In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Maritime Archaeology

  • Introduction
  • Reference Works
  • Journals and Conference Proceedings Series
  • Early Works and the Development of the Field
  • Site Formation Processes
  • Survey and Excavation Methods
  • Conservation of Waterlogged Archaeological Materials
  • Inundated Terrestrial Settlements
  • Harbors, Coastal Infrastructure, and Maritime Cultural Landscapes
  • Ship Construction and the Interpretation of Shipwrecks
  • The Mediterranean
  • Northern and Western Europe
  • The Americas
  • Asia, Oceania, and the Western Pacific
  • Ethics, Laws, and Underwater Cultural Heritage Management

Anthropology Maritime Archaeology
Alexis Catsambis, Benjamin Ford, Jessi Halligan
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 April 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766567-0176


Maritime archaeology is an evolving field whose main focus is understanding and interpreting the past relationship between humans and the rivers, lakes, and oceans that have surrounded us throughout our history. Originating in the mid-20th century as the study of individual submerged archaeological sites striving to establish itself within the broader discipline of archaeology, it is now a vibrant and ever-expanding field, exploring not only an expanded range of individual sites—whether they be shipwrecks, aircraft wrecks, or harbor installations—but also submerged or maritime cultural landscapes, along with the broader societies and contexts surrounding these sites. Concurrently, advances in methodology and the use of technologies have increased the accuracy and breadth of data that may be recovered. Deep-water archaeology has emerged as a result of technological developments in recent years, complemented by impressive excavations of nautical or maritime sites on land. The science of conserving and analyzing artifacts, integral to the research and preservation of maritime cultural resources, continues to contribute new avenues supporting their interpretation and stabilization. The field is also expanding geographically and thematically, as international standards and practices develop, and as additional nations strive to preserve and research their maritime cultural heritage. Finding itself dedicated to the study of cultural resources that were originally meant to transcend cultural, political, and geographical boundaries, and that are now often located in areas outside the concrete management authority of state institutions or the view of the public, maritime archaeology presents an exceptional case study for questions that touch human culture at large: Who does it belong to? Who has access to it? How is preservation balanced with progress and development? This overview attempts to provide the reader with a variety of entry points into this fascinating and diverse field, according to one’s interests and perspective. The reader should note, however, that whereas the archaeological study of maritime heritage is a global endeavor conducted in all portions of the world, the field’s most influential works in the English language reflect traditional prejudices and biases in research, publication, and resourcing, and do not yet permit a uniform treatment of all regions and subject matter. In an attempt to counterbalance these limitations, the authors recommend that readers turn to several of the journal and proceedings publications in the section on Journals and Conference Proceedings Series for the broadest and most current coverage of the field.

Reference Works

A series of primary reference works help frame the field of maritime and nautical archaeology, each contributing to a particular area of study or tailored toward a specific audience. Though still useful to the researcher, Bass 2005 is perhaps the most appealing to the general public, given its beautiful color illustrations and succinct accounts of important maritime archaeological sites. Bowens 2009 straddles the line between a technical manual useful in contributing to undergraduate courses on the subject and one aimed at the avocational archaeologist. Equally aimed at both lay interest and the professional, McGrail 2004 puts forward an encyclopedic account of a more specialized subject, that of the development of watercraft through time. Taking a step further toward the encyclopedic format is Delgado 1998, though here one will find entries spanning the realm of maritime and underwater archaeology. The remaining works (Babits and Van Tilburg 1998; Catsambis, et al. 2014; Ford and van Duivenvoorde 2013; Ruppé and Barstad 2002) put forward compilations of chapters, publications, or proceedings in an attempt to diachronically or regionally cover the field at large. Babits and Van Tilburg 1998 and Ford and van Duivenvoorde 2013 accumulate a series of previously published or presented works, while Catsambis, et al. 2014 and Ruppé and Barstad 2002 contain original contributions, each aimed at capturing a theme or region of interest in an attempt to cumulatively serve as a general reference for the field. The latter aims to present maritime archaeology in an international context, while the former is intended to serve as a state-of-the-field reference. The more recent publications also address burgeoning areas of research, such as the archaeology of submerged aircraft or the increasing emphasis placed on the study of maritime cultural landscapes (see also Harbors, Coastal Infrastructure, and Maritime Cultural Landscapes).

  • Babits, Lawrence, and Hans Van Tilburg, eds. 1998. Maritime archaeology: A reader of substantive and theoretical contributions. New York: Plenum.

    Ranging from concise lecture notes to conference presentation papers or published article reprints, this extensive and eclectic compendium of short chapters provides an introduction to field ethics, practices, and the interpretation of data. Sections are accompanied by useful bibliographies, making the whole appeal not only to the novice, but also to experienced professionals.

  • Bass, George, ed. 2005. Beneath the seven seas: Adventures with the Institute of Nautical Archaeology. New York: Thames & Hudson.

    With over four hundred color illustrations and an array of engaging chapters written firsthand by researchers and dedicated to many of the most prominent discoveries in underwater archaeology, this volume is one of the most accessible to a general audience. Chapters are arranged chronologically and regionally, spanning from the Bronze Age to the 20th century.

  • Bowens, Amanda, ed. 2009. Underwater archaeology: The NAS guide to principles and practice. 2d ed. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.

    Developed by the Nautical Archaeology Society, a leading nongovernmental organization dedicated to advancing education in nautical archaeology, this multi-author handbook is directed at academic, professional, or vocational audiences and details archaeological techniques and practices as they apply to the underwater environment. Well-illustrated and accessible, it serves as a core training manual.

  • Catsambis, Alexis, Ben Ford, and Donny L. Hamilton, eds. 2014. The Oxford handbook of maritime archaeology. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    Comprising nearly fifty original and substantive contributions by leading figures of the field, this handbook coherently captures the development and current state of maritime archaeology, coalescing around four themes: the research process, ships and shipwrecks, maritime and nautical culture, and issues of heritage preservation and management. Aimed at the graduate student, academic, or professional reader, each chapter contains numerous citations.

  • Delgado, James P., ed. 1998. Encyclopedia of underwater and maritime archaeology. New Haven, CT: Yale Univ. Press.

    Presented in a unique format for the field, this popular encyclopedia encompasses more than 500 cross-referenced topic headings that address sites, research themes, or topics of study, and technology or techniques associated with maritime and underwater archaeology. Authored by approximately 150 international contributors, most entries are accompanied by reading citations, and several carry useful illustrations.

  • Ford, Ben, and Wendy van Duivenvoorde, eds. 2013. Maritime archaeology. Perspectives from Historical Archaeology and ACUA Proceedings 7. Stone Mountain, GA: Society for Historical Archaeology.

    Available as an eBook, this volume is a compilation of articles penned by a multitude of authors originally published as conference proceedings spanning from the 1970s to the 2000s, addressing sites, techniques, and cultural heritage management. Though international in scope, the primary focus of the work is on North America. Includes several articles that are challenging to locate independently.

  • McGrail, Sean. 2004. Boats of the world. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    An anthology of watercraft from the earliest times for which there is evidence to the late medieval period, when technical documentation becomes increasingly prevalent. Well-illustrated, the volume provides as wide a geographic range as presently available evidence reasonably allows, encompassing archaeological, iconographical, historical, and ethnographical data in the development of narratives describing the evolution of regional watercraft construction traditions.

  • Ruppé, Carol V., and Janet F. Barstad, eds. 2002. International handbook of underwater archaeology. New York: Kluwer Academic/Plenum.

    Primarily partitioned according to geographical regions—North America; Central and South America; Europe and the Mediterranean; and the East, Australia, and Africa—this handbook comprises nearly fifty summaries, each individually authored, addressing the development of maritime archaeology and associated findings within an international context. Additional sections are dedicated to technology, ethics, and heritage management.

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