Article first published online: 10 FEB 2014
© 2014 The Author. International Journal of Nautical Archaeology © 2014 The Nautical Archaeology Society
International Journal of Nautical Archaeology
Volume 43, Issue 1, pages 1–2, March 2014
How to Cite
Richardson, M. (2014), Editorial. International Journal of Nautical Archaeology, 43: 1–2. doi: 10.1111/1095-9270.12051
- Issue published online: 10 FEB 2014
- Article first published online: 10 FEB 2014
Centenary commemorations of the First World War will throw a spotlight on nautical archaeology this year. Under the 2001 UNESCO convention, this is also when, 100 years after their sinking, that wartime wrecks gain protection as ‘underwater cultural heritage’ (UCH). NAS is encouraging divers to record these wrecks and commemorate those who perished through its ‘Lost beneath the Waves 1914–1918’ project. Dive groups are asked to visit wrecks on, or close to, the day on which they were lost, and report back with any new records made. I fear some events this year will be more pomp than ceremony, but these dives will surely remind all who take part of the horrors the war brought. Moreover, despite the world's navies being distinguished for their record-keeping and archives, there is still much to discover about many of these ships from the archaeology: thousands of WW1 sites are yet to be located. Dive groups taking part in the NAS project could quite possibly help find them.
UNESCO has chosen to bring UCH to the fore this year through its own commemorative programme with a conference in Bruges, Belgium, 26–28 June, that will focus on the dual aspects of First World War research and the protection of remains. (Belgium, along with Antigua and Bermuda, France and Toga signed the 2001 Convention in 2013.) It is also encouraging governments worldwide to promote the significance of this specific and little-studied heritage. Likewise, the varied programme at the Asia-Pacific Regional Conference on Underwater Cultural Heritage, 12–16 May, in Hawaii, will include a session on the remains of the First and Second World Wars. And please note Andrew Lambert's essay on these two wars that leads the book reviews section (pp. 199–201).
For many readers of the IJNA, the wrecks in question may seem very recent—particularly when compared with ships such as the Egyptian baris or the 5th-century-BC Tektaş Burnu wreck discussed in this volume—and to some, perhaps, of lesser relevance. However, there is a lively interest in WW1 wrecks—Innes McCartney's ‘The Armoured Cruiser HMS Defence: a case-study in assessing the Royal Navy shipwrecks of the Battle of Jutland (1916) as an archaeological resource’ (41.1: 56–66) was the most downloaded IJNA article in 2012. Moreover, nautical archaeology in general stands to benefit from greater public awareness of UCH because of such projects. Their commemorative nature will focus attention on positive aspects such as respect, the common and international nature of heritage, and conservation—and away from the ‘treasure hunting’ headlines that are still too frequently linked to wreck-finds. It is a great opportunity for archaeologists to encourage a deeper understanding of the value of all UCH. Bringing the distant past to life for the general public is not always an easy task, particularly when working from the often fragmentary evidence archaeology provides; an event anchored in the near past, which had direct consequences for close relatives of many of those alive today, is a good starting point to work back from. And as all readers are aware, public support for archaeological projects is increasingly important in the face of the high cost of most research, in particular projects carried out under water. To put it bluntly, if we stick to ethical policies that do not allow selling off the swag, as we certainly must, public appreciation is vital to our obtaining funding.
There are positive signs that the message has been received and understood in some if not all quarters. At the time of writing, it is still not known whether US salvage company Odyssey Marine Exploration Inc. (OMEX) will be permitted by the UK government to excavate the wreck of Balchen's Victory (sunk 1744). An agreement exists between OMEX and the Maritime Heritage Foundation (which was ‘gifted’ the wreck by the UK Ministry of Defence), under which OMEX would be paid either 80% or 50% of the value of whatever is retrieved. Richard Temple West, a descendant of Admiral Balchen's daughter, has voiced the concerns of many in a letter to British Prime Minister David Cameron: ‘We appreciate that HMS Victory is an important historic wreck, but we feel this very fact, coupled with the fact that she is a both a grave and memorial, makes it entirely inappropriate that she should be subject to a commercial salvage contract.’ Britain has agreed to abide by the Annex to the 2001 UNESCO Convention, which precludes the commercial exploitation of UCH for trade or speculation or its irretrievable dispersal, even if it has not, as yet, signed on the dotted line.
And even in these straitened times, funding should not suffer, because time and again it has been shown that the public has an appetite for heritage—and that a lively heritage agenda can make a positive contribution to a country's economy. On a very small scale, this appetite has been shown by Jamie Davis who, in a few weeks in October 2013, ‘crowdfunded’ a new support stand for a logboat housed at Llyn Maritime Museum, NW Wales. If the project has to be applauded for its get-up-and-go attitude, I hope the world's maritime museums do not find themselves often forced to use such means. Nonetheless, it proved that there is public interest: those that contributed felt that the conservation and display of a 100-year-old West African boat in a small Welsh museum was worth paying for. It might be noted that the Welsh public has a reputation for encouraging nautical projects; not least the Friends of the Newport Ship (see the cover illustration, and IJNA 43.2), whose noisy ‘beep to save our ship’ campaign encouraged the rescue of the ship remains in 2002, and is still going strong 12 years on. It certainly helps to get the public on board.
In recent months several long-term projects have culminated in the permanent display of conserved ship remains, two of which are reported in this volume. The largest and perhaps the best-known, the 16th-century warship Mary Rose, has been installed in a specially designed museum in Portsmouth, England and is a great success (see Martin C., in the NAS newsletter Nautical Archaeology, Autumn 2013: 2). On a smaller scale, and from a more distant past, the 9th-century-BC Brigg ‘raft’, has gone on display in its home town in N Lincolnshire, England (pp. 174–9). While in France, the 30-m-long Arles-Rhône 3 Roman river barge is now displayed in a newly extended museum in Arles (pp. 219–20). Heading back to the modern era, the horizontal engine of the SS Xantho (1848–1872) has been restored and displayed in the Western Australia Maritime Museum (pp. 196–7). Each of these exemplifies great confidence in public interest in our nautical past, but also the necessity of getting the information out there.
Two ‘floating hypotheses’ have had the same result in the past year: the first, a Bronze Age-style boat based on the Ferriby remains, Morgawr, was built largely by volunteers guided by shipbuilder Brian Crumby within the Falmouth Maritime Museum, England, as a living, moving and often ear-splitting exhibit. The second, Projet Prôtis, saw the construction and launch of the 6th-century-BC, sewn-plank, Jules-Verne 9 replica, Gyptis, to great applause in Marseille, France. These research projects, designed to improve our understanding of the constructional techniques and challenges posed in building each of the vessels, have had precise scientific results: less easily quantifiable is the public enthusiasm each has inspired, which will sustain nautical archaeology in the future. First World War commemorative projects also have the potential to expand public appreciation for our subject while honouring all those lost, and as such deserve wide support.