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The University of Southampton

ARCH6419 Nautical Archaeology

Module Overview

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.

Aims and Objectives

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

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

  • Achieve a broad understanding of the history of the development of nautical archaeology.
  • Demonstrate a basic grounding in the theoretical approaches to nautical archaeology.
  • Appraise the archaeological potential of boats, ships and associated material culture.
  • Synthesise knowledge of the major watercraft types and building traditions and construction technologies encountered within maritime archaeology.
Subject Specific Intellectual and Research Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Assess and synthesise a range of different source material.
  • Identify the primary elements of boat and ship structures.
  • Evaluate and critique past and current theoretical approaches to nautical archaeology.
  • Interpret the archaeological remains of watercraft.
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Learn and apply new practical and theoretical skills.
  • Plan, design and implement data collection.
  • Create academic/commercial standard reports and images.
Subject Specific Practical Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Plan and carry-out a full archaeological field survey of a boat.
  • Create and compile field data to professional standards.
  • Develop field survey data into a written and visual interpretation.


Typically the module will cover: • Introduction to Nautical Archaeology • Watercraft: Classification and Construction • The maritime environment • Frame-based Construction • Shell-based construction • Tools & Materials • Floats, Rafts & Logs • The Archaeology of Sailing Rigs • Transitions in Construction 1: The Ancient Mediterranean • Transitions in Construction 2: NW Europe, Clinker to Carvel • 18th/19th Century Shipbuilding • Fieldtrip/Seminar: Propulsion and Steering (Fieldtrip is weather dependent) • Fieldtrip/Seminar: Forestry & Cordage (Fieldtrip is weather dependent) • Fieldwork Week: Boat Recording, Portsmouth Historic Dockyard • Workshop: Producing a boat plan • Workshop: Producing a written report

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching methods include: • Lectures to introduce themes, concepts and technical elements • Directed seminars to discuss specific themes or techniques • Workshops to discuss post-fieldwork processing and assignment planning • Practical fieldwork sessions on boat recording and boat use Learning methods include: • Directed learning through lectures/seminars • Guided self-study • Completion of three assignments • Use of online resources • Use of library resources

Practical classes and workshops4
Follow-up work12
Wider reading or practice20
Preparation for scheduled sessions22
Completion of assessment task30
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

Jon Adams (2013). A Maritime Archaeology of Ships: Innovation and Social Change in Late Medieval and Early Modern Europe.. 

Sean McGrail (1998). Ancient Boats in North-West Europe. 

Richard Steffy (1994). Wooden Shipbuilding and the Interpretation of Shipwrecks. 


Assessment Strategy

Assessment is comprised of a mixture of a short written technical piece, production of a professional standard watercraft survey, and a written report on the watercraft survey. Informal feedback will provided throughout the module via lectures, practicals, seminars and supervisions. Detailed and constructive written feedback will be given for all assignments submitted.


MethodPercentage contribution
Analytical essay  (1000 words) 20%
Field/laboratory/practical exercises 40%
Fieldwork report  (2000 words) 40%


MethodPercentage contribution
Fieldwork report  (2000 words) 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal


Costs associated with this module

Students are responsible for meeting the cost of essential textbooks, and of producing such essays, assignments, laboratory reports and dissertations as are required to fulfil the academic requirements for each programme of study.

In addition to this, students registered for this module typically also have to pay for:


There are no specific costs to the students.

Please also ensure you read the section on additional costs in the University’s Fees, Charges and Expenses Regulations in the University Calendar available at

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