Types of explanation in maritime archaeology: The case of the SS Xantho

31st December 2013

Peter Veth and Michael McCarthy


The wreck of the SS Xantho.

The wreck of the SS Xantho.

The central aim of this paper is to open up debate about different theoretical approaches which can be used to provide explanations in maritime archaeology (see recent papers in Underwater Archaeology 1996, 1997). We use the example of the wreck of the iron steamship SS Xantho (1848–72) to explore the utility of processual and postprocessual approaches, as commonly used in terrestrial archaeology (cf. Lamberg-Karlovsky 1989; Shanks and Tilley 1992), to provide ‘explanations’ in maritime archaeology. While fully acknowledging the need for, and role of, historical particularist perspectives in any form of archaeology (e.g. Bass 1983), in this paper we argue that maritime archaeology may be well served by research which aims to create both general and predictive models about nautical behaviour (i.e. the functional/ systemic processual approach) and to characterise the motivation and meaning behind strategies adopted by maritime societies and individuals (i.e. a critical/ deconstructionist postprocessual approach) (cf. Carrell 1990; Gould 1983a, 1983b; Hodder 1991; Trigger 1991; Watson 1983).

*Note that an abstract was not included with this paper, and so the introductory paragraph has been included here instead of the abstract.

Veth, P. and M. McCarthy
Types of explanation in maritime archaeology: The case of the SS Xantho
June 1999
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