The seas around England contain a wealth of archaeological sites and remains, potentially without equal elsewhere in the world in terms of their number and diversity. These remains include extensive submerged landscapes, primarily relating to the earlier prehistoric period during which Britain was divorced from mainland Europe by rising sea levels, as well as remains deriving from the subsequent history of the British Isles and its inhabitants’ exploitation of the sea.
As an island that has experienced successive waves of settlement over many centuries and as a major naval, mercantile, industrial and imperial power, the history of Britain – and the everyday experience of many of its inhabitants – has been inextricably linked to its surrounding seas.
Our understanding of the character of the maritime archaeological resource, its distribution, its state of preservation or the threats to its continued survival, is low in comparison to terrestrial archaeology.
Even amongst those wreck sites that have been located, only a fraction have been subjected to assessment. Without access to this type of data, legislative protection and management strategies for the maritime resource remain primitive and assessments of the importance of specific sites can rely on ad hoc judgements, rather than an understanding of their place within the wider archaeological resource.
Developing a Research Strategy for the Marine and Maritime Historic Environment
Initial work that will form the basis for a Research Strategy is being undertaken under the auspices of the Aggregates Levy Sustainability Fund. A University of Southampton project is the first stage in developing a Research Framework for the maritime and marine historic environment in England (and in English waters). It will produce a Resource Assessment and Research Agenda. The Research Strategy, prioritising the Research Agenda, will be a further stage.
The Research Framework will provide a coherent overview of previous research in the maritime, marine and coastal archaeology of England, to enable long-term strategic planning by the sector, English Heritage and Government, to inform policy-making, and to provide a statement of agreed research priorities within which researchers can shape projects.
It will be inclusive, shaped by those involved with the maritime and marine historic environment, from the professional, commercial and voluntary sectors, and utilising the breadth of knowledge and experience within this community to set out its research priorities.