Maritime archaeology

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The study of human interaction with the sea, lakes and rivers through the study of vessels, shore side facilities, cargoes and human remains. Maritime archaeology is a specialty within underwater archaeology, which studies the past through any submerged remains. A specialty within maritime archaeology is Nautical Archaeology, which studies vessel construction and use.

Maritime archaeology can be divided in a three-tier hierarchy, of which the first tier consists of the archaeology of shipwrecks and wreck sites. In this discipline the wrecking process itself is studied: how does a ship break up, how does a ship float to the bottom, and how do the remains of both ship and cargo decay over time. The second tier studies the ship as a machine, both in itself and in a military or economic system. The third tier consists of the archaeology of maritime cultures, in which nautical technology, naval warfare, trade and shipboard societies are studied.

Maritime archaeology has two important advantages over land archaeology. First the remains of ships and cargoes, even organic materials, are often better preserved under water or in bottom sediments. The second advantage lies in the fact that until recently, shipwrecks were usually beyond the reach of human intervention or salvage, thereby creating perfect time capsules.

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