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Thursday, March 31, 2011

Underwater Ruins

The MSRA - Michigan Shipwreck Research Associates - is an organization that researches shipwrecks in the Great Lakes. I grew up (mostly) in Michigan, the state which is in the middle of the Great Lakes, so the subject is literally closer to home for me than ocean shipwrecks. They estimate that hundreds of major ships have sunk in these waters, with a page that links to the story of many of the ruins that they have located, complete with GPS coordinates and pictures of the ships pre-disaster.

Other similar organizations exist as well. Neighboring state Wisconsin boasts something called "The Ghost Ship Festival", devoted to scuba diving and Great Lakes Maritime History. NUMA - the National Underwater and Marine Agency - is a "volunteer foundation dedicated to preserving our maritime heritage through the discovery, archaeological survey and conservation of shipwreck artifacts." Most of us saw the movie Titanic (and perhaps "Ghosts of the Abyss) which partially showed an expedition to find the famed ship, which sank in the Atlantic Ocean.

I came across the subject when I read a recent newspaper article about the discovery of a shipwreck in Lake Michigan.

Underwater, or marine archaeology is a recognized sub-field of archaeology. For example, in Israel underwater archaeologists have surveyed the ruins of Herod's harbor in Caesaria. While it used to be done by divers, today miniature submarines are often used, as well as sonar for surveying. This can include not only shipwrecks, but also underwater buildings resulting from changes in coastlines, rivers etc. One example is the so-called Seahenge.
Ship ruins are not commonly addressed in philosophical literature, and rarely appear in art. Symbolically, I image they are less poignant than land ruins, simply because while a building seems like something stable, strong, and long-lasting, a ship is far more fleeting. One doesn't think of a ship on the sea as something stable or tenable - it can't retain its position for long. Therefore, it is not so mind-boggling to think about a shipwreck. In addition, sea ruins are by far less accessible to the average person, so they are not in the public conscience in the same way. Nonetheless, they do play on our fears, and the ruins themselves are quite beautiful.

1 comment:

  1. These are beautiful pictures.

    What about cities or structures that have become submerged due to floods or earthquakes - do you think those would be of greater interest, but are simply less widely known?

    Interestingly, while submerged ruins may rarely appear in art - they are extremely common in video games.