PERSPECTIVES ON THE PAST
Transcript of Audio Clip
Candice Goucher, Washington State University, Vancouver
Hordes of silver and gold traveled the seas from antiquity on. Ships were sometimes lost at sea. Even sailors voyaging into well-charted waters could be in danger, owing to storms, wind, and war. Shipwrecks create an unexpectedly rich source of historical evidence for archaeologists to later mine. Entire ships have been preserved in their watery tombs, lifted onto dry ground for analysis and study — in this way providing historians with a valuable snapshot of actual voyages, their technology, details of the sailor's life onboard, and the trade goods they carried. Without the careful recovery of this submerged history, scholars are left trying to connect the dots from port to port — from the written or archaeological evidence that remains on land.
Recently, because of extraordinary advances in the technology of excavation, new frontiers have opened up. But underwater archaeology has become prohibitively expensive. And this has turned historical research into high-ticket speculative endeavors supported by private investors. It's not usual for profits from the sale of excavated artifacts to reach more than $100 million. So the focus of some underwater archaeology is much like digging for treasure. We can ask if this isn't another form of modern-day piracy. Who really owns the past? Should the search for gold and silver motivate the study of water in world history? Or should historical questions generate research directions underwater as they do on land?