Prehistoric Archaeology Underwater: A Nascent Subdiscipline Critical to Understanding Early Coastal Occupations and Migration Routes

Part of the Interdisciplinary Contributions to Archaeology book series (IDCA)


Awareness of and interest in the role that coastlines and coastal adaptations played in the development and dispersal of anatomically modern humans have grown over the last few decades. Scattered evidence for marine exploitation between 125,000 and 12,000 cal BP has been identified in Africa (Henshilwood et al. 2001; Singer and Wymer 1982; Walter et al. 2000), Eurasia (Stiner 1999; Straus et al. 1993), and North America (Erlandson et al. 1996). Yet, robust archaeological evidence for coastal activities accrues worldwide predominantly after 10,000 cal BP (Des Lauriers 2005; Dixon et al. 1997; Dunbar 1997; Erlandson 2002; Glassow et al. 2008; Jacobsen 1973; Keefer et al. 1998; Sandweiss et al. 1998; Stothert 1985). This relatively late appearance of clear-cut evidence for early coastal exploitation has been used to propose that early humans had little interest in coasts until stressed to seek less productive resources (Yesner 1987). Conversely, many researchers argue that the paucity of identified coastal sites dating to earlier times is more likely a result of our inability to locate these sites, rather than a lack of interest in coasts and coastal resources by early humans (Dixon 2001; Erlandson 2001; Kraft et al. 1983). Numerous Pleistocene age coastlines were deeply submerged during the postglacial period of eustatic sea level rise; and in areas such as the Northwest Coast of North America, isotastic rebound outpaced sea level rise, leaving Pleistocene coastal landscapes miles inland from current shorelines. These factors conspire to make locating Pleistocene landscapes difficult, and identifying preserved sites on those landscapes, a challenge.


Remotely Operate Vehicle Differential Global Position System Differential Global Position System Shell Midden Prehistoric Site 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



We would like to thank Nuno Bicho, Jonathan Haws, and Loren Davis for inviting us to contribute in this volume. Heiner Josenhans, Daryl Fedje, Patrick Bartier, and Loren Davis kindly shared their images for inclusion in our chapter. Ruth Gruhn, Alan Bryan, Loren Davis, and Michael Glassow provided helpful critiques and edits.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of CaliforniaSanta BarbaraUSA

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