Review – Landscape Beneath the Waves: the archaeological investigation of underwater landscapes

3 mins read
Caroline Wickham-Jones
Oxbow Books, £29.95
ISBN 978-1789250725
Review Jon Henderson

Caroline Wickham- Jones offers a useful, if at times rather dry, overview of current research on submerged landscapes around the world. The realisation that sea levels were up to 140m lower globally at the height of the last Ice Age (26,000 to 19,000 years ago) – reaching present-day levels only around 5,000 years ago – is arguably one of the most important advances in archaeology over the last decade. Despite numerous scientific papers and important projects, an accessible overview of this work has been lacking and, as a result, this book is to be welcomed.

As a textbook, more than half of the book is taken up describing the methodologies for understanding, surveying, analysing, and modelling submerged landscapes. The focus is very much on acoustic technologies with very little consideration of the widespread use of autonomous underwater vehicles or advances in digital photogrammetry to identify sites. Case studies are provided throughout but the focus is very much on the UK (and particularly Orkney, given the author’s experience). The rest of the book is a brisk geographical overview of the current knowledge of submerged landscapes and sites around the world. At the author’s own admission this is not exhaustive, and some sites are described in much more detail than others, while some important sites (especially those in freshwater locations) are not mentioned.

The book’s strength lies in being able to explain complex processes and techniques quickly and clearly. However, as it is written in the style of a descriptive handbook for undergraduate students, it lacks the technical detail required for professional archaeologists as well as the wider narrative to satisfy a general readership. Techniques are described in basic terms, case studies tend to be sketchy, and there is little attempt in the concluding chapter to provide a synthesis of the importance of submerged landscapes to current, terrestrially focused interpretations of the human past. That said, as an introductory text for students it serves its function admirably and, given that it deals with a largely unappreciated but essential area of archaeological research, deserves a place on undergraduate course reading lists everywhere.  

This review appeared in CA 351.

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