An Exploration of Marine Archaeology’s Risks, Rewards and Diving Equipment

An Exploration of Marine Archaeology’s Risks, Rewards and Diving Equipment

Marine Archaeology has become an increasingly popular career choice, as improvement in scuba gear and diving equipment has made previously inaccessible parts of the deep sea reachable by mankind. However, the dangers of the ocean make this game a little trickier than what may seem as simple as ‘archaeology in a wetsuit’.

The Risks

o Nitrogen narcosis: Nitrogen gas is toxic at pressure (or below sea level) and can cause the diver to go into a drugged-like state if inhaled

o The cold: Often Marine Archaeologists have to dive to great depths in order to reach the shipwrecks or historical treasures that they are excavating. And the deeper a diver goes, the more colder the water gets. On top of this, water conducts heat away from the body, so hyperthermia can set in after too much time underwater.

o Because of the dangerous nooks and crannies in wrecks and caves, becoming trapped underwater is a real risk for archaeologists, even with all the advanced equipment they use while diving

Technical Diving Equipment

Position fixing

These days a GPS (Global Positioning System) is used for navigational purposes when seeking out a shipwreck.

Finding artifacts

The Scan Sonar: Sounds waves are sent over a seabed and an image of the waves will show if there is anything abnormal, such as a shipwreck, on the seabed.

Submersibles: Submersible are robotic submarines which can explore marine levels that are too deep for human exploration. This method was partially used to explore the Titanic.

Proton Magnetometer: This is used in order to find metal artifacts on the seabed. The magnetometer picks up distortions in earth’s magnetic field that are caused by metal objects to uncover metal artifacts such as cannons.

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Lift bags: used to bring artifacts to the surface; they consist of metal baskets attached to balloons.  The balloons’ buoyancy lifts heavy objects to the surface without human aid.

Airlifts: remove silts and sediments from around the archaeological site with a tubular system to speed up excavation and improve visibility.


Electrolysis for preservation of articles underwater: When old metal objects are brought to the surface, the air reacts with the sea salts sitting on the metal to form an acid that eats away at the objects. By using electrolysis underwater, an archaeologist can prevent this from happening. The prevention process involves placing the object in a chemical solution and sending an electric current through the chemical to remove the salts.

Other diving equipment that Marine Archaeologists require as part of their scuba gear are metal measuring tape, underwater cameras and pencils and plastic dive slates for sketches.

The Rewards

While archaeological sites above sea level have been largely explored, underwater sites still hold a great deal of mystery for the explorer.

o Marine Archaeology has been invaluable in giving us a picture of historical trading routes

o Shipwrecks provide an era frozen in time; while scenes for the early twentieth century have to be recreated on land, the remains of the Titanic shows us the ‘real’ 1912

o Lost treasure and valuable artifacts can be uncovered in the name of science and history

As far as careers go, Marine Archaeology, like its terrestrial equivalent, is hard work and underpaid and the diver requires a great deal of expensive scuba gear and diving equipment for expeditions, but it’s one of the more rewarding and interesting careers out there.

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