In today's class I'm going to talk about marine archaeology, the branch of archaeology focusing on human interaction with the sea, lakes and rivers. It's the study of ships, cargoes, shipping facilities, and other physical remains. I'll give you an example, then go on to show how this type of research is being transformed by the use of the latest technology.
Atlit-Yam was a village on the coast of the eastern Mediterranean, which seems to have been thriving until around 7,000 BC. The residents kept cattle, caught fish and stored grain. They had wells for fresh water, many of their houses were built around a courtyard and were constructed of stone. The village contained an impressive monument: seven half-tonne stones standing in a semicircle around a spring, that might have been used for ceremonial purposes.
Atlit-Yam may have been destroyed swiftly by a tsunami, or climate change may have caused glaciers to melt and sea levels to rise, flooding the village gradually. Whatever the cause, it now lies ten metres below the surface of the Mediterranean, buried under sand at the bottom of the sea. It's been described as the largest and best preserved prehistoric settlement ever found on the seabed.
For marine archaeologists, Atlit-Yam is a treasure trove. Research on the buildings, tools and the human remains has revealed how the bustling village once functioned, and even what diseases some of its residents suffered from. But of course this is only one small village, one window into a lost world. For a fuller picture, researchers need more sunken settlements, but the hard part is finding them.
Underwater research used to require divers to find shipwrecks or artefacts, but in the second half of the twentieth century, various types of underwater vehicles were developed, some controlled from a ship on the surface, and some of them autonomous, which means they don't need to be operated by a person.
Autonomous underwater vehicles, or AUVs, are used in the oil industry, for instance, to create maps of the seabed before rigs and pipelines are installed. To navigate they use sensors, such as compasses and sonar. Until relatively recently they were very expensive, and so heavy that they had to be launched from a large vessel with a winch.