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date: 25 August 2019

(p. xiii) Preface

(p. xiii) Preface

Inquisitiveness is at the core of human nature. The same can be said for persistence in the face of overcoming boundaries, whether perceived or real. The sea is perhaps the greatest boundary that humankind has looked upon through most of history. This timeless relationship between humanity and the “wine-dark sea” is, therefore, inseparably linked with what it is to be human. It is the lasting physical traces of this effort to overcome the wet element that maritime archaeology attempts to illuminate. With this volume we hope to show the current state of this field, entering its sixth decade, now on firm footing and spreading its sails in all directions.

The Oxford Handbook of Maritime Archaeology coincides with a new period of development in a now confident and maturing field that seeks to expand its horizons into areas for which methods and concepts are only just being addressed. Exemplifying this current stage of advancement are new academic programs in maritime archaeology or related disciplines, an increasing number of academic and professional maritime archaeologists, an expanding scope of research, closer partnerships with sister fields, a growing emphasis on cultural resource management and public education, international conventions and symposia, and preservation of maritime heritage in deep or international waters. Maritime archaeology is now of worldwide scope. The research questions being asked are as varied and as interconnected as the researchers themselves and the following chapters written by the contributors of this volume. Growing out of single-site research, which has formed the basis of our field, the future now rests on synthesis– synthesis of geographically and chronologically diverse archaeological data; synthesis and evolution of concepts; synthesis of archaeological subdisciplines and maritime sciences; synthesis of regional cultural resource management strategies; and a synthesis of public initiatives for the preservation of our maritime cultural heritage. Understand, however, that synthesis does not mean conformity—the very opposite, in (p. xiv) fact: the more questions we ask, the more paths we follow, and the more collaborations we will embrace. As we press into deeper waters, both literally and conceptually, new discoveries will surely conceive new branches, which will follow their own pace of growth and development.

The themes explored in this volume are by no means an all-encompassing review of the field. This handbook was conceived as an overview of the state of the art and science in maritime archaeology, as a benchmark in the development of the field, and as a springboard for future research. However, only through an understanding of the work that has been accomplished can new and innovative techniques and questions be developed. The work that precedes this volume has led to the establishment of maritime archaeology as a field in its own right—and it is on this foundation that we build.

While principally concerned with submerged sites, the field now embraces the full spectrum of past maritime culture, culture oriented toward and governed by its interaction with the water. The term “maritime archaeology” was selected for the title of this volume because it allows for the broadest interpretation of the field, addressing components on either side of the waterline (e.g., shipwrecks to shipyards) and ethnographic components (e.g., maritime landscapes and maritime communities). There are technical methods unique to maritime investigations within the field of archaeology, most notably scuba and marine remote sensing, but these techniques are not employed by all maritime archaeologists and are not the sole hallmark of the discipline. Rather, what makes maritime archaeology largely unique in the field of archaeology is its breadth of study.

Maritime archaeologists engage sites and questions that span human history, as maritime peoples and communities, whether perennial or ephemeral, dynamic or static, are all part of an enduring relationship with the sea that stems from a time before modern humans walked the earth. A lack of regionalism also distinguishes the field. Vessels were often the vectors of cultural interactions, and maritime peoples the de facto ambassadors of cultural and technological diffusion. Either through directed expansion, trade, war, and migration, or through serendipitous means such as exploration and accident, maritime cultures were so constantly in direct and indirect contact with other groups as to undermine the notion of region. The cross-cultural perspective engendered by these interregional and pan-historical analyses is at the heart of effective anthropological and historical scholarship.

Through wide-ranging investigations, maritime archaeology has reached the point where sufficient data have been gathered on so many aspects of the maritime past that anthropological and historical questions can be addressed. The scientific process of hypothesis forming, testing, and revising can begin to address questions of past human culture. This development of data, method, and theory places maritime archaeology squarely within the realm of archaeology as a whole, allowing the communication of ideas between subfields and the advancement of archaeology as a science. The realization of a more holistic archaeology that accounts for life afloat and ashore, trade routes and shipping lanes, the full range of resource procurement (p. xv) strategies, and the cognitive correlates of life in the widest array of environments may be in the not-too-distant future.

In support of this matured, integrated maritime archaeology, the current handbook attempts to embrace the expansive diversity of the field, examining its various contemporary practices and forms, as well as regional approaches and the interdisciplinary nature of maritime archaeology. A wide range of archaeologists, including established authors synthesizing their wide experience and younger scholars drawing on recent research in public, private, and academic environments, have contributed to this volume. Each author speaks from his or her own experience and offers a unique perspective on the field, but all contributors were required to approach their topic from a broad and questioning perspective. Only by critically evaluating the current state of method and theory in maritime archaeology will the field continue to press forward in new and valuable directions. Furthermore, method and theory should be locked in a perpetually stimulating relationship, as the best archaeology pairs theory and practice. Consequently, theory is not segregated in a single section of the volume. Many of the authors include both interpretation and description in a single essay, increasing the usefulness of both.

As maritime archaeology grows in scope and integration, the ability of a single volume to capture all important facets of the discipline decreases. The fervent pace of research has not allowed for all areas, geographic or otherwise, to be represented to the preferred degree. At the same time, the increasing number of projects in areas not previously explored and in the middle-grounds between existing specialties has expanded the scope of the field so far that not every worthwhile topic could be covered in this volume without fear of reducing chapters to encyclopedic entries. In an attempt to circumscribe the scope of this handbook, we have adhered closely to the definition of maritime as “pertaining to the sea.” Inland cultural heritage resources are covered only tangentially. There is no question, however, that such resources are a valid and important aspect of many maritime cultures, and the term “maritime” has often been comfortably applied to cultures operating exclusively on inland waters.

Furthermore, in an attempt to serve as wide a range of sophisticated interested parties as possible, this volume is intended to be not a collection of site-specific essays but rather a book of analytical and philosophical approaches that can be explored, tested, adhered to, or challenged. The focus is on established and emerging topics, regions, and methods that are instructive to the field as a whole. To that end, the handbook is organized into four main sections, prefaced with a retrospective and reflective introduction by George Bass (Part I) and summarized by the forward-looking concluding thoughts of Paula Martin (Part VI). Parts II through V are organized around the processes of maritime archaeology, ships and shipwrecks, maritime culture and life ashore, and maritime archaeology beyond the site.

The first section of the volume—Part II, “The Process”—follows the approaches applied to maritime archaeological projects, beginning with understanding ships, site formation processes, and framing one’s work, through to postprocessing and long-term storage of archaeological data. Emphasizing shipwrecks and submerged (p. xvi) sites, the section describes the process of locating, surveying, excavating, recording, conserving, analyzing, and synthesizing maritime archaeological sites and information. The authors of these essays address both established methods and emerging techniques while offering a critical review of the process of maritime archaeology. The goal of the section is to convey the present state of maritime archaeology and to expand on a set of best practices proposed by authorities in the field that can be applied to a wide range of sites.

Part III, “Ships and Shipwrecks,” traces the regional evolution of ships and provides an international overview of shipwreck studies. In an attempt to address global variation in maritime archaeology, the section focuses both on lesser-studied areas and on traditional core regions of European and American nautical archaeology. The variety of adaptations to the water, which are dependent on technology, culture, and environment, are clearly visible in the wide array of shipwrecks that have been investigated. Each vessel type is unique to its period and region but is also indicative of global trends. The chapters in this section not only describe the vessels of a particular region or period, but trace their development, compare them to other vessels, and address larger questions of human adaptation to the marine environment. While recognizing that even this, the largest section of the volume, cannot be comprehensive, it is our hope that the broad coverage will encourage international and interregional collaborations to address topics of mutual interest.

Part IV, “Maritime Culture and Life Ashore,” expands the scope of maritime archaeology beyond shipwrecks to include coastal sites and inundated terrestrial sites (both historic and prehistoric). These essays provide a wider context for past maritime cultures through a range of discussions. They consider how coastal or formerly coastal sites fit within the larger human maritime adaptation by answering questions pertaining to purpose, location, perception, and community. Maritime archaeology has traditionally been a subject of shipwreck studies, but in recent years the range of sites investigated and the types of research questions asked have grown significantly. Recognizing that the weight of current research remains with shipwreck studies, this section may be seen as a promise of where new (and not so new) fields of research are taking the discipline.

Finally, Part V, “Beyond the Site,” extends the discussion past research proper and into the framework within which maritime archaeology frequently operates. Its main aim is to demonstrate the complex nature of the field as it interacts with government agencies, industry, other academic fields, economic interests, and multivocal publics. The importance of preserving underwater cultural heritage, the challenges faced in the realm of public policy, and the strong impact the public has on the field are among the aspects highlighted. Such issues have come to the forefront with the growth of cultural heritage management throughout the world, and a real-world model of one country’s response to the challenge is presented, in hopes of providing inspiration for those parts of the world just beginning their journey. The pressing need to preserve cultural heritage is spurred on by increasing technological sophistication of commercial entities, whether aimed at salvage or trawling, that (p. xvii) now have the ability to access and disturb sites previously protected through isolation. Fundamental to this section is the belief that archaeology that does not contribute to the public good, while preserving information for posterity, is of little value. Authors in this section clearly explain the current state of affairs and describe approaches to interpretation and protection that have succeeded and failed, as well as propose paths to be examined in the future.

And so, with respect to that which came before, and faith in the promise of what lies ahead, we hope this volume has done justice to the multifaceted art and science that is maritime archaeology. The work of establishing the field in many parts of the world is now done. What challenges us currently is to cast a wider net—geographically, chronologically, and conceptually—and make maritime archaeology, the study of mankind’s long relationship with the sea, relevant to the humans of today. (p. xviii)