Watercraft: New Field, Endangered Resource

By Friel, Ian | Antiquity, March 2004 | Go to article overview
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Watercraft: New Field, Endangered Resource

Friel, Ian, Antiquity

PETER MARSDEN with K. COLLINS, RICHARD HARRISON, J. MALLINSON & WENDELL LEWIS. Sealed by time: the loss and recovery of the Mary Rose (The Archaeology of the Mary Rose Vol. 1). xiv+194 pages, 140 figures, 21 colour illustrations. 2003. Portsmouth: Mary Rose Trust; 0-9544029-0-1 hardback 19.95 [pounds sterling].

SEAN MCGRAIL. Boats of the world from the Stone Age to Medieval times, xvi+480 pages, 271 figures, 12 tables. 2001. Oxford: Oxford University Press; 0-19-814468-7 hardback 130 [pounds sterling].

JAMES D. SPIREK & DELLA A. SCOTT-IRETON (ed.). Submerged cultural resource management: preserving and managing our sunken maritime heritage, xiii+185 pages, 55 figures, 2 tables. 2003. New York (NY): Kluwer Academic/ Plenum; 0-306-47779-3 hardback $85,0-306-47856-0 paperback $45, 0-19-927186-0 40 [pounds sterling].

Maritime archaeology is still a relatively new field, and not always entirely sure what it is. Is it underwater archaeology, pure and simple, or the archaeology of maritime activities, whether found under the waves or under city streets? This reviewer's preference for the latter definition is backed up by the scope of the books reviewed here, which are based on evidence from the sea-bed, the inter-tidal zone, rivers, a field in Suffolk (Sutton Hoo), and many other places. That said, these three books are about some very different aspects of the subject.

Mary Rose

Sealed by time is the handsomely produced first volume of the final report on the excavation and investigation of the Tudor warship Mary Rose. Built in 1510, lost in 1545 and finally raised in 1982, the Mary Rose is a renowned ship and its excavation remains perhaps the most famous underwater archaeological excavation in the world. This is the first of five volumes: the other four will deal with the anatomy of the ship, its armament, life and death aboard, and the conservation of the vessel [see p. 238, below--Ed.]. This first volume is concerned with the history of the ship, the discovery of the wreck in 1836, its modern rediscovery and excavation, the wreck site environment, and the raising of the hull. There are also two chapters that summarise information about the construction of the ship and its contents, containing much information that is published for the first time. There is no doubt that this report is long overdue, but it is, nonetheless, very welcome.

The report recounts the ship's history and includes an 18-page appendix containing summaries (and some transcripts) of documentary information relating to the ship, most taken from the published Letters & Papers of Henry VIII. However, as the Letters & Papers references are themselves often summaries of variable quality, there remains, as Peter Marsden remarks, 'enormous scope' (p. 149) for a future more detailed history of the ship.

The story of the excavation itself is valuable both as archaeological history, and as a detailed description of the organisation of a major underwater archaeological project. Times and technology may have moved on since 1982, but projects on the scale of the Mary Rose remain few and far between, and present and future archaeologists will find it very useful to learn how it was done--even if their own approaches are different, in reading about the excavation, one is also struck by the thought that it would be of great historical interest for someone to record oral history interviews with Mary Rose participants while memories are still fresh and the majority of them are happily still with us.

Even in the context of a long review, it is impossible to adequately summarise the vast range of information in this book. Whether one's field is maritime history, ships, excavation techniques or some other discipline, there is a great deal of new material here that will be discussed for a long time to come. Hampshire County Council and the Heritage Lottery Fund are to be congratulated for their support of this publication, and one looks forward to reading the next four volumes.

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