Solving for the Unknown: A comparative study of methodological approaches to submerged landscape archaeology

Author: Chelsea Wiseman

  • Thesis download: available for open access on 11 Jul 2024.

Wiseman, Chelsea, 2022 Solving for the Unknown: A comparative study of methodological approaches to submerged landscape archaeology, Flinders University, College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences

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This thesis investigates modes of practice in submerged landscape archaeology across the world to develop a similar mode of practice for Australia. Over the course of human history, sea levels have been substantially lower, reaching as low as −130 m at the Last Glacial Maximum. These areas were inhabited by past populations, and subsequently inundated, allowing for the preservation of archaeological remains of these past communities. These archaeological sites have been observed and studied since the early 1900s, and over time many regions have developed methodological approaches to best analyse these submerged archaeological sites and their landscape context, including Denmark, Israel, and North America.

The original contribution to knowledge of this thesis is the creation of a mode of practice for submerged landscape archaeology for Australia, based on the insights gathered from international practice. No subtidal Indigenous archaeological sites had been found in Australian waters until recently, when the first two sites were identified. This established the first successful mode of practice for the development of submerged landscape archaeology in Australia, which is considered in this thesis and then enhanced with the knowledge gained from international examples. This contributes to an effort to characterise submerged landscape archaeology and the conditions required for the preservation of material, as well as optimal strategies to locate sites.

This thesis poses the question of whether international modes of practice can inform a model adapted to the Australian context. To answer this question, international examples are evaluated to investigate factors contributing to the preservation and discovery of submerged archaeological sites. With the findings of these examples, and in consideration of the methodological approach developed with the discovery of the first two submerged Indigenous sites in Australia, this allows for a comparison of methods. The results of this comparison have been used to form a baseline ‘Australian Model’, based on internationally demonstrated criteria for the preservation and identification of sites.

To develop this Australian Model, a combination of desk-based study, alongside field observations, has been used. These are reinforced by thematic content analyses of select groups of literature to better understand the history of submerged landscape archaeology on a global scale. From this Australian Model, we can better understand the state of site formation processes and modelling for site preservation as is understood globally, in addition to the refinement of models for site selection and land use, as well as greater knowledge of the suitability of different remote sensing techniques.

This process has investigated and tested assumptions about site preservation and discovery under water, and these are considered for a continent, where, until recently, no sites had been found. The Australian Model proposed here will require testing and refinement over time, with scope for regional variation, but provides a baseline for further research for submerged sites on the continental shelf of Australia.

Keywords: submerged landscapes, Australian archaeology, coastal archaeology, maritime archaeology

Subject: Archaeology thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2022
School: College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences
Supervisor: Jonathan Benjamin