Hopeful Developments in California Maritime & Underwater Archeology

Posted In: Deep Thoughts

By Marco Meniketti

The goal of preserving our maritime heritage is a constant challenge and often runs afoul of political agendas. Paraphrasing the wisdom of Peter Douglas, who, as director of the California Coastal Commission, was instrumental in the protecting the California’s coastline from development, stated: “the coast is never saved, it is always being saved,” we also must always be aware and vigilant in our efforts to preserve heritage sites whenever it is threatened. Therefore, maritime heritage is never saved it is always being saved.

An important step in that direction is underway in California with the recent formation of the California Maritime Archaeology Committee. This dedicated group has taken important steps in advancing the goals of maritime historical preservation. It is astonishing that California, with 3200 miles of navigable coast and inland waterways has been so slow in embracing maritime archaeology. A few academic programs throughout the state have isolated courses, but no university has a dedicated program.

Marco Meniketti, Chair ACUA

The Society for California Archaeology has held only sporadic sessions focused on the maritime archaeology. I have chaired some of these sessions in the past, but nothing sustainable ever emerged. It is a welcome development that the California Maritime Archaeology Committee has formed with a membership comprised of academics, CRM, and agency representatives.

The committee will host the ACUA’s Submerged Cultural Awareness Workshop at the annual conference in March, 2018. This is a positive step forward on the west coast. Making maritime archaeology a priority at any level on the west coast can only help promote the development of academic programs and further the goals of the ACUA.

There has long been a need for such focus in California. Perhaps a critical mass of trained specialists has been achieved within the ranks of academia and the state to see a sustained presence within the Society for California Archaeology. Quite a considerable number have roots in East Carolina University’s Program in Maritime Studies.

One person commented to me recently that California “has no maritime history before the gold rush.” One could certainly come away with that false impression from the State-sponsored school curriculum. In fact the earliest European shipwreck on the coast dates from the 1540s. Indigenous cultures with a maritime orientation thrived for millennia before the arrival of the Spanish on the coast.

Our continuing efforts in educating the public of the merits of maritime site preservation are bolstered by California’s love affair with the sea (not just for surfing) and most are receptive to the concept as long as public access to the coast is guaranteed. It is in the best interest of everyone, especially the ACUA, to nurture regional groups everywhere in their pursuit of maritime preservation and research.