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New Perspectives on Underwater Archaeology---Book Review of “Studies of Underwater Archaeology, Volume One

From:Chinese Archaeology NetWriter:Date:2012-12-11

 

Underwater archaeology originated from early-stage development of underwater treasure hunt. With development and application of regular underwater diving equipment, archaeologists from the West began to apply archaeological theories and methodologies to the investigation and excavation of classical-period sunken ships in the Mediterranean Sea in the 1950s-60s. The research results lay the ground for the study of trade, which turns a new page for underwater archaeology. Concurrently, underwater archaeology is influenced by new archaeological concepts. These influences steer the subject towards the multi-dimensional social history and life history that are closely related to shipwrecks and sea culture. The utmost important challenge and one of the goals of the study of underwater archaeology is to enliven the ‘fragmentary’ underwater cultural heritage so that it becomes a live social spectacle. Underwater archaeology in China is a relatively young discipline. It made the first step as late as 1987. In recent years, there is a rapid rise in underwater archaeological investigation and excavation. For instance, the study of Nanhai No.1 sunken ship in Guangdong and the large-scale excavation of heritage sites of the Baijiao No.1 sunken ship in Dinghai, Lianjiang, Fujian, the Yuan-dynasty sunken ship in Sandaogang, Suizhong, Liaoning, the Wanjiao No. 1 sunken ship in Pingtan, Fujian and the Huaguangjiao No. 1 sunken ship in Xisha Islands not only yield fruitful research results but also provide the necessary empirical foundation for underwater archaeology. At the same time, the application of underwater archaeology in these shipwrecks reflects the development of the subject in the past twenty years. It also explores the existing problems, discusses the future path for progress, improves the methodologies and looks into the supporting evidence of academic researches.

The Underwater Archaeological Research Center of the National Museum of China (originally the Underwater Archaeological Research Center of the History Museum of China), which is the pioneer and the first to practice underwater archaeology in China, edited and published the “Studies of Underwater Archaeology, Volume One", an academic journal. The publication focuses on underwater archaeology and related researches. It also discusses theories and thoughts on underwater archaeology, underwater archaeology methodologies and application, development of underwater archaeology in China, export of ancient ceramics and the history of international trade, ship manufacturing technique, exploration of the experimental archaeology with respect to the reconstruction of boats and ships and so forth. All these reflect the multiple perspectives and disciplines in underwater archaeology.

The articles featured in the publication can be divided into several themes. First, with technical progress (including underwater diving techniques, geophysical prospecting and remote sensing techniques), underwater archaeological theories and research angles adopt new development pattern, which more closely reflect or describe ‘the originals’ of the underwater heritage sites. The technical advancement and the subsequent development in underwater archaeology provides finer details and evidence for the study of the social history of boats and ships and the cultural history of oceans that relies heavily on the research results of underwater archaeology. The underwater archaeological findings provide crucial empirical inputs for the study of underwater archaeology. A number of articles in the publication discuss these important discoveries.

Second, according to the archaeological results, which include underwater archaeological discoveries in conjunction to historical texts, the study of sea trade should be included as one of the research directions of underwater archaeology. In other words, it transforms the scattered empirical evidence into records of ‘mobile’ sea trade activities. Several articles in the publication talk about such researches through the discussion of ancient export ceramics.

Third, through the historical texts and the ethnological research results, several articles look into the history of shipwreck and trade and the experimental archaeology of the restoration and reconstruction of boats and ships. They investigate the lifestyles of communities that rely on boats and ships, as well as the development of art and craft in these communities. The publication includes the valuable and the pioneering research on the reconstruction of ‘Ganzeng’ ship in the Qing dynasty.

Further to these themes, each article produces positive outputs to the depth and variety in each of their disciplines. In short, the 16 articles featured in the publication are of a relatively higher academic level. They serve as a great resource for the study of underwater archaeology and related subjects.

The Journal is set to publish on a periodical basis forcing on “Journal of Underwater Archaeology and Related Research Disciplines”. The Journal serves as the primary focus of Underwater Archaeological Research. In terms of content, the Journal is yet to expand the relevant research areas, for instance, the conservation of relics excavated underwater is currently the weakness in the entire field of underwater archaeology. The introduction of such topic to the Journal will definitely broaden the scope of the study of underwater archaeology.


(“Studies of Underwater Archaeology, Volume One", edited and written by the Underwater Archaeological Research Center of the National Museum of China, published by Science Press in August 2012.)   

 (Translator: Sharon Chan)