The Importance of Underwater Archaeology
Shipwrecks are unique time capsules, providing archaeologists and historians with insight into the past. Shipwreck sites not only feature a vessel, a magnificent artifact, but they often hold cargo, personal items, tools, utensils, and other diagnostic artifacts. Shipwrecks humanize history. In addition to teaching us the role of vessels in the nation's economy, shipwrecks acquaint us with the ordinary men and women, the builders, sailors, and longshoremen, who were the lifeblood of the shipping industry.
The stories of average people are often
missing from the written record, but
archaeology gives them a voice
To facilitate access to shipwreck
sites and foster safe diving, the
WHS maintains moorings on
several popular Wisconsin
Through the study of shipwrecks, cargoes, armaments, equipment, and personal possessions of the crews and passengers, archaeologists are gaining a better understanding of the important role of maritime commerce, exploration, and marine technology in shaping world history and human culture.
Archaeological sites, on land and underwater, are cultural resources that have scientific, historical, educational, and recreational values. However, these resources are fragile and nonrenewable. Underwater archaeologists at the Wisconsin Historical Society (WHS) are working to identify, preserve, protect, and provide access to submerged cultural resources.
Construction, illegal salvage, and treasure hunting threaten many of our submerged cultural resources. When artifacts are removed from a shipwreck site, valuable information is lost forever. This is akin to tearing pages from a book, for with pages missing the complete "story" can never be told. The WHS conducts underwater archaeological research and public education to preserve and protect the hundreds of shipwrecks located in the state.
Illegally seeking artifacts buried below one of the vessel's intact paddlewheels, looters destroyed a paddlewheel on the Niagara