1.3 Past Achievements, Future Directions

It is often a characteristic of new research agendas that the achievements of past research initiatives are portrayed as incomplete or inadequate, while new directions are listed as the routes to understanding. This, however, would not be an accurate portrayal of the history – or future – of marine and maritime archaeology in Scotland. Archaeological studies of human interaction with the sea have a long history in Scotland, while maritime research in the traditional sense – such as underwater excavations and surveys of shipwrecks – has been a long standing strength. The primary aim of this panel was to identify, collate and summarise the achievements of this previous research as a premise for the identification of the most productive avenues of future research. The changes of 2008 to 2012 (including the Marine [Scotland] Act 2010 and the formation of Marine Scotland) in the marine and maritime sector in Scotland have been positive advances and change is continuing apace: this will be reflected in the changing understandings set out in this, and future, frameworks.

In order to build a holistic approach to the marine and maritime environment, a number of approaches need to be explored, preferably in combination and through collaboration. This includes adopting a sea-oriented perspective. Approaching marine and maritime landscapes from the perspective of the sea, both metaphorically and physically by boat, enables researchers to experience seascapes as people would have done, prior to the automobile age. The researcher has to understand landing and launching places, navigation aids, currents, tides and winds, and where sources of certain resources, such as fresh water, can be found. This approach demands an understanding or a source of local knowledge and experience, which is often lost or rarely encountered. However, historic maps, charts and local knowledge combined can lead to fruitful insights into the maritime geography and history of an area.

Landscape-scale approaches demand limits and islands are particularly suitable as study areas in this respect. Similarly waterways are readily defined by watershed and other factors, whereas sea routes are infinite in variability and the boundaries of study may be more usefully defined by the commercial. political or economic objectives of the navigation. At the other end of the geographical spectrum site-scale researches of Scotland’s marine and maritime cultural landscapes focus on exemplars such as log-boats, shipwrecks, fish-traps, navigation aids, cleared landing places, vernacular quays and buildings associated with fishing and boats, all of which may lead out into the wider issues alluded to above. Consideration of the land from the sea also gives the advantage of perceiving the land as a transient surface, one that is constantly changing.  The present day shore line is but one boundary in an infinite and ever-changing environment that humans have interacted with and adapted to throughout history.

Finally, artefact and literary study approaches look at cultural objects and events as indicative of connections, both physical and psychological, with the sea, from fishing weights and sextants to place-names and sea-shanties, but also to ‘associations’ such as Capstan navy cut cigarettes, launched in 1894 and still sold today under the same brand name. This product uses a capstan as a logo, an image redolent in contemporary culture of the ‘manly’ virtues of strength and teamwork, bonded to the peerless prestige of the pre 1914 Royal Navy.

It is an important aim of this panel to highlight the wealth and diversity of Scotland’s maritime archaeological resource, but central to this aim must be the move away from the stereotypical view of ‘Maritime Archaeology’ as a specialist sub-division of the mainstream discipline. For many reasons, considering maritime archaeology as a specialism is misleading and particularly so, perhaps, in Scotland where marine and maritime culture has pervaded all aspects of human activity in all periods. It is intended that this framework document be used alongside those of the other panels, with the research directions outlined here aligning and complementing those of the other thematic and chronological subject areas.

Leave a Reply