Culture and heritage

Maritime heritage

Maritime archaeology definition

Studying of people through what they leave behind underwater

Archaeology is an international discipline concerned with studying such relics in conjunction with historical and/or oral sources as well as geological, biological and other scientific evidence.

Archaeological study provides a lively and detailed picture of our history because it is concerned with real things and places. It deals with all people and their everyday lives. It can show how people worked and played, how they ate, the things they used, what they did with them and how they were made.

Australian archaeology consists of three main areas of archaeological study: Aboriginal, historical, and maritime.

Maritime archaeology is sometimes called nautical archaeology, or underwater archaeology. The names refer to the medium in which the sites are predominantly found although shipwrecks out of water are still classified as maritime or nautical in nature.

Maritime archaeological sites include shipwrecks, Aboriginal and historical cultural deposits or structures that are underwater. The sites may represent civilisations that are ancient or modern.

Maritime archaeology is more than excavation

Much of the work of maritime archaeologists involves surveying maritime sites, assessing archaeological potential and in interpreting the sites to the wider community.

While underwater excavation is one of the skills of a professional maritime archaeologist, excavation permanently and irretrievably changes a site. If all shipwrecks were excavated, their aesthetic, recreational and habitat values would be lost. Excavation is usually limited to sites that have the potential to answer important research questions or which are under threat of destruction due to redevelopment proposals.

Page last updated: 31 August 2012