A Commitment to Archaeology
Odyssey Marine Exploration has pioneered a new branch of archaeology, which we call “commercial marine archaeology,” defined as the pursuit of deep-ocean archaeological research and exploration as a “for profit” venture. This model is currently the only practical way of sustaining highly expensive research and archaeological operations in the long-term and has enabled us to actually explore more shipwrecks than any university or institute in the world. Odyssey has surveyed and mapped more than 17,000 square miles of seabed and spent more than 10,000 hours exploring potential and actual shipwreck sites with advanced robotic technology, while applying the highest archaeological standards. To date, we have discovered nearly 300 shipwrecks around the globe ranging from third-century BC Punic sites to U-boats and modern-day fishing vessels.
Our shipwreck exploration is conducted under strict archaeological and scientific guidelines, supervised internally by our project archaeologists and sometimes externally by archaeologists and other accredited scientists whom we invite to collaborate on projects. Odyssey’s professional mission differs profoundly from marine salvage operations whose sole aim is to recover commercially valuable items from wrecks, typically disregarding their significant archaeological and historic value.
In our commitment to recover, preserve, document and share underwater cultural heritage with future generations, Odyssey adheres to the same rigorous standards applied to terrestrial and shallow-water sites and is setting new principles and standards for the future of deep-ocean shipwreck exploration and marine archeology.
In 1990, Odyssey co-founders, Greg Stemm and John Morris, directed the world’s first robotic deep-sea excavation on a Spanish colonial shipwreck lost in 1622 in nearly 1,500 feet (500 meters) of water, 70 miles off Key West. Dozens of intact ceramic olive jars, as well as thousands of ceramic sherds, hundreds of pearls and silver coins, ballast stones, rat bones and seeds were recorded to an accuracy of 10 centimeters. Odyssey continues to uphold and expand upon these standards today.
Our research brings together world experts to study shipwrecks and their environments. The inter-disciplinary HMS Sussex Project completed the most detailed environmental coring program ever undertaken on a deep-water wreck. Even the location of every sea urchin was plotted to understand how the wreck site and marine environment have interacted over the centuries and to help develop a plan for the future preservation of the site.
An additional element fundamental to Odyssey’s operations is the capability to operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This feature is a practical necessity for Odyssey's deep-water archaeological projects, given the cost of the expeditions and the time needed to access deeper sites.
The resulting information derived from Odyssey’s shipwreck projects is disseminated and made available to the public through a variety of media, including published books, archaeology and artifact reports, archaeology presentations, journal articles, educational curriculum and project plans - with the goal of inspiring public awareness, appreciation and knowledge of these fascinating historical, archaeological and cultural discoveries. For more details click "Publications" on the menu to the left.
The major distinction between the “commercial marine archaeology” practiced by Odyssey and “pure” academic, institutional archaeology is that after thorough conservation, research, analysis and documentation, some duplicate artifacts - typically trade goods - that have been recovered in large and repetitive quantities are made available for purchase by the public - for collectors and others with the interest, capability and resources to provide for the proper preservation of artifact collections.
The funds generated by these sales are used to finance further exploration and recovery projects, which includes the archaeologically-sensitive investigation of historically significant shipwrecks containing valuable cargo as well as some wrecks that do not necessarily represent commercial opportunities, but offer substantial cultural, historical and/or educational value.
The following goals are integral to Odyssey’s archaeological mission:
• Archaeologists maintain high standards of archaeology in compliance with and above current practices and guidelines during the investigation and excavation of shipwrecks.
• A commitment to forging partnerships with stakeholders, such as (but not limited to) governments, to ensure that even in international waters concerns for national cultural patrimony are addressed.
• To develop new methods, technologies and standards to advance the emerging discipline of deep-water archaeology.
• To recover and conserve artifacts, trade goods and other historic entities from shipwrecks as cultural resources for study, documentation, education and enjoyment in both the present and future.
• To conserve fully, record and study artifact assemblages before collections are passed on to museums and collectors.
• To ensure that the results of archaeological projects are widely accessible through a variety of academic and popular media.
• To archive all research material and data in accordance with current museum practices and archival guidelines.
• Where and when appropriate, to work in partnership with academic institutions, governments and companies in the best interests of managing the maritime cultural heritage of the world’s oceans for the benefit of mankind.
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