Knowing our Oceans and Seas


With water covering seventy-one percent of our planet, we might wonder how much of the oceans and seas we really know, and how much archaeology there is. Seafloor surveying and exploration is in a state of continuous development, building on new technologies in recording, mapping, and analysing data. Although marine surveying techniques are well standardised nowadays and exceed expectations, we still surrender to the immensity and depth of the oceans. An example of our humanly defeat is flight MH371 which disappeared in the southern Indian Ocean. The search for this flight was one of the largest and most expensive, yet the flight’s debris was not found. Such unfortunate incidents give an impetus to push the boundaries of our current technology and enhance it.  Investigating our oceans and seas is not only of an archaeological interest, but combines many fields and disciplines, such as military applications, geology, ecology, offshore installations, seafloor mapping, etc. These podcasts for example, offer an insight on some of the current research undertaken by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

The increasing awareness of how little we know of our oceans, seas, and coasts, and how significant that knowledge is for all the facets of human life, particularly understanding our past, led to the establishment of numerous institutes, observatories, departments, companies, laboratories, and research units, that aim to generate, collect, analyse, consolidate, and disseminate data on our oceans and coasts. These establishments are very important and we rely much upon their work in maritime archaeology such as Channel Coastal Observatory (CCO), NOAA, SeaSearch, Ordnance Survey, European Marine Observation and Data Network (EMODnet), Ifremer, to name but a few. Although these institutions are widespread across the globe, many regions are still under studied and that can hinder archaeological research given the lack of available data. Nonetheless, many organisations assist in filling in the gaps through the funding of projects such as the Honor Frost Foundation for the eastern Mediterranean, The European Union, the Centre for National Scientific Research, as well as governmental bodies.

©EMODnet bathymetry and wrecks


With A.J. Parker (1992) identifying 1,189 shipwrecks and abandoned hulls in the Mediterranean, we can only but imagine the archaeological potential of our oceans and continental margins. Not only in terms of shipwrecks but as well as submerged sites. It has become imperative to build databases to store information and make it available to the public and to research endeavours, especially in the digital world we live in. The EMODnet portal is one of those databases, as well as Benthos (Digital Atlas of Ancient Waters), and Historic England. After all it is through the exchange of ideas and information that we can pull efforts together for the better understanding of our oceans, seas, and our past.

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