The Oxford Handbook of Maritime Archaeology

By Anderson, Ross | Archaeology in Oceania, July 2012 | Go to article overview

The Oxford Handbook of Maritime Archaeology


Anderson, Ross, Archaeology in Oceania


The Oxford Handbook of Maritime Archaeology

Edited by A. Catsambis, B. Ford and D. Hamilton

Oxford University Press, New York 2011.

ISBN: 978-0-19-537517-6. Pp. 1203. UKP95.

This part technical handbook, part encyclopaedia aims to capture the breadth of current research in maritime archaeology. It is aimed squarely at students and practitioners, with chapters prepared by selected experts in their fields. As such it is readable to anyone with an interest in the subject of maritime archaeology. Many of the chapters are presented as case studies that demonstrate the application of methodology, techniques and theory to real sites.

As George Bass states in his introduction, 'maritime archaeology is still defining itself' (p. 4), with distinct branches of maritime archaeology (the archaeology of people of maritime cultures), nautical archaeology (the archaeology of ships and watercraft), coastal archaeology (the archaeology of people who lived in coastal zones whether the sites are now above water, underwater, or partly submerged), underwater archaeology (the study of any submerged sites e.g. Mexican cenotes, Neolithic sites in European lakes, riverine and lacustrine sites) and more recently the development of aeronautical archaeology (aircraft being 'ships of the air'). The handbook is an amalgam of all of the above, though naturally with a strong focus on the archaeology of shipwrecks.

The handbook is divided into seven main sections of I) Introduction, II) The Process, III) Ships and Shipwrecks, IV) Maritime Culture and Life Ashore, V) Beyond the Site, VI) Conclusion and VII) Glossary and Appendix.

Part II 'The Process' discusses the definition of ships as 'architecture, function and human space' (Pomey), the formation and interpretation of wreck sites (Martin), interpretation of marine magnetic and acoustic survey data (Quinn, Gearhart), excavation planning and logistics (Underwood), post-excavation reconstruction of ships (Ravn, Bischoff, Englert, Nielsen, Batcharov, Pevny) including virtual reconstruction (Sanders, Monroy, Castro, Furuta) and the role of conservation in maritime archaeology (Hamilton, Wayne Smith).

Chapters in Part III 'Ships and Shipwrecks' are generally regional in scope--both broad and specific--providing coverage of the current status of research in the majority of the Earth's oceans. Contributions include shipping and shipwrecks of the ancient Mediterranean (Polzer, Carlson, Rieth) and Red Sea (Blue), Medieval period shipping (Rose), Post-medieval ships and seafaring in the west (Hocker), South Africa (Boshoff), India (Gaur and Vora), East Asian shipbuilding (Sasaki), Australia (Staniforth), Historic period shipping in the Pacific (Van Tilburg), Steamships (Crisman), Caribbean (Leshikar-Denton), Northern Gulf of Mexico (Borgens), South America (Elkin) and the underwater archaeology of World War I and II (Neyland). Van Tilburg offers the major contribution to the maritime archaeology of Oceania in his chapter 'Historic Period Ships of the Pacific Ocean', which focuses mainly on the period of the Spanish Manila galleons to the 20th century. Van Tilburg discusses the significance of Pacific migration and trade using double-hulled voyaging canoes up to and including the historic period, while being cognisant of the 'invisibility' of traditional watercraft to magnetometers and the difficult logistics of working in such vast expanses of ocean (p. 589).

Part IV 'Maritime Culture and Life Ashore' is recommended to anyone working with coastal archaeology and communities as it exhibits the need for integration of the concept of the 'maritime cultural landscape' with the mainstream archaeological community (p. 751). Contributions on 'The Maritime Cultural Landscape' (Westerdahl), 'Coastal Archaeology' (Ford), 'Submerged Prehistory in the North Sea' (Firth), 'Ancient Harbours in the Mediterranean' (Oleson and Hohlfelder), 'Shipyard Archaeology' (Moser), 'Ship Abandonment' (Richards) and 'Maritime Communities and Traditions' (Ransley) encompass cultural landscapes, archaeology, ethnography, prehistoric submerged landscapes, linguistics, economics and spiritual sites.

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