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North Sea ArchaeologiesA Maritime Biography, 10,000 BC - AD 1500$
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Robert Van de Noort

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780199566204

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780199566204.001.0001

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An archaeological theory of the sea

An archaeological theory of the sea

2 An archaeological theory of the sea
North Sea Archaeologies

Robert Van de Noort

Oxford University Press

Despite the wealth of information available on the North Sea, surprisingly few archaeologists have set out to study how people related to and connected to this sea, and other seas, in the past. In fact, we can distinguish four established traditions in archaeological research of the sea, all of which originated in the 20th century. First, many (or most) land-locked archaeologists working on any side of the North Sea have simply disregarded the sea itself, seeing it merely as the natural boundary of their study areas rather than considering its role in any significant way. At best, they are seeing the sea from the land, without genuinely engaging with it (cf. Cooney 2003: 323), although the panorama is slowly changing (e.g. cf. Bradley 1984 with Bradley 2007). Second, there are those archaeologists with an interest in long-distance exchange and exotic objects, who focused initially on the Neolithic and Bronze Age periods but have also been concerned, in more recent decades, with the early medieval period. Although these archaeologists have recognized the seas as conduits of long-distance exchange, they have rarely questioned how the practice of travel across the sea impacted on the social products of such exchange (e.g. Butler 1963, O’Connor 1980, Bradley 1984, Clarke, Cowie, and Foxon 1985, for the Neolithic and early Bronze Age; Hodges 1982, Loveluck and Tys 2006, for the early medieval period). Third, a group of archaeologists have studied the exploitation of the sea, especially for fish and salt, and the occupation and the reclamation of the edges of the sea in the Roman period and afterwards; but these studies have generally not strayed beyond the functional utilization of the sea and coast both for food and for land for food production (e.g. Clark 1961; Van den Broeke 1985; Andersen 1995, 2007; Rippon 2000; Smart 2003; Milner et al. 2004; De Kraker and Borger 2007). And fourth, maritime archaeologists’ focus has been on ships and waterside structures directly relating to shipping activities, but the development of a fuller appreciation of the significance of the sea and seafaring to past societies remains something of a distant aspiration (e.g. Ellmers 1972; McGrail 2003: 1).

Keywords:   Africa, Bristol, Dover, Hasholme, Jutland, Mediterranean, Rhineland, Shetlands, Torres Strait, Volendam

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