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Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Book Review-The Archaeology of Maritime Landscapes

Ford, Ben (ed.). 2011. "The Archaeology of Maritime Landscapes." When the Land Meets the Sea, Vol. 2. Springer, New York.

It was an interesting read and in many ways a very necessary first step, but the various authors are all over the place in their definition of maritime landscape. This may be in part because of the infancy of the field and in part because there are overlapping areas of study that seem to all get grouped under the fancy new (since 1992) heading of "maritime cultural landscape".

One would hope that this book would help a poorly defined field gain some boundaries and clarity. It fails to do so. In The Archaeology of Maritime Landscapes, the broadest definition of maritime is used; any human activity on or with the water. Another issue is the term "landscape". It seems like maritime cultural archaeology that has little to do with landscape studies often get thrown in the Maritime Cultural Landscape handbasket. Articles that do not use an archaeological landscape methodology are utilizing the term for lack of a better one.

For example, the first chapter, "Searching for Santarosae: Surveying the Submerged Landscapes for Evidence of Paleocoastal Habitation off  California's Northern Channel Islands" by Watts et al. discusses further investigations in the Channel Islands by Jon Erlandson, Torben C. Rick, and crew. They began searching for submerged sites because of sea level change and utilized maritime archaeology techniques and methodology to do so. Searching for a submerged landscape is not the same as studying a submerged landscape. It doesn't seem that this was even a submerged landscape search, as they were searching for sites and artifacts rather than paleolandscapes.

Kristin Hoppa, a student conducting research in the Channel Islands presented at the Society for American Archaeology 2011 Conference. She examined the paleo streambeds, island conditions (lee and windward), parent rock material, and paleobotany in comparison with the archaeological finds and sites. This was essentially a maritime cultural lanscape study, although she may not have known the term. Or perhaps an island cultural landscape study? But one could split academic fields indefinitely.

Thus our first chapter is actually a submerged cultural resource survey.

Other chapters that are also submerged cultural resources surveys include: "Rock, Paper, Shipwreck! The Maritime Cultural Lanscape of Thunder Bay" by Warne R. Lusardi and "The Richest River in the World: The Maritime Cultural Landscape of the Mouth of the Rio Chagres, Republica de Panama" by James P. Delgado. Lusardi does discuss some of the shoreline structures that are now submerged but does not put these items in context. Delgado point out that the Rio Chagres is a maritime highway, and he seems to understand that maritime cultural landscapes include shoreline structures (Gatun Dam, WWII pill boxes) as well as the natural geography (historic mudbank), unfortunately the majority of this article simply lists shipwrecks and associated material culture.

Another article, "Potential Contributions of a Maritime Cultural Lanscape Approach to Submerged Prehistoric Resources, Northwestern Gulf of Mexico" by Evans and Keith, focuses entirely on submerged landscape surveys. They discuss the neccessity of submerged landscape surveys in the predictive modeling of submerged prehistoric resources.

There were several maritime material culture studies as well: "Testing the Paleo-Maritime Hypothesis for  Glacial Lake Iroqouis" by Schulz et al., "Ship to Shore: Inuit, Early Europeans, and Maritime Landscapes in the Northern Gulf of St. Lawrence" by Fitzhugh et al., and "Material Culture and Maritime Identity: Identifying Maritime Subcultures through Artifacts" by Hatch.

Some well written articles about maritime culture or maritime anthropology (distinct from maritime ethnography) discuss the meaning and importance of the sea to a maritime people: "The Binary Relationship of Sea and Land" by Westerdahl,  and "'What Do You Want to Catch?': Exploring the Maritime Cultural Landscapes of the Queenscliff Fishing Community" by Duncan.

The incorporation of cognitive and social activities as part of the maritime cultural landscape was suggested by Westerdahl himself in his later writings and is related to a similar development in cultural landscape studies (Tilley 1994) This is an interesting idea and works theoretically, yet it requires one to dispose of the methodology of landscape archaeology.

Several articles were strictly maritime cutlural landscape studies that examined the "total topography of the waterfront area" including transit points, sea routes, natural havens and place names (Westerdahl 1992). These included "Place of Special Meaning: Westerdahl's Comet, 'Agency,' and the concept of the 'Maritime Cultural Landscape'" by Flatman, "Temporal Changes in a  Precontact and Contact Period Cultural Lanscape Along the Southern Rhode Island Coast" by Jazwa, and "Modeling Maritime Culture: Galveston, Texas" by Keith and Evans.

Some of the terminology problems are evident in the titles of the articles. However, the very loose interpretation of maritime cutlural landscape did not go unrecognized by Ford:

"The objective of this book is not to present the study of maritime landscape as a unified field; it clearly is not. [ . . . ] Among the authors are scholars who have fully adopted a maritime cultural landsacpe approach and others who are experimenting with it within an existing research agenda."

And you have to give these authors a lot of credit for researching maritime cultural landscape studies and rethinking their own research. If those of us in the field of maritime studies, maritime archaeology and nautical archaeology are still developing the theoretical foundations for maritime cultural landscape studies, how can we expect others to apply this theory?

I would suggest reading the preface (Stewart) and the introduction (Ford) and then carefully select the articles that match your research: whether it be submerged cultural resource study, paleolandscape predictive modeling, maritime material culture studies, maritime ethnography, or in fact, maritime cultural landscape studies.

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