What emerges above all else from the chapters in this volume is the rich, dynamic, and compelling nature of the maritime archaeological record and the marine historic environment. The issues brought to light are broad and pervasive in nature. They provoke research questions that cannot simply be compartmentalised as ‘maritime’, but are entangled in the most pressing and fundamental topics at the heart of all archaeological endeavour. Questions as to the nature and experiences of people from the past and the texture of the worlds they inhabited lie at the forefront of each chapter. Moreover, the connecting threads of long-term patterns in environmental change, and interaction and connectivity within Britain, to Ireland and the Continent, and ultimately the rest of the world, weave in and out of each section. This serves to stitch together what might otherwise be artificially divided periods. In this sense, this volume reflects the demands that the nature of the marine environment place upon archaeological work, the need to think of ‘time/space together and differently to other areas of archaeology’ (Sturt 2006, 120).
Importantly, working within this less considered space also provides room for reflection. In writing terrestrially focused accounts of the past we have, at times, missed out on important parts of social life. By examining the maritime facets of society, the preceding chapters demonstrate that we are not simply creating an appendix of interesting observations, but fashioning new insights into society as a whole. Thus, research into the maritime record offers a way into ongoing broader philosophical debates on the perception of space, experience of the world in everyday life, and of cognition.
Both the Early Modern and Industrial and High to Post-Medieval chapters have highlighted how far- reaching and completely intertwined the maritime sphere was in all aspects of life during the periods they address. In discussing the maritime aspects of the fundamental social transformations of the Early Modern period, Ransley and Dellino-Musgrave suggest that ‘Even those whose lives seemed at some distance from the sea were affected by it. Seaborne wealth altered their built environment, the goods they used and consumed, and the fashions they followed, so that material entanglements with the maritime sphere stretched deep inland’. It is equally clear from the early prehistoric chapters that maritime archaeological research questions are part of, and contribute to, fundamental questions about the pattern and impacts of climate and sea-level change, addressing human responses to these processes but also contributing to our understanding of Quaternary science.
Thus, the questions that drive this research require not only new theoretical and methodological approaches, but multidisciplinary ones. A repeated theme of many of the chapters is the further development of multidisciplinary, as opposed to inter-disciplinary, approaches to research. This is another of the strengths of working within the maritime sphere: we become part of a larger collaborative research aspiration. The fundamental questions of sea-level change at the heart of many of the earlier chapters are, for example, a ‘deep time’ problem, and one which archaeology is contributing to. As a consequence, this framework will be of value to disciplines beyond archaeology, from those engaged in Quaternary science to modern historians and ethnographic researchers. Given the importance of these multidisciplinary approaches, it is perhaps not surprising that engagements with industry, notably through strategic research work funded by ALSF, are of fundamental importance to the realisation of the research agenda. Over the last 30 years development-led archaeology has transformed our understanding of the terrestrial record. In comparison, collaboration between archaeology and offshore industries has a relatively short and less-formal history. As such, we need to continue the good work that has begun to ensure continued improvement in our understanding of all aspects of the marine environment.
Although it is clear that we have come a long way since 2002’s Taking to the Water (Roberts and Trow), it is also evident that the weight of past research, the material itself, our data, still binds maritime research to the land. Much of the resource assessment in the preceding chapters focuses upon the coast most heavily, and only makes inferences to seafaring activity through terrestrial proxies. Sturt and Van de Noort note that ‘the character of the sea and connected waterways themselves must be seen as a central component’ to their chapter, and we might usefully suggest the same of all future research into the maritime and marine historic environment. The changing ‘textures’ (Evans 2003) of the space that people inhabited in the past is crucial to understanding the nature of their societies. In future research this must include not just the changing coastal environment people inhabited, but the changing conditions of seafaring and the sea.
To a degree research into the maritime sphere remains at the edges, and has not yet fully ‘taken to the water’. However, it is essential to recognise that the nature of this document, with its coastal bias, does not reflect so much the research potential or the intentions/desire of those writing it, as the fact that the depth of our material continues to tie us to the land. As a research community we are articulating in this volume the questions we want to pursue, and it is as the research questions each chapter sets out are taken up, that we will begin to move out onto the water, to address the sea as part of a seamless lived space, and to incorporate the effects of sea- level change not only on those living on the coast, but also on the sea they inhabit.