Archaeology is the study of human history and culture through the examination of remains of past human activities. Such studies help to explain not only where and when people lived on the earth, but also why and how they lived. Marine or underwater archaeology is the study of culture(s) related to human interaction(s) with the sea (as well as lakes, rivers, and wetlands). It includes the study of shipwrecks, cities and harbors that are now submerged, coastal dwellings, agricultural and industrial sites along river, bays, and lakes, and underwater debris sites (waste, garbage and other items including ships, aircraft, munitions and machinery).
The deep sea can be considered the largest “museum” of human history, however, it remains largely unexplored. Approximately 5% of the deep ocean has been studied. Marine archaeologists are employed by universities and colleges, local, state, and federal agencies, historical societies, museums, and restoration programs, and in private archaeological consulting firms. Their work, reconstructing the history of the world’s oceans and coastlines, impacts current day coastal management and planning decisions. Much research on underwater archaeological sites is also done to comply with state and federal legislation that protects prehistoric and historic-period resources. Many laws and regulations require that underwater properties be located, inventoried, and studied before they are impacted or destroyed by development.