their bibliographies, you will see clear evidence that in most areas publication lags behind fieldwork, sometimes by many years. But it gives hope for the future that some of this backlog has recently been published: The Skuldelev Ships 1: Topography, Archaeology, History, Conservation and Display (Crumlin-Pedersen and Olsen 2002), for example, and Serçe Limanı: An Eleventh-Century Shipwreck, Volume 1: The Ship and Its Anchorage, Crew and Passengers (Bass et al. 2004). The first volume of the report on the raising and excavation of Vasa was published in 2006 (Cederlund and Hocker), and more volumes may have appeared by the time you are reading this. Four of the planned five volumes on the excavation and conservation of Mary Rose have been published (Jones 2003; Marsden 2003, 2009; Gardiner 2005). The five-volume report on the Red Bay wrecks was published in 2007 (Grenier, Bernier, and Stevens). Furthermore, 2009 saw the second volume of Serçe Limanı, on the glass assemblage (Bass et al. 2009). But the backlog is still extensive.

The resolution of all the authors and readers of this volume should be to set an example to others by high-quality and timely publication. In addition, all media should be exploited in order to persuade the wider public of the importance, indeed the excitement, of what we are finding and what it means. We have to do this to counter the publicity afforded to the more “exciting” message of commercial exploitation. But we must achieve outreach without compromising standards. It is too easy for the publicity-seeking archaeologist to “bend” the evidence slightly to satisfy the media’s desire for a good story. By taking a bit more time and effort, however, we can produce a better story from the fuller and more reliable material we have, and we should try our best to sell the media the “true” story. The problem lies not with the general public, but with the media’s fixed and narrow ideas of what will interest that public. “We should not be afraid to love what we do while simultaneously demanding that more work is done, more money spent, and more attention given by industry, government and the public alike” (Flatman 2009: 78). We must try our best, and keep on trying. If we can demonstrate to the public as much enthusiasm about what we are doing as treasure hunters can, then perhaps we will have better success in getting our arguments across.

“The investigation of ancient harbors will continue to enrich our appreciation of the maritime world of antiquity and the role the sea played in the life and times of the ancient Mediterranean civilizations” (Oleson and Hohlfelder in this volume). These words could be applied to every topic and every period covered in this book. The more you look, the more you find, and the more subtle and complex and interactive you find things to be. Existing typologies almost always prove too simplistic. (p. 1099) The study of people’s interaction with the sea still has a long way to go, and exciting discoveries still await us. Like the sea, the opportunities and the challenges for maritime archaeology are boundless.


I am very grateful to George Bass, Lucy Blue, and Colin Martin for constructive comments on a draft of this chapter, and to the editors, who were a pleasure to work with.


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