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Ocean Time Capsules



The way archaeology works is often times it gives us information that isn’t in the history books. In some cases, there are no history books. Ancient cultures didn’t write books. In other cases, that knowledge has been lost, the books have been burned or they’ve disappeared. In other cases, archaeology talks about things or talks about people who don’t usually get into the books.

In the past, much of the history that was written was about men, about white men, about Europeans, about great explorers. You could hear about Columbus in the history books, but what about the Spanish sailors, and the Portuguese sailors, and the other people that lived and worked? At the time he’s sailing, what about all these different people that are out there fishing on the water? What about children? What about women at sea? And what about aspects of history that we haven’t heard much about because we either can’t read that language or those records are gone?

That’s the power of archaeology, and in particular, that’s the power of maritime archaeology because unlike sites on land, many ships sink to the bottom, and unless they are found by somebody or a fisherman’s net snags something, they’re left alone, and they become almost like a time capsule for us to learn from.

You would think that because the ocean is a harsh environment - it’s cold, it’s strong, it’s got currents, it’s full of salt - that everything is going to be eaten up. And in time, things do go away. But what we’re finding is that just like you have different climates on land, you have them the bottom of the ocean. So in some cases the water may be less salty. In the Baltic and in the Arctic, wooden ships are still very nicely preserved. I swam into a wreck in the Arctic, and in those freezing waters, there was a book still sitting on a shelf that you could open and read. And it had been on the bottom for nearly 70 years.