A maritime archaeology of ships. Innovation and social change in late medieval and early modern Europe,
Oxford, GB, Oxbow books, 228pp.
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Change is a central concern of archaeology, being imprinted on and variously visible in the material culture of the past. For changes in the ways that people conceived, created and socialised their material world correlate on various levels with changes in their society. This book analyses that dynamic through the lens of technology and innovation in shipping, one of the most sophisticated forms of material expression that many societies achieved. The complexity of watercraft as artefacts reflects need, aspiration and agency in perhaps more explicit ways than almost any other form of material culture. Inherent in their being as objects is a powerful symbolic profile finding expression in identity, as metaphor, as interface between alternate states of existence and in cosmology. Small wonder they are such a powerful medium for investigating materiality in general as well as the changes so important for our understanding of past societies. Until recently it is debatable how far we have capitalised on these qualities, tending to analyse ships as technological phenomena per se rather than relating them to the contexts of their production. This has produced a database of impressive richness but while it constitutes an eloquent record of changes that occurred, it does not explain them. Worse, it is punctuated with a series of enduring puzzles that have long defied explanation. But might these be solved if investigated together with the social contexts in which they were generated? Using recent, underwater archaeological discoveries, this book examines episodes of major technological change stemming from Europe's most significant social transformation of the last millennium, the transition from medieval to modern. The explanatory relationships that emerge not only reaffirm the central role of ships in the development of the modern world but suggest that the boat record is a potent yet under-exploited way of investigating prehistory.
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