Underwater Archaeology at IKUWA6

Indiana Sarah - Batavia in the WA Museum, which hosted IKUWA6

Underwater archaeology is a bit of a hot topic lately, so it was with much excitement that I recently attended IKUWA6, the 6th International Congress on Underwater Archaeology in Fremantle, Western Australia.

For those of you who haven’t heard of IKUWA (Internationaler Kongreß für Unterwasserarchäologie), it is the largest congress of its kind in the world and one I have a long association with, having been the NAS lead on the organising committee for IKUWA3 in London in 2008. It was in Portsmouth, preparing for IKUWA3, that I first suggested that the Congress should be hosted in Australia.  It was a bold suggestion and after 8 long years and stop-overs in Croatia (2011) and Spain (2014), the IKUWA flag was finally flown down under.

Timed to coincide with the 400th anniversary of the first recorded European landing in Western Australia by Dutch explorer Dirk Hartog, IKUWA6 explored the issues of shared heritage – crossing cultural, geographic and political borders – just as Hartog did all those years ago.

Over five days, delegates from as far afield as Finland and France, China and Chile, discussed aspects of underwater archaeology around the world – from site survey and identification, to recent discoveries and new technological approaches.

There were so many fabulous papers it is hard to pick a favourite! Professor Jon Adams from the University of Southampton presented his recent findings in the Black Sea, David Mearns discussed the discovery of de Gama’s ship in Oman, Chris Underwood challenged our ideas on capacity building, Rasika Muthucumarana spoke on managing maritime archaeology in Sri Lanka (above) whilst Chris Dobbs proffered a paper on the new Mary Rose Museum.

As expected there were more technical papers – a personal favourite (perhaps unexpectedly) was Ole Gron’s offering on the Stone Age sites in deep water, in which he revealed the acoustic signals of submerged worked flint.

There were of course many excellent papers from more people than can be listed here. Martijn Manders’ presentation on in situ preservation, Johan Rönnby’s brief on sunken battlefields of the Baltic and Jørgen Dencker’s discoveries off the Danish coast are all notable examples, as was Curator Corioli Souter’s insightful tour of  the WA Museum’s Travellers and Traders exhibition (more on that another day) and our incredible excursion to see the HIVE (Hub for Immersive Visualisation and eResearch) at Curtain University.

One of the strongest themes to emerge – as always, its seems – was the need to protect and preserve underwater cultural heritage sites. Ulrike Guerin from UNESCO held a round-table (above) on the opening day, which provided a snapshot of progress in this regard.

During the roundtable, Australian Minister for the Environment Josh Frydenberg announced the introduction of new Underwater Cultural Heritage legislation sometime before 2018. It has been a long time coming and bodes well for Australia’s long-awaited ratification of the 2001 Convention

IKUWA6 was a wonderful opportunity to catch up with old friends, make new ones and hear about the latest goings on underwater. If you’re interested in underwater cultural heritage, I can’t recommend the IKUWA congresses highly enough. Keep an eye open for the IKUWA6  proceedings (papers must be submitted by 28 February 2017) and get ready for IKUWA7 in 2020. It will be held in Helsinki, Finland –  in the summer, I’m told!

Big thanks should go to the IKUWA6 Organising Committee for all of its hard work in making the Congress a roaring success, the Western Australian Maritime Museum for hosting, UNESCO for providing patronage and sponsors including the Australasian Institute for Maritime Archaeology, Nautical Archaeology Society, DEGUWA, Silentworld Foundation, Honor Frost FoundationKingdom of the Netherlands.

About Sarah Ward

I’m Sarah Ward, a maritime archaeologist, commercial diver and factual presenter with 16 years experience, both in and out of the water. I’ve investigated sites ranging from the Bronze Age to the modern, across more than 20 countries. A Visiting Professor at Dalian Maritime University and MIT Ocean Discovery Fellow, I am on a mission to bring archaeology to a broader audience, helping people to connect with the past in a meaningful way.

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(c) Indiana Sarah 2019