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The University of Southampton
Ocean and Earth Science, National Oceanography Centre Southampton

Research project: The Taphonomy of Historic Wreck Sites

Currently Active: 

Shipwrecks are often regarded as simply expressions of dramatic maritime events, points of failure in human endeavour.  However, in this research I am investigating the rich multidimensional, reality of these sites. For archaeologists wrecks offer exceptional snapshots of the society in which they were built and operated. By virtue of the rapid nature of their demise they can provide an unparalleled collection of artefacts from a very short time window.  This is a characteristic of these data sets that is often hard to replicate on terrestrial sites.

Figure 1
Figure 1


If we wish to better understand the surviving archaeological record, improved knowledge of the impact of variable marine conditions on wreck sites is required. This project aims to understand these processes on both a whole wreck and individual artefact scale.

Studies of the transport of lithics and skeletal assemblages in fluvial and marine settings suggest that artefacts may not be transported as part of the bulk of the sediment. This study aims to test this theory for the transport of artefacts around shipwreck sites.

Figure 2
Figure 2


  1. Bathymetric data in combination with hydrodynamic data will be used to determine the patterns of sediment transport around a site and the main environmental controls on the morphology of this transport (Fig. 1).
  2. Flume studies will initially be used to interpret the transport of sediment around a wreck site as observed using bathymetric data (Fig 2). Flume studies will then be utilised to describe the transport of individual artefacts around shipwreck sites.

Key Contacts

Dr Justin Dix (Supervisor)

Dr Fraser Sturt (Supervisor)

Dr Charlie Thompson (Supervisor)

Miss Amelia Astley  (PhD Student)

PhDs and Other Opportunities


Key Publication

  • Dix, J., Lambkin, D. O., Thomas, M., & Cazenave, P. (2006). Modelling exclusion zones for marine aggregate dredging. In R. C. Newell, & D. J. Garner (Eds.), Marine aggregate dredging: helping to determine good practice. Marine Aggregate Levy Sustainability Fund (ALSF) conference proceedings: September 2006 (pp. 172-175). Marine Ecological Surveys Ltd.
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