What is Nautical Archaeology?

Humankind has always had a fascination with world's seas and waterways. Shipbuilding represents one of the earliest of our complex endeavors; even before there were farmers, there were sailors who dared to build watercraft and venture out to conquer the wind and waves. Today, we can look back on a long history of this relationship between ourselves and the waters around us. Through the study of Nautical Archaeology, we work towards a better understanding of it.

All too often people think of shipwrecks and underwater sites as nothing more than a curiosity or a place to find neat souvenirs, but in fact they are much more than that. These irreplaceable relics of an age past are veritable time capsules telling us more about who we as a race are, where we came from and what it was like there. Aside from the nostalgia, there is also valuable scientific information to be gained from the field.

When the Titanic was discovered, pieces of it's hull were brought up for analysis. When compared to original artifacts (rivets, etc) kept by workers and nautical enthusiasts after the ship's launching, we were surprised at the findings. Decades of thought on the subject of extended water pressure and salt immersion were proved to be irrefutably false. This fact may have never been known without the Titanic, and now can be used to build better submersibles, exploratory craft and rescue vehicles. With this ship lay over fifty years of extended exposure to elements that only recently have become reachable by mankind. And this is not the only viable application the field has produced. For example, several of the life support systems onboard the U.S. and Soviet Space shuttles were based upon the designs produced and incorporated into the Woods Hole Institute's ALVIN submersible.

The first and foremost goal of Nautical Archaeology has not been, and is still not, technological advancement. The dedicated men and women of this profession seek out the facts about the past. The human race has a fascinating and diverse background. Unfortunately, we know very little about it. On land, we are able to excavate finds that lay under the earth for untold centuries, but all too often, these sites have been disturbed, looted, or destroyed beyond any real use. Under the sea, however, sites have remained out of reach of humankind, and therefore virtually undisturbed since they were laid to rest. By examining these visions into the past, we can further expand our knowledge of ourselves.

So does this mean that only a few should have access to the seafloor and it's contents? Of course not. There are dozens of programs that exist world wide to train individuals to work on sites both above and below the water line. Most sites actually welcome volunteers to help out with site mapping, cataloguing and other work that is vital to make sure a site is completely utilized. You don't need to be a full time archaeologist, or even be pursuing a degree to become one. All you need is SCUBA certification and a curiosity about history.

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