Environmental Sciences Research Institute

  1. Introduction
  2. Staff and Students
  3. Recent Publications

Centre for Maritime Archaeology


The Centre for Maritime Archaeology, jointly funded by the University of Ulster and the Northern Ireland Environment Agency, has established an inter-disciplinary research environment, interacting equally with the sciences and humanities. Coasts are complex, dynamic, open systems whose archaeology is influenced by a range of interacting variables. Current concerns over the influence of climate change and sea level rise are particularly pertinent at submerged and subaerial coastal archaeological sites. Within this context, the Centre’s research is focused on studies of evolving maritime and freshwater cultural landscapes - extending from riverine and lacustrine environments to the open ocean, with emphasis on coastal and nearshore archaeology. We enjoy close collaboration with colleagues in the Coastal Systems and Quaternary Environmental Change research groups.



  • Maritime archaeology of the East African coast: We are engaged in research projects along the East African coast, with emphasis on the role of the Swahili peoples in the cultural development of the area.
  • Exploitation of coastal resources: Humans have drawn on the resources offered by coastal environments for millennia. This sub-theme examines the multiplicity of strategies employed to exploit the coastal zone, including subsistence activities evidenced in such monuments as Mesolithic and Neolithic shell middens and Medieval fish traps.
  • Freshwater archaeology: Northern Ireland has a significant freshwater environment and past investigations of riverine and lacustrine locations have resulted in the discovery of a range of archaeological structures, sites and artefactual remains. This subtheme is concerned with developing a GIS resource inventory and survey capabilities in these freshwater landscapes.


  • Gaelic lordships of Ireland and Scotland: The later medieval lordships of Gaelic Ireland and Scotland were dynamic and culturally distinct entities. Many of them, concentrated along the western Atlantic seaboards of both countries, were heavily involved in marine communications and coastal exploitation.
  • Historic shipwrecks: Archival references to shipwreck in Ireland and abroad reveal a great number of shipwrecking incidents in the post-medieval period. A range of vessels are represented from humble fishing boats to shipwrecks reflecting the political and military upheavals of the day. The study of these vessels is aimed at understanding not only the technical and material aspects of these sites but also their political-economic context, and by insights into site-formation processes, informing attempts to detect earlier shipwreck sites.


  • Submerged archaeological landscapes: This subtheme is concerned with the archaeology of submerged landscapes and past human response to significant sea level change. See also the Submerged Landscapes Archaeological Network.
  • Wreck-site formation processes: An understanding of wreck-site formation processes is fundamental to shipwreck archaeology. This subtheme is focused on the role of physical processes in wreck site formation.
  • Geophysical signatures of submerged archaeological material: The geophysical signatures of archaeological materials are poorly understood. This subtheme is focused on the backscatter and reflection signatures of submerged and buried archaeological material. An understanding of these data characteristics is essential in the application of acoustic techniques to both shipwreck archaeology and submerged landscape studies.


Staff and Students

Academic staff

Colin Breen Reader

Wes Forsythe Lecturer

Ruth Plets Lecturer

Rory Quinn Reader

Research staff

Sandra Henry Research Associate

Rosemary McConkey Research Associate

Tom McErlean Senior Research Fellow

Rory McNeary Associate (Marine Division DoE)

Kieran Westley Research Associate

Research Students

Vincent McAllister MPhil Student

Rory McNeary PhD Student

Paul Montgomery PhD Student


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