By Martijn R. Manders
Leiden University, Netherlands

Thijs Maarleveld during a seminar on underwater archaeology at the Netherlands Institute of Ship and Underwater Archaeology (NISA), in Lelystad. RCE photo courtesy Martijn Manders

On the 11 March 2021, Thijs Maarleveld passed away. Thijs lived with his wife Irene in Oksbol, Denmark since becoming a professor in maritime archaeology at the University of Southern Denmark, Esbjerg, in 2005.

Thijs dedicated his professional life, spanning more than 40 years, completely to the protection and management of the underwater cultural heritage. In this field, he really made a difference, in the Netherlands as well as internationally. We can go as far as to say that in the Netherlands he can be regarded as the Godfather of underwater archaeology.

In 1980, while still a student, he was appointed by the government as the first policy-maker to focus on underwater heritage. This was undoubtedly triggered by the discovery and subsequent looting of so many shipwrecks due to the technological advancements that made diving and the prospection of the seabed easier. Soon he was not only the policy maker, but also actively investigating all of the discoveries made in the Netherlands by himself.

This also resulted in dive gear stacking up in the hallways of the ministry. At that time, “he was the one-eyed man in the land of blind”, as a journalist of a national newspaper described him. Slowly, he built a team around him and the excavations of Scheurrak SO1 and Aanloop Molengat set the standards for archaeological research in muddy waters.

Thijs Maarleveld recording ships structure to exacting standards. Photo SDU courtesy Martijn Manders.

A warehouse in Alphen aan den Rijn was the nerve center of all the operations, with a base on the island of Texel for the summer field work. This beautiful pioneering period ended when the underwater section merged with the ship archaeologists from the Polders in Ketelhaven. The Netherlands Institute for Ship and underwater Archaeology (NISA) was established and incorporated in the ROB (what is now the RCE).

Thijs is one of the founders and a former president of ICUCH. For the Netherlands he negotiated the UNESCO Convention of 2001 and throughout his life he remained a strong fighter for international cooperation in the protection and management of the underwater cultural heritage. The Annex of the Convention is partly from his hand.

Thijs had a remarkable work ethic and produced an enormous number of articles and books. Through these he continuous to be with us. Through his work at the University in Esbjerg he educated many of the maritime and underwater archaeologists that are currently at work in the discipline. He was never too tired to transfer his knowledge to them, even after he became ill.  A few publications are still in the pipeline, like the new digital maritime history of the Netherlands, in which he wrote a chapter, but in remembrance of him there will be certainly more that will carry his name forward.

And thus, Thijs Maarleveld will remain a guide for many of us and that is a small comfort. May he rest in peace.

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