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underwater archaeology

n. the archeology of underwater sites [syn: marine archeology, marine archaeology, underwater archeology]

Underwater archaeology

Underwater archaeology is archaeology practiced underwater. As with all other branches of archaeology, it evolved from its roots in pre-history and in the classical era to include sites from the historical and industrial eras. Its acceptance has been a relatively late development due to the difficulties of accessing and working underwater sites, and because the application of archaeology to underwater sites initially emerged from the skills and tools developed by shipwreck salvagers. As a result, underwater archaeology initially struggled to establish itself as bona fide archaeological research. The situation changed when universities began teaching the subject and when a theoretical and practical base for the sub-discipline was firmly established. Underwater archaeology now has a number of branches including, after it became broadly accepted in the late 1980s, maritime archaeology: the scientifically based study of past human life, behaviours and cultures and their activities in, on, around and (lately) under the sea, estuaries and rivers. This is most often effected using the physical remains found in, around or under salt or fresh water or buried beneath water-logged sediment. In recent years, the study of submerged WWII sites and of submerged aircraft in the form of underwater aviation archaeology have also emerged as bona fide activity.

Though often mistaken as such, underwater archaeology is not restricted to the study of shipwrecks. Changes in sea level because of local seismic events such as the earthquakes that devastated Port Royal and Alexandria or more widespread climatic changes on a continental scale mean that some sites of human occupation that were once on dry land are now submerged. At the end of the last ice age, the North Sea was a great plain, and anthropological material, as well as the remains of animals such as mammoths, are sometimes recovered by trawlers. Also, because human societies have always made use of water, sometimes the remains of structures that these societies built underwater still exist (such as the foundations of crannogs, bridges and harbours) when traces on dry land have been lost. As a result, underwater archaeological sites cover a vast range including: submerged indigenous sites and places where people once lived or visited that have been subsequently covered by water due to rising sea levels; wells, cenotes, wrecks ( shipwrecks; aircraft); the remains of structures created in water (such as crannogs, bridges or harbours); other port-related structures; refuse or debris sites where people disposed of their waste, garbage and other items, such as ships, aircraft, munitions and machinery, by dumping into the water.

Underwater archaeology is often complementary to archaeological research on terrestrial sites because the two are often linked by many and various elements including geographic, social, political, economic and other considerations. As a result, a study of an archaeological landscape can involve a multidisciplinary approach requiring the inclusion of many specialists from a variety of disciplines including prehistory, historical archaeology, maritime archaeology, and anthropology. There are many examples. One is the wreck of the VOC ship Zuytdorp lost in 1711 on the coast of Western Australia, where there remains considerable speculation that some of the crew survived and, after establishing themselves on shore, intermixed with indigenous tribes from the area. The archaeological signature at this site also now extends into the interaction between indigenous people and the European pastoralists who entered the area in the mid-19th century.

Usage examples of "underwater archaeology".

John Broadwater, head of the Underwater Archaeology Section, was most helpful and even provided a team of state archaeologists to come along and dive.

None of the techniques of underwater archaeology had been dreamed of, much less worked out.

Of course the entire field of underwater archaeology was new to him.