Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Oceanography



First Advisor

Rod Mather


Archaeology should strive to explore and seek to improve our understanding of human behavior. Underwater archaeology, especially shipwreck archaeology, tends to be particularistic focusing on the human activities associated with a ship or shipwreck itself. Human behavior and its resultant material remains exist on a physical and cultural landscape and cannot be separated from it. Studying known archaeological sites within the landscape reveals patterns of human behavior that can only be identified within that context.

This research explores the relationship between the social and natural world and the archaeological landscape at Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary and Underwater Preserve. The 448 square miles of sanctuary range in depth from a few feet to nearly 200 feet, and hold at least 100 known and identified shipwrecks and perhaps another 100 unidentified shipwrecks, at various depths ranging from zero to over 100 feet. The lake floor is also littered with ship timbers, wrecked cargo and hardware, fishing gear, and other cultural debris.

The natural environment constrains and informs human behavior and plays a large and important role in the development of maritime culture and the maritime landscape. The processes by which this occurs can also be studied through analysis of the archaeological record.

The focus of this research is an approach to integrating the components of the maritime landscape with the understanding of the archaeological and historic records as well as oceanographic processes in the Great Lakes to develop a new phenomenological model that takes into account not only the shipwrecks but also the totality of the remains of human activity in a region both on land and on the water. Three levels of analysis associated with the model are: that a vessel will wreck or become irrecoverable in a given location; that wreck material will arrive at a given location; and that wreckage material will survive at a given location.

Three general goals are associated with the application of the model: to determine the importance of each behavioral and natural input to each level; to determine the importance of each level in determining the location where archaeological materials may be identified; and to determine if it is possible to derive the agent human activity from the total collection of archaeological material that led to its initial deposition and in many cases modification. This in tum facilitates the determination of higher-order broad anthropological questions to ask of the archaeological record.

The efficacy of the model is illustrated through two combined anthropological, archaeological, and oceanographic analyses. First, the model is used to explain decade-by-decade and overall patterns in human behavior interpreted through the maritime archaeological landscape of the shipwrecks themselves. This incorporates the known historical attributes associated with each wreck site including any natural physical inputs recorded at the time of the accident. Secondly, the model is used to explore the patterns apparent in the mobile wreckage recorded in the vicinity of North Point in the context of primarily local geology. These patterns are then used to make hypotheses about potential human activity and environmental inputs that affect the preservation of the archaeological record of Thunder Bay.



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