Maritime archaeological ethnographies: in pursuit of the multi-temporality and multi-vocality of sites

Anna Demetriou
University of Cyprus, Cyprus Marine and Maritime Institute

Maritime archaeology has managed to attain ‘intellectual maturity’ (Adams 2006:1). The field has gradually shifted from a general reluctance to participate in theoretical debates of the archaeological discipline, to exploring theoretical questions and producing new interpretations. Likewise, there has been a turn towards the public pursuing greater connection with the non-professional aspect. All the above focus on the past biographies of maritime archaeological remains; the identification and interpretation of the material remains, construction and use, the various changes incurred throughout their life until their disposal, and their subsequent archaeological value. Likewise, public and community archaeology programmes seek to inform the public about the innate value of maritime archaeological remains and raise awareness about the need for their protection.

Apart from shedding light on the past, archaeological sites are cultural channels that can disclose new ways of understanding and engaging with the present and consequently new roles and meanings within contemporary society. On this ground, the presentation will underline the need to take another step further in our field; to extend research to include the study of contemporary social and historical contexts of maritime archaeological remains. Archaeological ethnography, an interdisciplinary field of study that combines anthropological methodologies with archaeological sensibilities, is a valuable tool towards that direction. It sets at the centre of attention non-professional communities in an attempt to identify the distinct ways they signify and use the material traces of the past.

To substantiate this position, the presentation will examine the two shipwreck sites that have been the focus of an archaeological ethnography project. The first is the 3rd cent. BC shipwreck of Kyrenia that was excavated in the 1960s and earned an exceptional position within the field of shipwreck archaeology, but also within the local population. The other shipwreck is the 4th cent. BC Mazotos shipwreck. It is the second well preserved shipwreck site located in Cyprus, whose excavation is still on-going. Unfolding the multiple engagements and negotiations identified around the two sites, will bring to the fore the complex, multilevelled, relational, and constantly changing qualities of maritime archaeological sites which could possibly reflect new research directories.