Archaeology – discovering what came before us
Some believe that God, a higher power created the planet Earth and its creatures. Some believe that Earth was created as a result of biological and geographical processes. Regardless, there is no doubt that early forms of life existed on the planet hundreds of millions of years ago. Researchers have found that simple life forms and micro-organisms existed about 650 million years ago after which more complex forms of life took over the Earth. This is brought to light by researchers who study the ancient and recent past of life – humans, animals, and all creatures through remains. Discovering beautiful and intelligent life forms and civilizations that have come before us and survived the challenges of the world gives us an insight into how the world and humans have evolved in co-existence. And this is the true essence of archaeology.
Types of Archaeology
Archaeology paves the way to understanding human culture. Various fields of archaeological study aid this. Archaeologists develop expertise in a specific field of study or a specific geographic region. A few of them are the study of human remains – bioarchaeology, the study of animals – zooarchaeology, the study of stone tools – lithics, and the study of ancient plants – paleoethnobotany. Similarly, the archaeology field that specializes in the study of remains of human activity lying beneath the surface of water or on coasts is known as underwater archaeology.
Water – source of life | Underwater archaeology
Water connects everything. Water has facilitated numerous aspects of life like trade, transport, and leisure activities since time immemorial. Beneath the surface of these waters in oceans, seas, rivers, and lakes are something that intrigues human intelligence. Waters that have witnessed the change of times and the rise and fall of empires are being explored. Underwater archaeology is now an important field in archaeology and rightly so, as water covers three-fourths of the surface of the Earth. It is one of the few sources of knowing what lies beneath the deep oceans and seas. The breathtaking concept of underwater archaeology is emerging today. Something that could not have been imagined by humans years ago is now possible, with modern and cutting-edge technology taking all the credit.
Underwater Archaeologists – what they do
The past of the underwater world is studied by investigating artifacts (the physical remains), plant and animal remain, and structures. Conducting searches is hard on the land, and being surrounded by water only adds a challenge. There are numerous challenges posed by water for the investigators.
A majority of underwater archaeologists specialize in nautical archaeology which refers to the study of the construction and working methods of watercraft. It includes prehistoric and historic ships. It is a saddening thought that many shipwrecks have occurred in the deepest of seas, without a clue about what had happened. One of the main goals of nautical archaeologists is to study shipwrecks and trace their origin and order of events.
To trace the whereabouts of the ships, researchers use records like their architectural plans to understand their structure, log books, old maps, or travel records. Even a simple traveler’s journal or sketches are of great help to the researchers. This information with geographic studies of soil, water, and air around the ships proves as an asset to aid the researchers.
Underwater archaeology is not all about submerged ships. It also includes the research of fascinating ancient sites that could once have been a part of a large ancient city or civilization. Researchers have found sinkholes where there are remains of offerings, and burial grounds. There is also a large possibility of uncovering sites that were submerged by tsunamis, earthquakes, and changes in sea levels over the years.
Underwater Archaeology in India
India realized the importance of underwater research as early as in the VI five-year plan. India boasts a long coastline of about 7516 kilometers. It is no surprise that it is rich in varied underwater heritage. Underwater Archaeology Wing was established as a part of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) in 2001. Since its inception, the UAW has been a major part of studying the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal.
UAW is involved in preserving the underwater natural heritage and limiting underwater activities that could threaten aquatic life. They document sites and ancient shipwrecks. They have also collaborated with other government organizations like the Indian Navy (IN) which has been a success.
Coastal Sites studied by UAW, India | Underwater archaeology
1.Underwater Archaeological Exploration Off Mahabalipuram in the Bay of Bengal
In November 2001, an exploration was carried out in areas near the famous Shore Temple. Submerged rocks about 500m off Mahabalipuram were studied thoroughly. Straight joints and angular cuts on some of the submerged rocks point towards the involvement of human activity. A trough about 3-4m in depth was discovered. Continuous explorations are planned to study the surfaces of these rocks in detail.
2. Offshore and Onshore Exploration on Elephanta Island
The impact of coastal changes in the monsoon was studied on the Island. Ancient remains like that of old brick houses, stonewalls, and potsherds were found and documented. A large number of amphorae sherds were found. These indicate the maritime trade that occurred from this ancient port.
3. Exploration Off Pondicherry
After discussions with the locals, it was brought to light that there were shipwrecks in the area due to numerous naval battles. Many ships are said to have wrecked and sunk in the water. Surveyors studied the remains and the bottom of ships to understand their structural features.
Underwater Discoveries in other parts of the world
4. Lake Titicaca
A study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in the US indicated the multiple finds in Lake Titicaca. Precious shells and stones were found. But one of the most important finds was the bones of young Illamas. Further studies reveal that young Illamas were sacrificed as a religious ritual.
5. Pavlopetri – a submerged ancient city
This site in the South of Greece showed interesting findings in the 2009 exploration. It is considered one of the oldest submerged cities dating back 5000 years. The distinct urban features of the submerged city of Pavlopetri are like no other ancient city studied before.
Thonis-Heracleion | Underwater archaeology
A RAF commander in 1933 reported seeing ruins under the sea and explored the site along with an Egyptian scholar. After several searches for an entire century, it was declared that the ruins were of two ancient cities. Statues, other important artifacts, and treasures were found, proving the important contribution of the commander’s observation.
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Underwater Archaeology in India (2020) Inarch center. Inarch center. Available at: https://www.inarchcenter.com/post/underwater-archaeology-in-india (Accessed: February 12, 2023).
What is underwater archaeology, Advisory Council on Underwater Archaeology. Available at: https://acuaonline.org/what-is-underwater-archaeology/ (Accessed: February 12, 2023).
What is archaeology, Society for American Archaeology. Available at: https://www.saa.org/about-archaeology/what-is-archaeology (Accessed: February 12, 2023).