Center for Maritime Archaeology and Conservation Lecture Series


Bridget Buxton


March 2007


by Leeanne Gordon


  Studies in archaeology often lead to interesting and unexpected relationships. Nautical Archaeology may be the study of ships and shipwrecks, but no investigation is complete without historical inquiries and anthropological analysis. A thorough investigation can often lead to even more diverse partnerships. It is doubtful that Dr. Kevin Crisman had any idea that researching the Red River shipwreck would make him something of an expert on 19th century pork production, or that the excavations would eventually involve a helicopter. Texas A&M students and INA researchers come from diverse educational and personal backgrounds, and approach investigations in different ways.
This March, A&M students had the opportunity to learn about other diverse relationships growing within the archaeological community. Dr. Bridget Buxton, of the University of Rhode Island, visited Texas A&M, including the Institute of Nautical Archaeology in search of insight. Just as the Institute of Nautical Archaeology has a home at Texas A&M University, the University of Rhode Island houses the Inner Space Center, a Graduate School of Oceanography, and the Institute for Archaeological Oceanography. Currently, Buxton is the lone archaeologist associated with the programs. As part of the Center for Maritime Archaeology and Conservation Lecture Series, Buxton presented two very different aspects of nautical archaeology.

Dr. Bridget Buxton ... Photo: Mark Polzer

In a discussion titled "Maritime Archaeology of New Zealand," Buxton illustrated the latent possibilities presently un- or under-explored in that country.
Due to its remote location and relatively recent colonization, archaeological forays in the New Zealand landscape are likely limited to modern studies. The secluded setting, however, may reveal important finds relating to the countries that have sailed there over time. As a small and distant place, New Zealand does not have the resources to mount major archaeological excavations similar to those seen in other countries. To date, archaeological investigations in New Zealand have been hampered by the lack of adequate funding and proper archaeological influence.
At the other end of the nautical archaeological spectrum are the well-funded programs housed at the University of Rhode Island. Similar to the partnership between the Institute of Nautical Archaeology and Texas A&M University, the University of Rhode Island houses both the Institute for Archaeological Oceanography and the Inner Space Center. These two programs are associated with the well known Dr. Robert Ballard as well as National Geographic, the JASON Foundation for Education and the Mystic Aquarium and Institute for Exploration. Investigations thus far have focused on using archaeological sites to answer questions regarding oceanography. Research has involved human impact on the seafloor and long-term monitoring of archaeological sites to answer oceanographic questions. Seven students are enrolled at a time in the Graduate School of Oceanography at the University of Rhode Island.
With a pressure-sensitive amphora grabber and three Remote-Operated Vehicles, many of the projects undertaken by the archaeological oceanographers have been located in deep water. The program aims to become the leader in deep submergence archaeology, setting professional and ethical standards in the field. Buxton is outnumbered at the Inner Space Center, where she is the only archaeologist among 15 engineers, but wishes to develop partnerships with other archaeological programs. Buxton sited the lack of international legislation in deep water and the monetary resources and equipment of the affiliated programs as huge opportunities for exploration in Nautical Archaeology as well as Archaeological Oceanography. She also noted the successful outreach programs conducted by Dr. Ballard which have generated interest in various projects, such as a revisit to the site of RMS Titanic. Undoubtedly, the revisit to the Titanic site has been aided by the immensely popular movie.
Just as popular movies and helicopters may seem unlikely pairings with archaeology, underwater excavations themselves may have seemed novel to terrestrial archaeologists just decades ago. Dr. Bridget Buxton's lectures at Texas A&M University this spring have demonstrated both a land with emergent archaeological studies and a program with advanced equipment and state-of-the-art technology. Potential applications for these studies have yet to be discovered.