The waters of the world have frequently served to connect rather than divide communities, leading to water transport becoming of vital importance to society. The remains of ships and boats thus constitute a key primary source for maritime archaeology. The processes involved in their design, construction, use and disposal were dynamically linked to society as a whole. Therefore they cannot be seen simply as interesting technological phenomena, merely as passive ‘reflections’ of that society, or of a segregated ‘maritime’ community. Ships usually had a high symbolic profile and were involved in many social mechanisms such as trade and exchange, warfare, projection of status, or simply coastal subsistence strategies. Ships and boats are therefore directly or indirectly implicated in almost all strata of society.
This module aims to examine watercraft from an archaeological perspective, encompassing their technological features, tools of production, sequences of building, operating environment and contexts of use. But, the sources consulted are not restricted to archaeology, and draw in historical, ethnographic and experimental data to provide the fullest possible evidence base. Understanding the influences underlying their technological characteristics will allow a more valuable and interpretative understanding of ships and boats as ‘active’ material culture. Teaching is conducted through lectures, seminars, practical sessions and fieldtrips. By the end of the module you will be familiar with the scope, potential, central tenets and resource base of nautical archaeology. You will have gained key skills in the interpretation and recording of watercraft, and in the production of material to express this knowledge and skill base.