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About Centre for Maritime Archaeology

Coasts are complex, dynamic, open systems whose archeology is influenced by a range of interacting variables.

Current concerns over the influence of climate change and sea level rise are particularly pertinent at submerged and sub-aerial coastal archaeological sites.

Within this context, the CMA's research is focused on studies of evolving maritime and freshwater cultural landscapes – extending from riverine and lacustrine environments to the open ocean, with emphasis on coastal and nearshore archaeology. We enjoy close collaboration with colleagues in the Coastal Systems and Quaternary Environmental Change research groups.

Research themes

Maritime and freshwater cultural landscapes

– Maritime landscapes: Humans have interacted with maritime environments for millennia – altering, creating and consuming them on a range of scales directly and indirectly for subsistence, trade, industry, transportation and even ritual purposes. Of particular interest is the exploitation of coastal resources, evidenced in such monuments as Mesolithic and Neolithic shell middens, Medieval fish traps and tidal mills and Post-Medieval salt works. We are engaged in research projects investigating maritime cultural landscapes in Ireland, the Middle East, Canada and along the East African coast.


– Freshwater landscapes: past investigations of riverine and lacustrine locations have resulted in the discovery of a range of archaeological structures, sites and artifactual remains. Research in this field is concerned with bodies of freshwater which have the potential to reveal new insights on settlement and social organisation as well as developing a GIS resource inventory to reassess this environment. Our work includes crannogs, river fords, defended settlements and fishing sites based largely in Ireland and Scotland.

Marine geoarchaeology

– Submerged landscapes: In response to ice sheet advance and retreat over the last 20,000 years, global sea level change has led to significant shifts in coastline morphology and position. For much of this time, sea level was lower than present and extensive regions of the contemporary seafloor were sub-aerially exposed. These now-submerged zones were important landscapes for prehistoric humans, allowing access to marine and terrestrial resources and to transportation and migration routes. Much of the current interest in mapping and modelling these submerged landscapes has been stimulated by the availability of high-density large-volume acoustic (sonar) datasets. We are interested in the identification and reconstruction of these landscapes with a view to understanding past human response to significant sea-level change.

– Site formation processes: Research into processes that form the submerged archaeological record is important, as it informs effective in-situ conservation and preservation of archaeological sites. Two classes of formation processes are recognized: culturally created (C-transforms) and naturally created (N-transforms). We are interested in understanding N-transforms – specifically, the linked physical processes operating in the water column (hydro-dynamics) and on the sea floor (sediment-dynamics), particularly in response to increased storminess associated with climate change.

Historical archaeology

– Gaelic lordships of Ireland and Scotland: The later medieval lordships of Gaelic Ireland and Scotland were dynamic and culturally distinct entities. Many of them, concentrated along the western Atlantic seaboards of both countries, were heavily involved in marine communications and coastal exploitation. Current research is addressing the societal structures of these lordships and examines the processes of historic landscape change that took place across these areas. Recent research has been conducted across the MacDonnell and MacQuillan lordships of north Antrim, and across the insular landscapes of Rathlin, Islay and Colonsay as well as parts of Argyll.


– Historic shipwrecks: Archival references to shipwreck in Ireland and abroad reveal a great number of shipwrecking incidents in the post-medieval period. A range of vessels are represented from humble fishing boats to shipwrecks reflecting the political and military upheavals of the day. The study of these vessels is aimed at understanding not only the technical and material aspects of these sites but also their political-economic context, and by insights into site-formation processes, informing attempts to detect earlier shipwreck sites. Recent marine survey work has documented a number of previously unknown sites and current research is examining both the historical and landscape context of these vessels and their cargoes. Research has also focussed on the remains of vessels either lost or abandoned in the inter-tidal area as well as the depiction of historic vessels through various forms of graffiti in the landscape.

Research projects

– The Archaeology of Salt Production in Ireland (AHRC)
– Late Glacial Sea Level Minima in the Western British Isles (NERC)
– Integrating Archaeology and Sustainable Communities (AHRC)
– Archaeological Applications of the JIBS data (INSTAR and NERC)
– Submerged Archaeological Landscapes (NERC, Heritage Council, Society of Antiquaries, RAI)