Maritime Archaeology: Highlighted by the Franklin Expedition Discovery

The Erebus and the Terror; the lost ships of the Franklin expedition. Image from www.ottawacitizen.com

The Erebus and the Terror; the lost ships of the Franklin expedition. Image from http://www.ottawacitizen.com

With news being announced earlier this week of the discovery of one of the two missing ships that made up the Franklin Expedition, I thought that today would be a good day for a post about maritime archaeology.  Considering that British Columbia is a coastal province with around 27,200km of coastline (including that around its many islands) and that much of the historical exploration of this region has involved travel by water this is clearly an important thing to look at when considering the history of the province.

Maritime Archaeology

Laying a grid underwater; image from sanctuaries.noaa.gov

Laying a grid underwater; image from http://www.sanctuaries.noaa.gov

Exactly as the name suggests, maritime archaeology is archaeological work done around historical human interaction with water (typically the ocean) which, in its most dramatic form, can take the form of massive excavations, studies, conservation work, and (eventually) displays of incredibly dramatic items such as sunken ships.  In the grand scheme of archaeology, the sub-field of maritime archaeology is a relatively new addition with its later inclusion being due to a number of reasons:

  1. A need for the technological advances which make under water diving, exploration, collection, etc. possible
  2. Related to the above, this requires additional training for those performing the research
  3. Different research methods in regards to preservation and conservation due to the environment these items are found in, the dramatic alteration of environment that they undergo in collection, and the conditions that artifacts were in effecting their preservation (salt water is not typically good for things…)
  4. There was so much to discover on land (which was often easier to find)

In Canada, maritime archaeology has really only gotten underway in the past 40 years with a large portion of the work being undertaken with the support of the Canadian Parks Service.  These days, there is historical maritime work being undertaken along all of the major coastlines involving the Atlantic, Arctic, and Pacific coasts as well as inland studies being conducted around a number of interior waterways and lakes.

Important Maritime History in the Province

Shipwrecks

  • over 1500 shipwrecks are known to have occurred along the coast of the province
  • this includes dozens which took place in the 19th and 20th Centuries
  • the wreck of the Beaver – the first steamship on the B.C. coast
  • the Suwanee – a civil war period war ship which, in 1868, hit a reef on the north end of Vancouver Island and sunk

Other

  • a 6000 year old shell midden at Montagye Harbour on Galiano Island
  • undated Chinese glazed jars have been found by fishermen at two sites so far off of the west coast of Vancouver Island
Artifacts underwater (demonstrating the long-term effects of water on objects). Image from www.worldoceanobservatory.org

Artifacts underwater (demonstrating the long-term effects of water on objects). Image from http://www.worldoceanobservatory.org

Resources in British Columbia and Other Links

The Underwater Archaeological Society of British Columbia

The Vancouver Maritime Museum

Nautical Archaeology Society

Canadian Encyclopedia – Maritime Archaeology Entry 

Parks Canada – Underwater Archaeology

Quite possibly the coolest underwater artifact image I've ever seen. Picture from www.archaeology.co.uk

Quite possibly the coolest underwater artifact image I’ve ever seen. Picture from http://www.archaeology.co.uk

 

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