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Book Reviews, NRJ 61.2

May 15, 2016 12:00 PM | David Eddy (Administrator)

Site Formation Processes of Submerged Shipwrecks

Edited by Matthew E. Keith

Site Formation Processes of Submerged Shipwrecks is a timely contribution to maritime archaeology scholarship and fieldwork practices. The United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) 2001 guidelines for best practices in the field strongly advocates for in situ site preservation and monitoring as the first management option. The editor, Matthew Keith, has compiled a highly informative and practical combination of current case studies that illustrate the many oceanographic and anthropogenic variables influencing the preservation of a shipwrecks in diverse underwater environments. These range from dynamic beaches and surf zones to more intact deep water sites. Experienced and expert professional practitioners of maritime archaeology qualify and quantify the impacts of factors impacting the integrity and stability of sites including wave action and sand scouring, hull corrosion, bacterial erosion, impacts of trawl nets, offshore developments like oil drilling operations, infrastructure associated with salvage operations such as cranes and winches, shipbreaking and stranding. The case studies include shipwreck categories that are equally diverse geographically and chronologically: Roman vessels in the Aegean and Black Sea, eighteenth-century warships in England, nineteenth-century China traders in Australia, and World War II shipwrecks in the Gulf of Mexico.

While the case studies bring attention to the plethora of phenomena impacting shipwrecks mostly already known to experienced maritime archaeologists, the more substantive contribution of this volume are the discussions about methods and efforts on trial to measure, interpret and predict how, and at what rate, these processes take place. These discussions showcase a new kit of conceptual tools and frameworks that aid stewards and caretakers of this submerged maritime heritage in their mandates. For employees in state and federal historic preservation offices, or in commercial and consultation archaeology positions, there is a renewed recognition of the important need for pro-active management studies and decisions. It is essential not only to understand the immediate and long term impacts of development, but also to provide substantiating data sets to address regulatory compliance recommendations. For example, while it is clear that bottom trawling impacts shipwreck sites, understanding the effects requires documentation of both the extent and intensity of trawling activity spatially and temporarily, and to follow up with repeated site monitoring. In the biological impact assessment, identifying wood tunneling bacteria in wood is the first step, but extending this study to an analysis of which sections or faces of timbers have been covered or uncovered by sediment would add significantly to the overall site assessment. In this respect the case studies vary in content. Some contributions focus on simply identifying and explaining the impacts on shipwrecks, others are more expansive on the applications of interpretive methodologies.

The authentic quality of the volume and credentials of the experienced contributing field archaeologists are especially evident in the challenges presented in the call to action to monitor site formation processes. This may include the necessity to include specialists in an archaeological team—such as a geo-archaeologist or geologist to competently detail and interpret sedimentary and fluvial processes. It may be economically unfeasible to return to a site to gather data over time necessary to produce a timeline of change, or for port developers to argue that past dredging has already erased any archaeological record, thus negating the need for further inspection.

This is a truly valuable contribution to underwater archaeology scholars, academics teaching submerged maritime historic preservation courses, and new professionals entering the field of compliance archaeology in coastal areas.

  •  Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2016
  • 6-1/2” x 9-1/2”, hardcover, ix + 276 pages
  • Illustrations, maps, tables, notes, references, index. $79.95
  • ISBN: 9780813061627 

Reviewed by Lynn B. Harris, East Carolina University

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