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Thursday, August 2, 2012

Book Review-Wreckers

Bathurst, Bella. 2005. The Wreckers: A Story of Killing Seas and Plundered Shipwrecks, From the Eighteenth Century to the Present Day. Houghton Mifflin Company, New York.

This book is 307 pages long with a centerpiece collection of photos. It is best read by those with an interest in sailing and maritime activity or for those interested and familiar with British history.

By far, the best aspect of this book is the author's discussion about the ethics involved with wrecking. She delves into the points of view of the wreckers, the vessel's crew, and the government officials. Each has a reason and an understanding of what goods from the ocean means. Each relates to a wreck in a different and unique way. The author captures this perfectly and manages to point out the less savory aspects of wrecking without either demonizing or heroizing the participants.

I did find the order of geographic regions confusing. It does not move around the compass rose clockwise or counter clockwise from North. It does not seem to be ordered based on severity of shipwrecks or infamy of the wreckers.

In addition, the general map that illustrates all of England could be clarified, with larger lettering or bold formatting for the specific regions that are covered in the book. And I found myself craving a separate map with a more detailed topography including both terrestrial mapping and submerged bathymetric mapping.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Maritime Tattoos


Sailors in the military have a long history of tattooing. Certain symbols have been associated with service in different countries. British sailors were tattooed with swallows, which was often a visual representation of 5,000 nautical miles sailed. Swallows are a land bird, but are found throughout the temperate world including Europe, Africa, the Americas and Asia. Swallow tattoos have adorned military sailors in several Western cultures. The nautical star is commonly seen on military servicemen from the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps, representing the shape of the stars on the U.S. flag and the dual-tone coloring of compass roses on historic nautical charts.

General Watercraft-

In addition to the battleship pictured above, some sailors' vessels were represented through tattoo. This seemed to occur more frequently in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, which is understandable considering sailors from earlier centuries did not serve continuously aboard a single vessel. Another recent trend has been historic vessel tattoos, such as the tattoo of the historic warship Vasa shown below.

Monsters and Sea Creatures-

Sea monsters and creatures from the deep have always fascinated people. There has always been a subtle but pervasive fear of the ocean, which is in part due to it being a different and in many ways a dangerous element. A monster puts a face to that fear. Tattoos of sea monsters and sea creatures look "tough" and usually indicate a love of the ocean. Octopi and sharks are fairly common tattoos. As tattooing becomes more popular and people search for unique designs and patterns, expect to see more historic representations of sea monsters and sea creatures (real and unreal) in the future.


Similar to the use of historic representations of sea creatures, some people are getting inked with tribal representations of sea animals and fish that were not typically depicted in tattoos, but rather on houses or objects. Traditional tribal tattoos are also becoming more common, both among members of a tribe or group and among non-members.

These tribal tattoos often represented coming of age, such as the v-shape for women in Papua New Guinea, of the elaborate face tattoos of Maori, indicating lineage and status. The whorls frequently found in Polynesian tattoos carry multiple meanings. The shape is similar to Polynesian fish hooks and the meaning is frequently ascribed as the coming together and divergence of people. Similar to the settlement pattern of these islands themselves, people carried by wave and wind to islands throughout the Pacific.

Some people are tattooed with this because it is their heritage, while some people are adopting these tribal tattoos because they are aesthetically pleasing. For those tattooed in the tradition of their culture, tribal tattoos on other people can appear trite or demeaning to their cultural heritage. It can also feel like personal theft and insult, especially the sacred forms of tattoo such as Moko.

Blog Posts

This is a wonderful post on historical maritime tattoos including the common themes and some of the reasons for their popularity.

Modern maritime tattoos-

Scholarly Articles

An article from National Geographic, "Skin as Art and Anthropology" describes what tattoos mean to different people.

Dissertation by Mary Bowman, "Ink, Image, and Initiation".

An introduction to tattoos as identifiers in autopsies and medical examinations, "Tattoo and Tattooing Part I: History and Methodology" by Kris Sperry, M.D.


Tattoo: An Anthropology by Makiko Kuwahara
Tattoo History: A source book by Steve Gilbert
Tattoos and Indigenous Peoples by Judith Levin
Tattooed: The Sociogenesis of a Body Art by Michael Atkinson

Friday, July 6, 2012

Day of Archaeology 2012

Friday, June 29, 2012 was the Day of Archaeology, a project started to showcase what archaeology is and what archaeologists do. Last year, there were about half a dozen posts related to maritime archaeology, this year, there seemed to be fewer. Next year I'll try to spread the word a bit more-see if we can't provide some glimpses into a day in the life of a maritime archaeologist.

These two were pretty interesting and offered a quick view into what our days frequently entail. The first is the land excavation of a medieval cog from Antwerp. The second provides a video clip of underwater archaeological site recording with NGO Archaeologica in Macedonia.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012


Google Earth, Seattle

The Seven Hills of Seattle. Known for the Space Needle, Pike Place Market, and Starbucks Coffee to tourists.

To locals, Seattle is more of a land and sea of opportunity. Business opportunity in the city, trade by sound and sea. The city is nestled on the shores of the Puget Sound and Lake Washington. It also encompasses Lake Union. Small wonder that house boats are so common and that a house boat was chosen as one of the settings for Sleepless in Seattle. 

Puget Sound has a maximum depth of 930ft but averages about 600ft deep in the main basin (between the entrance and Tacoma, WA). The Puget Sound is ideal for shipping with such ease of access for carrier ships. Lake Washington has a max depth of 214ft. Lake Union has a max depth of 50ft. Both lakes connect to the Puget Sound and can accommodate trade and shipping. 

A bit of  famous Seattle overcast!

Similar to the development of California, there was some sparse trade occurring in the Seattle area prior to the discovery of gold, but population increased tenfold once gold was discovered. Gold was first discovered at Fraser River, located in British Columbia, in 1857. The doorway to the Fraser River was the Puget Sound and the miners poured in to pan the rivers in search of gold dust. Another smaller gold rush occurred on the Clearwater River within NezPerce reservation lands between Washington and Idaho in 1859. Gold was discovered in Alaska in 1897 and this was later known as the Klondike Gold Rush. Gold was brought to the states onthe Alaska steamer Portland and Seattle quickly became the staging area and last civilized stop for miners who were heading into the wilderness of Alaska.


Petrey, Whitney. By Ship and Rail to the Gold and Woods of the Puget Sound: the motives and means behind the development of the Pacific Northwest. Research paper for Maritime History since 1815 at East Carolina University.


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Maritime Culture by Whitney Rose Petrey is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License