The University of Southampton

ARCH3034 Archaeology of Seafaring

Module Overview

Seafaring lies at the heart of human activity across the world and has taken place from the earliest times to the present day. Reflecting this, in recent years the study of seafaring has become an increasingly important area in our understanding of the human past. Current research within the Archaeology Department takes place across a range of areas and periods and is reflected in the module content; from the prehistoric human colonisation of Australasia in c.50,000BC to the development and application of industrial processes for maritime technology in the globalising maritime world of the 18th and 19th century. These periods form part of the case studies, alongside archaeological examples from the ancient Mediterranean, early medieval north- west Europe and the Indian Ocean, which are central to the module. You will also be introduced to the basic ways in which seafaring is studied through the archaeological record and you will gain a thorough grounding in the understanding and interpretation of seafaring from a social, economic and environmental perspective. This, along with the case studies, will provide you with a developed appreciation of the global significance of seafaring activity and how it can greatly enhance our overall understanding of the past.

Aims and Objectives

Module Aims

• Provide you with a broad appreciation of maritime landscapes, both cultural and physical, by addressing specific themes through the use of case studies. • Introduce you to the complexities of seafaring as both a physical and social activity. • Provide you with the analytical tools to evaluate the evidence for different forms of seafaring in the past. • Allow you to appreciate the time-depth of people’s activities on the water

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

Having successfully completed this module, you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:

  • Key theories and sites relating to ancient seafaring.
  • The different modes and motivations for people’s engagement with water in the past.
  • The variety of ways in which we can investigate this form of activity in the past.
  • The different types of evidence that contribute to an interpretation of the patterns of maritime exchange, the form and development of water transport, and the capabilities of the vessels and seafarers from a particular period and region.
Subject Specific Intellectual and Research Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Describe archaeological assemblages associated with different forms of economic and seafaring activity.
  • Make connections between sequences, patterns and underlying historical processes
  • Develop arguments addressing past understandings of space through analysing archaeological evidence.
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Have enhanced your study skills through using material presented in lectures and library resources
  • Have experience of presenting your work both orally and in a concise written form.
  • Demonstrated the ability to synthesise and evaluate data from a variety of sources.
Subject Specific Practical Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Identify classes of material culture associated with seafaring.
  • Application of theoretical models to specific aspects of maritime trade
  • Evaluate the arguments of others based upon the evidence being cited.
  • Synthesise and present the results of current research in written and oral form.


This module builds on the practical and pragmatic content that was explored in the second year module (ARCH2017), and develops concepts of space, the relationship between land and sea; and the experience of seafaring. It addresses the rationale behind ancient seafaring – from small scale fishing operations to state exploration, to trade and communication. It pursues these themes within different contexts both geographical and chronological and aims to provide you with a deeper appreciation of why people go to sea and what it is to experience being at sea (both from a practical and cultural perspective). In order for this to be achieved you will explore the nature of seafaring and the types of data that support our understanding of ancient seafaring. You will examine the issues to do with interpretation, lack of archaeological evidence, ethnographic enquiries and how you can contribute to our understanding of the nature of ancient seafaring. The context of seafaring will be examined with analysis of the practical considerations of the marine environment, winds, navigation etc. The second part of the lecture series will look into the different types of seafaring activities, on different scales, for different reasons, in different parts of the world, in different periods. Finally, the experience of seafaring will be further explored through the physical and practical aspects of this activity and the cultural landscape in which this activity is pursued.

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching methods include • Lectures • Seminars Learning activities include • Background reading • Examination • Essay preparation

Independent Study105
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

Johnstone, P (1988). The Sea-craft of Prehistory (esp. Ch. 6-7). 

Barber, I (2003). Sea, land and fish: spatial relationships and the archaeology of South Island Maori fishing. World Archaeology. ,35 , pp. 434-48.

Blackman, D.J (1982). Ancient Harbours in the Mediterranean. Part I & II. International Journal of Nautical Archaeology. ,11 , pp. 185-212.

Laffineur, R. & Basch, L. (eds.) (1991). Thalassa: l’Égée préhistorique et la Mer. AEGAEUM, Annales d’archeologie Égéenne. ,7 , pp. 0.

Casson, L (1971). Ships and Seamanship in the Ancient World. 

Raban, A. (ed.) (1985). Harbour Archaeology. Proceedings of the 1st International Workshop on Ancient Mediterranean Harbours. ,257 , pp. 0.

Cooney, G (2004). Introduction: seeing land from the sea. World Archaeology. ,35 , pp. 323-8.

Farr, H (2006). Seafaring as Social Action. Journal of Maritime Archaeology. ,1 , pp. 0.

Fitzpatrick, S. & J. Erlandson (2006). The Archaeology of Islands and Coastlines. The Journal of Island and Coastal Archaeology. ,1 , pp. 1--3.

Gale, N.H. (ed.) (1991). Bronze Age trade in the eastern Mediterranean. Studies in Mediterranean Archaeology. ,90 , pp. 0.

Nicholson, J. R (1978). Thalassa: l’Égée préhistorique et la Mer.. 

Bass, G.F (1987). Splendors of the Bronze Age: Oldest Known shipwreck reveals. National Geographic. ,172 , pp. 692-734.

Karageorghis, V. & Michaelides, D. (eds.) (1995). Cyprus and the Sea. Proceedings of the International Symposium. ,0 , pp. 0.

Casson, L (1994). Ships & Seafaring in ancient times. 

Steffy, J.R (1994). Wooden Shipbuilding and the Interpretation of Shipwrecks. 

Erlandson, J. & S. Fitzpatrick (2006). Oceans, Islands, and Coasts: Current Perspectives on the Role of the Sea in Human Prehistory. The Journal of Island and Coastal Archaeology. ,1 , pp. 5--32.

Aubet, M.E (1993). The Phoenicians and the west. 

Pulak, C (1998). The Uluburun shipwreck: an overview. IJNA. ,27 , pp. 188-224.

Bass, G. (ed.) (1972). A History of Seafaring Based on Underwater Archaeology (Pp. 12-64, 87-112). 

Wachsmann, S (1998). Seagoing Ships and Seamanship in the Bronze Age Levant. 

McNiven, I (2004). Saltwater People: spiritscapes, maritime rituals and the archaeology of Australian indigenous seascapes. World Archaeology. ,35 , pp. 329-49.

Sherratt, S. & Sherratt, A (1993). The growth of the Mediterranean economy in the early first millennium BC. World Archaeology. ,24 , pp. 361-378.


Assessment Strategy

Assessments designed to provide informal, on-module feedback Discussion in seminars


MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (2500 words) 35%
Essay  (2500 words) 35%
Seminar presentation  (15 minutes) 30%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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