Maritime archaeology is the scientific study of underwater cultural heritage and related land-based sites.

Underwater cultural heritage refers to all traces of human existence with cultural, historical or archaeological character that have been partially or totally submerged. Shipwrecks are the most commonly known type of underwater cultural heritage. Submerged aircraft, military defence systems, wharfs, jetties, port and fishing facilities and inundated human occupation sites are also included in this definition.

Featured image:  Lee Graham conducts a 3D photogrammetric survey of one of ‘Morgan’s anchors’ at site KR11. Image: Renee Malliaros/Silentworld Foundation.

The museum runs a Maritime Archaeology Program that advises and actively helps Commonwealth, state agencies and overseas government authorities responsible for underwater cultural heritage.

The program provides advice and resources by:

Contact us for a copy of the policy.

The museum receives many requests from Australia and overseas to acquire, borrow or lend archaeological material. Our Maritime Archaeology Program Policy includes guidelines about ethical practices and legislation, and aims to curb the destruction of underwater cultural heritage sites, and illegal or unethical trade in artefacts.

Contact us for a copy of the policy.

See Borrowing from the Collection

The museum follows strict guidelines around displaying, lending and acquiring archaeological material.

  • Archaeological material recovered from 4 pre-colonial Dutch shipwrecks off Western Australia's coast (displayed in Navigators) and materials recovered other underwater cultural heritage sites have undergone official approval. Under the 1972 Australian - Netherlands Committee on Old Dutch Shipwrecks (ANCODS), the museum is the commonwealth repository of selected material from the Dutch shipwrecks.
  • The museum does not buy or accept archaeological material, except in special circumstances. When we are offered material, we investigate transferring it to the designated national or state authority, or relevant state museum or cultural institution.
  • When the museum borrows archaeological material for display, the material must have been obtained in accordance with the 1990 ICMM recommendations. The material must not have been excavated for profit and it must have been legally obtained, excavated scientifically and ethically, and the archaeological collection preserved intact.

 

You can choose from a range of courses in maritime archaeology, from short courses to postgraduate degrees. AIMA offers the AIMA/NAS Maritime Archaeology training course. Flinders University and James Cook University offer postgraduate and shorter courses in maritime archaeology.

The HistArch discussion list is useful for keeping up-to-date with Australian and international developments in maritime archaeology. This a moderated list.

The Australasian Institute for Maritime Archaeology (AIMA) is the professional body for Australian maritime archaeologists.

The association produces a newsletter and a scholarly journal, the Bulletin of the Australasian Institute for Maritime Archaeology, and has a regular conference with papers from Australia and overseas. Publications produced by AIMA are available at the Vaughan Evans Library.

The AIMA Bulletin is the first publication point for maritime archaeological research in Australia. The AIMA website contains useful information, including contacts, an index to the Bulletin and past issues of the newsletter available online. The Bulletin is also indexed by the abstracting and indexing service APAIS which is available online at many libraries around Australia. In some larger libraries, such as university libraries and state libraries, this resource is available as a full text service.

 

If you are interested in researching shipwrecks around Australia there are many online resources to help. The museum’s Library also has journal articles and conference papers by museum staff which are available online.

Australian National Shipwreck Database
Maritime Heritage Online New South Wales
Historical Shipwrecks in Australia
Shipwrecks Contacts for each State
Shipwrecks
Shipwrecks Corrosion and Conservation

 

 

If you have a question about the museum’s Maritime Archaeology Program or our collection please contact:

Kieran Hosty, Manager, Maritime Archaeology Program

Phone: +61 2 9298 3710
Email: khosty@sea.museum

Conducting the photogrammetry survey of M24, using underwater lights. Image: Steve Trewavas.

ABC Radio: Shipwreck of Itata Interview

Maritime Archaeologist Dr James Hunter discusses the shipwreck of Itata.
LISTEN NOW

 

Museum Discoveries

Imagine being the first people to find the remains of a troop ship that has been lost underwater for more than 180 years. Or helping excavate the wreck of a frigate that was sent to recapture HMAV Bounty and its mutinous crew and was itself lost on the Great Barrier Reef in 1791. The museum’s maritime archaeological team keeps busy surveying and documenting fascinating wrecks and artefacts.

Here are some of the exciting projects we’ve worked on.

 

Screenshot from the PS 'Herald' VR experience

14 Sep 2020

The PS 'Herald' VR Experience: Seven students, one virtual dive
A small selection of the museum's Dunbar collection, purchased with the assistance of the Andrew Thyne Reid Charitable Trust

20 Aug 2020

The melancholy wreck of the 'Dunbar'
Kieran Hosty at Boot Reef in December 2018. Image Julia Sumerling/Silentworld Foundation

15 Jul 2020

Ask an Archaeologist Day
James Hunter (left) and Kieran Hosty use baseline-offset mapping to record the hull structure in South Australian's bow

22 May 2020

Bound for 'South Australian': South Australia's oldest known shipwreck found
Black and white photograph of a ship

21 Dec 2019

Digitising our history: The tragedy of SS Federal
Photograph showing archaeological remains underwater

13 Dec 2019

Rhode Island revisited: The search for Cook's Endeavour continues
James Hunter conducts a photogrammetric survey of Herald’s starboard boiler. A lighting array was used to illuminate the wreck site and resulted in imagery that was a vast improvement over photographs collected by the team in 2019. Image Irini Malliaros

01 Dec 2019

PS Herald Revisited
Itata shipwreck - Sydney Harbour

20 Sep 2019

4 surprising shipwrecks of Sydney Harbour
Curator of Ocean Science and Technology at the Australian National Maritime Museum – Emily Jateff

23 May 2019

Fast Five - Quick Questions with Maritime Archaeologist Emily Jateff