Archaeology is the closest thing we have to a time machine. It is the only way we can know the unrecorded, and sometimes even the recorded, past. History may be written by the victorious, but archaeology is about the common people. There are archaeological sites ranging in age from thousands-of-years-old prehistoric habitations, to the Egyptian pyramids, to World War II military bases. As a means of obtaining knowledge about our collective past, archaeology has been unsurpassed. It is the literal and figurative digging up of the forgotten past.
However, a great portion of our history has been lost to us because it lies beneath the vast depths of the ocean. Shipwrecks are the records of "moments in time" and often contain much information about people and life onboard. They encapsulate bits of history. Shipwrecks, however, are a non-renewable resource and once they are disturbed or destroyed they are gone forever. Therefore great care has to be taken to preserve these time capsules of the deep.
Up until recently, the technology has not existed to properly do so. Today archaeologists are fighting back the waters by developing modern technology that allows them to analyze wrecks with much more accuracy. These advances have, in instances, provided new information that has changed our view of history and showcases the importance of archaeology for better understanding our past.
A great example of this is the Swedish ship, Vasa. The Vasa ship is a very well preserved 17th century warship. For the most part, it is made from Oak. In 1628, on its first outing, the Vasa sank in Stockholm’s center. It remained there until 1956 (Ljungdahl and Berglund 279).
The ship was loaded with 60 bronze guns on two complete gun decks. It was the King Gustav II Adolf’s plan to reestablish Sweden as a Baltic and European power. Once it sank, attempts to recover it were unsuccessful and the prevailing theory on the cause of the sinking was incompetence on the part of the master shipwright and the weight of the guns that the King had chosen (Cederlund 1).
Since the Vasa ship was raised, there has been a treasure trove of information about the life of a typical sailor on a ship of this type. A few thousand items were recovered from the ship, including small wooden boxes with combination locks, board games, leather boots and other clothing items (Cederlund 2). The ship itself remains a monument to the King’s desire to project the power of the royal family. All of that pales in comparison to the cultural significance of the recovery. Eight hundred thousand visitors visit the Vasa ship from various places around the world each year (Cederlund 1).
Further advances in this particular field have the potential to teach us additional vast amounts and fill in significant missing portions of historical timelines. It has to be done in a manner which destroys the least amount of the site and preserves as much of the information available as possible. Because of this, Maritime...