Contact FutureLearn for Support
Skip main navigation
We use cookies to give you a better experience, if that’s ok you can close this message and carry on browsing. For more info read our cookies policy.
We use cookies to give you a better experience. Carry on browsing if you're happy with this, or read our cookies policy for more information.

Skip to 0 minutes and 7 secondsDR.

Skip to 0 minutes and 7 secondsFRASER STURT: So this section is about the practice of maritime archaeology. And it's very hard not to play at some stereotypes and also to admit to a sneaking suspicion in there that I actually really do enjoy some of the things we get to do in terms of diving, working with boats - it's very exciting, I can't hide that. However, it's not the reason why we do it. That is an added benefit for me and the people we work with but reality is the practise of maritime archaeology is about how we answer specific questions. It's our research which drives the technology and skills that we develop.

Skip to 0 minutes and 42 secondsTherefore, there are a whole range of things which we use and deploy that are all specific to answering archaeological questions. This means that we do have lines of research which speak to geophysical investigation and improving our ability to image and survey the sea floor at higher and higher resolutions but also with the ability to detect different things, to pick out what is wood, where is peat, what might be a shipwreck, what might be a submerged world and that is not an easy thing to do. If you talk to my fellow scientists in the National Oceanography Centre, archaeologists are always annoying because we want to know more.

Skip to 1 minute and 20 secondsWe want it at a finer and finer resolution and we want to be able to pick out the structure. Geologists are happy with deeper time and process but we want to be able to find the very small and, what to us, may be very significant changes. So archaeology is very exacting and very demanding. Similarly, one of the big challenges we face is being able to locate ourselves. Simple things we take for granted on land - today, with your phone, you can know where you are anywhere in the world within two or three metres but as soon as you go underwater, GPS signals don't reach there. How do you precisely identify where your shipwreck is and where your samples came from?

Skip to 1 minute and 54 secondsThese aren't small issues. They're not only faced by archaeologists but together, we can work with other scientists to improve our technological capability to do that. Similarly, it's not just about diving. I do spend time working under water, as do my colleagues but it's in relation to, again, targeted questions. So we may be working on an intertidal wreck or we might be working on a very deep-water wreck. George Bass, one of the pioneers of maritime archaeology, once said that actually the least interesting part of his job is the fact that he dived. That was the equivalent to getting in the Land Rover to drive to work. The exciting bit was when he got to the site.

Skip to 2 minutes and 33 secondsAs with any other piece of archaeology, it's what you do there and the material you recover and how that lets you answer questions. And that's what marks us out from salvers or people recovering things from the sea floor because it's the association and how we can stitch together different bits of data to tell that story that's really important. So for us, being able to spend time, methodically, on the seafloor potentially, in the intertidal zone, or even in the laboratory to piece together these little tiny fragmentary clues of the past and create from them an improved understanding of the human story is the biggest challenge.

Skip to 3 minutes and 12 secondsIn the articles that accompany this section, we're going to guide you through the detail of some of the those but again, I would ask you, try not to focus on what looks romantic and think about what questions it lets you answer.

The practice of Maritime Archaeology

In this video we look at what the practice of maritime archaeology entails, and what we get out of it.

In many ways we are very lucky to work in such an evocative environment, using skills that many people choose to develop for fun. However, the most important thing for us is always how the work we do will help to improve our understanding of humanity both in the past and in the present.

Share this video:

This video is from the free online course:

Shipwrecks and Submerged Worlds: Maritime Archaeology

University of Southampton

Course highlights Get a taste of this course before you join:

  • Welcome to Week 1
    Welcome to Week 1

    Welcome to Week 1 of Shipwrecks and Submerged Worlds: Maritime Archaeology with Dr Julian Whitewright, University of Southampton.

  • What is Maritime Archaeology?
    What is Maritime Archaeology?

    Vox pops with staff and students from University of Southampton: What is maritime archaeology? Learners are invited to share their thoughts.

  • Screenshot of the timeline
    The development of a discipline

    An interactive timeline that charts the development of maritime archaeology as a discipline. Contributions from worldwide learners are welcome.

  • Experimental maritime archaeology
    Experimental maritime archaeology

    Why build a replica? Watch Professor Jon Adams explore experimental maritime archaeology on location at Buckler's Hard.

  • Medieval seafaring
    Medieval seafaring

    In this video, Professor Jon Adams explains the techniques by which shipwrights have converted trees into boats suitable for sailing the world.

  • An operating table with bottles and other items on it, underwater.
    Treasure hunting, looting, and the illicit trade in antiquities

    Peter Campbell discusses the complex issues surrounding treasure hunting, looting, and the illicit trade in antiquities, in this article.