England’s marine and maritime heritage has long provided a focus for archaeological and historical research. The first article in the journal Antiquity (Crawford 1927) reported on the submerged field boundaries lying in shallow waters around the isles of Scilly, indicating an awareness of the importance of what lies beneath the water’s edge. However, despite this early engagement with the subject,  and England’s historical dependency  on  the  sea, it has taken some time for regulatory powers and sustained research to venture into this area. In 2002 the National Heritage Act served to change this, bringing England’s marine and maritime historic environment into a clear regulatory framework. In response to this new remit, English Heritage commissioned the Centre for Maritime Archaeology at the University of Southampton to bring together the broad community of scholars interested in marine and maritime affairs (be they working in academia, industry or a-vocationally), to help both quantify the known record and to establish a clear research agenda for the future. This publication represents the efforts of all members of this community to do so.

Eight of the ten chapters presented here provide period-specific accounts of the known archaeological record, spanning nearly a million years of hominin occupation from the Palaeolithic through to the present day. Additional sections examine fields such as marine geoarchaeology and environmental archaeology more broadly. Since this is the first time any such review has been undertaken  for the maritime sphere, it represents a valuable resource to students, researchers, those in development-led archaeology, curators and the public alike. Furthermore, given the scope and nature of archaeological research, it will be of relevance to historians, Quaternary scientists, archivists, and museum practitioners.

Each chapter draws on five distinct themes to generate a thorough characterisation of the diverse topics connected to the maritime and marine historic environment:

  • 1 Coastal Change
  • 2 Maritime Settlement and Marine Exploitation
  • 3 Seafaring
  • 4 Maritime Networks
  • 5 Maritime Identities and Perceptions of Maritime Space

These themes reflect the variety of established regional and thematic research frameworks, from Industrial Archaeology (Palmer 2005) and built environment strategies to the international North Sea Prehistory Research and Management Framework (Peeters et al 2009), with which research into the maritime record intersects, and the ways in which since early prehistory the maritime sphere has been entangled in all aspects of human life in England.

Given this broad scope, the resource assessment within each chapter is not intended to be definitive but serves to characterise research so far under- taken. As such, it is important that the material in each chapter, and the research questions raised, are considered in conjunction with the more detailed regional frameworks and the rapid coastal zone assessments. Importantly, the chapters in this volume also demonstrate how rich and diverse the maritime record is, and the primary contributions research into it can make to our interpretations of the past.

All of the chapters within this  book  highlight 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 com- partmentalised as ‘maritime’, but are linked to the most pressing and fundamental topics at the heart of all archaeological endeavour. Questions as  to the nature and experiences of past people’s lives, and the worlds they lived in, 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. These serve to stitch together what might otherwise be artificially divided periods.

One of the strengths and imperatives of maritime archaeological research, and one that is evident from the discussions in this volume, is its global relevance and hence the value of its international research collaborations; research into our maritime record reflects both the longevity of and fluctua- tions in our contemporary ‘global’ perspective. The ‘English’ focus at the heart  of  this  volume, then, is intended in no way to undermine or underplay these important points, but simply provides a place to which discussions are anchored.

The papers presented here are not intended to be definitive texts to last for perpetuity. Instead, each chapter provides a starting point for future research that will pick up the major themes identified and move forward rapidly. As such, this document is best seen as the beginning of a conversation, where those who have been discussing these issues for some time lay out the nature of that discourse to encourage others to participate. It is hoped that this will enable both greater dissemination and integra- tion of maritime archaeological research priorities within the broader archaeological community.

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