British Museum Encyclopaedia of Underwater and Maritime Archaeology

British Museum Press 1997, 493 pp, £29.95, ISBN 07141 21290
reviewed by Per Åkesson

Finally, there is an encyclopedia of underwater/maritime archaeology. Among the contributors are over 200 of the world's foremost experts in the area. The material has been edited by James P Delgado. Among the advisory editors are professors George F Bass, C O Cederlund and Seán Mc Grail.

The book is a collection of excellent up-to-date articles, sorted in alphabetical order, including cross references. There are plenty of fine illustrations, and the articles as such contain a wealth of information. It is a welcome update on the earlier works by Bass, Throckmorton and Muckelroy. I particularly enjoyed reading the articles of ancient shipwrecks, e.g. the Italian Giglio wreck.

But for an encyclopedia, the material is not integrated well enough. Examples:

  • Under Sutton Hoo, there is a good article, but no illustration. However, there is a photo of the famous site in the article about ship burials, but no reference to the photo from the Sutton Hoo article.
  • The articles on airlift and water dredge contradict each other. Obviously they were written by different authors, but the articles could have been better integrated.
  • U/W video has a good article, but U/W photo is not represented as a topic.

Also, I missed some things that could have been included:

  • I tried to find the status of underwater archaeology in Canada. But Canada was missing both from the topics in the book and from the index.
  • I failed to find texts on either logboats, anchor types, or ship building and the clinker boat type.
  • I also failed to find anything about types of amphoras, cannon, bottles or clay pipe. However, these topics are covered in the land archaeology literature.

Personally, I would also have liked articles about Keith Muckelroy and Jacques Cousteau.

These shortcomings are minor details, which can be resolved in a later edition. This beautiful book is excellent. It may be one of the best publications ever made in the area, and the best literature available for under 30 pounds sterling. I can recommend it to anybody working with or interested in the area. Despite its possible shortcomings as an encyclopedia, it is well worth buying only for the articles themselves.

Per Åkesson, March 1998

Contact me if you want me to review a book. This page slightly revised okt '04

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