A)What is Maritime Archaeology?

Maritime archaeology is the systematic study of the material remains of people and their activities on, under, near or associated with the sea. A variety of names have been given to studies in this general area, including underwater archaeology, marine archaeology, archaeology under water, nautical archaeology, and coastal archaeology. Archaeological sites can include the remains of ships (shipwrecks), boats (boat finds) or other watercraft, aircraft underwater, as well as cultural material dropped, lost or deliberately deposited in the water.  Other sites or archaeological evidence includes the remains of structures that were built in, on or near the water, such as fishtraps, crannongs, bridges, piers, jetties and wharves. Maritime archaeology can also examine sites or remains that are completely dry, like lighthouses, harbour constructions, shore-based maritime industries (sealing and whaling), shipwreck shelter huts, houses of refuge, and lifesaving stations.


B)‘Ancient IKEA building’ discovered by Italian archaeologists

Italian archaeologists have found the ruins of a 6th-century BC Greek temple-like structure in southern Italy that came with detailed assembly instructions and is being called an “ancient IKEA building”.

Massimo Osanna, head of archaeology at Basilica University, said that the team working at Torre Satriano near Potenza in what was once Magna Graecia had unearthed a sloping roof with red and black decorations, with “masculine” and “feminine” components inscribed with detailed directions on how they slotted together.

Professor Christopher Smith, director of the British School at Rome, said that the discovery was “the clearest example yet found of mason’s marks of the time. It looks as if someone was instructing others how to mass-produce components and put them together in this way”” he told The Times.

Professor Osanna suggested that a “fashion for all things Greek” among the indigenous population had led an enterprising builder to produce “affordable DIY structures” modelled on classical Greek buildings. The terracotta roof filtered rainwater down the decorative panels, known as cymatiums, with projections to protect the wall below.

“All the cymatiums and several sections of frieze also have inscriptions relating to the roof assembly system,” Professor Osanna told Storica, the Italian magazine of the National Geographic Society.

He added: “So far around a hundred inscribed fragments have been recovered, with masculine ordinal numbers on the cymatiums and feminine ones on the friezes”. He said the result was “a kind of instruction booklet”.

“The characteristics of these inscriptions indicate they date back to around the 6th century BC, which tallies with the architectural evidence suggested by the decoration,” Professor Osanna said.

He said that the decorative features were remarkably similar to those on another structure unearthed at Braida di Vaglio nearby: “The similarity in the use of these decorations indicates the same origin” he said. “Possibly the same mould was used”.

Magna Graecia — Latin for “Greater Greece” — was a coastal area colonised by Greek settlers who traded with enclaves such as Lucania, of which modern Potenza was part.

Greek colonisation left much of southern Italy with an Hellenic inheritance, including architecture and culture and even language. A minority in Calabria and Apulia still speaks a dialect known as Griko.

C)Fight Club: Marine archaeology

England is a “precious stone set in the silver sea”, as Shakespeare put it, awash with sunken history, and the Channel contains tens of thousands of shipwrecks of all ages, some of which hold great historic significance.

Today’s technology allows remotely operated vehicles to boldly dive thousands of metres into the abyss and accomplish delicate tasks previously thought possible by human hands alone. For the past five years, Odyssey Marine Exploration has been using high-tech side-scan sonar, magnetometers and deep-ocean robotics to plot this rich history in the Channel and its Western Approaches. We’ve surveyed more than 5,000 square miles, and found more than 270 wrecks.

Fascinating stories have come to light for the first time: 17th-century merchantmen loaded with iron cannon and African elephant tusks; 18th-century French privateers; and Second World War secret-op German submarines. But going back in time isn’t cheap. Deep-ocean archaeological operations can cost £40,000 and more per day.

At Odyssey we believe that we have an obligation to save a small slice of this fading heritage, but to do this we have to be realistic. Just as the Receiver of Wreck and the Portable Antiquities Scheme financially reward divers, finders and metal detectorists for discoveries of national importance, those made by skilled, reputable organisations should also be rewarded with a percentage of the market value of artefacts recovered and conserved to the highest standards.

It’s vital that every unique and significant artefact discovered, and many more, are never sold to collectors but kept permanently by museums in the UK for study and public enjoyment. But wrecks can contain vast quantities of high-value but mass-produced artefacts, such as gold coins or glass bottles. Few of these “trade goods” ever get displayed in museums en masse, owing to their quantity and similarity. It is artefacts such as these that might help to cover the cost of the science at zero expense to taxpayers and governments, by being sold to the public after study and documentation.

Saving the shipwrecks of England’s silver seas will require compromise. Government funding is slim for shallow-water sites and non-existent for the deep. Meanwhile, Odyssey continues to document the disastrous effects of natural deterioration, and of fishing trawlers that have bulldozed our irreplaceable underwater heritage in the Channel. Sites at risk include that of Balchin’s Victory, lost there in 1744.

These underwater sites should be given the same treatment as land sites. Metal detectorists are rewarded for their finds — respecting passion, investment and encouraging the discovery and protection of heritage. A similar model for underwater archaeology will enable crucial continuing preservation and study of deep-ocean sites — at no cost to taxpayers. We are at a crossroads. Either the private sector will be encouraged to help with the shipwreck resource, or the knowledge that we can gain will slowly slip away. 

Oceans Odyssey: Deep-Sea Shipwrecks in the English Channel, Straits of Gibraltar & Atlantic Ocean, is edited by Greg Stemm and Sean Kingsley (Oxbow Books, £25).

NO says Dave Parham, senior lecturer in marine archaeology, Bournemouth University

Historic shipwrecks are relatively rare. In England’s territorial waters, for example, there are more than 5,500 known wreck sites, yet only 46, less than 1 per cent, of them designated as being archaeologically important. These significant sites include some of the oldest shipwrecks in the world and, as a group, they have made great contributions to our understanding of the past. They are all important sites and many of them are the only site of that type in existence. They are all sites that society has chosen to protect and manage in a way that ensures the knowledge to be gained from them is available to future generations.

Much of the archaeological work in the UK is conducted by commercial archaeologists. This work is often funded by a developer, whose project is impacting on the archaeological resource, under the “polluter pays” principal of environmental policy. There is, however, another group who describe themselves as commercial archaeologists, who are more controversial.

This is the section of the commercial salvage community whose interest is in the commercial exploitation of historic shipwrecks. Their work involves the salvage of maritime archaeological sites with the aim of profiting from the sale of material recovered, although it is often justified as “saving” the material from imminent destruction or for “archaeological investigation”.

Archaeology is an applied science, and like any other scientific process conducts work in an objective way to recognised standards, documenting, archiving and sharing the data so that it is available for peer review and use by other researchers, now or in the future. Archaeological sites are a finite and non-renewable resource, and there is a fundamental expectation to preserve them for the benefit of the community as both a physical resource to be enjoyed and a means of learning more about the past.

The commercial sale of archaeological material is fundamentally incompatible with these aims. Rather than preserving the resource for the community, commercial salvage removes the resource from that community and places it in private hands, thus preventing public enjoyment of archaeological sites and further research into and understanding of the past.

Wealthy historic wrecks are also extremely rare. Very few contain anything of any financial value; the mix of delicate organic material and unstable metals that contains the information about the past that makes sites such as the Mary Rose important is more likely to be considered as a debt rather than a profit. Attempts at commercial exploitation of maritime heritage have occurred in the past and they have rarely, if ever, been successful. Odyssey Marine Exploration, a leading exponent of such an approach, for example, has made losses of more than £67million in the past five years, exceeding their current market capitalisation of £56million.

So, the answer is a simple “no”; commercial exploitation of maritime heritage is neither good archaeology nor a good financial investment, and is certainly not a good way to manage maritime heritage.



About sooteris kyritsis

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