Research Report 2007

Coracle Fellowship a catalyst for submerged archaeology consortium

Dr. Trevor Bell has turned his 2005 Coracle Fellowship into an international consortium of researchers who are diving deep to shed light on submerged archaeological resources.

The Memorial professor of geography had been studying the near-shore landscapes around Newfoundland where prehistoric people may have lived until the land was submerged when the last ice age ended, and sheets of ice melted.

"The Coracle Fellowship allowed me to take an idea I was working on with Priscilla Renouf [Anthropology Department], travel to Northern Ireland where they had a different expertise, and say 'how about we get together on this,'" Dr. Bell explained. Out of his meetings at the University College of Dublin, the Submerged Landscapes Archaeological Network (SLAN) was formed.

The timing couldn't have been better. The Geological Survey of Ireland (GSI) recently launched a new seafloor mapping program that will provide invaluable information SLAN can draw on.

SLAN includes both government and university researchers from Newfoundland and Labrador, Ireland and Northern Ireland. Trinity College of Dublin and the University of Ulster are also partners. The consortium's goals include locating and recording the existence of ancient landscapes preserved in inshore coastal waters or on the seabed in the North Atlantic.

Map of area around Fogo Island

Dr. Trevor Bell's research network is investigating submerged landscapes of archaeological value. This image shows the landmass that once connected Fogo Island to Newfoundland; circled sites represent areas of potential archaeological significance.

"These are sites of great archaeological significance, and they're sites that are missing from the record," Dr. Bell asserted. It is hypothesized that evidence of Newfoundland's earliest habitants will be found underwater. To locate these important resources, SLAN will use the latest in sonar and other technologies.

Dr. Bell received one of the first Coracle Fellowships, which promote exchanges between Ireland and Newfoundland and Labrador, and help address common challenges and goals.

While it's a Memorial University-funded initiative, fellows can be drawn from a broad range of fields and professions including academia, civil service, business, literature, the arts, science, technology and innovation, and can be based in either this province or in Ireland. However, their work must aim to build the relationship between these two jurisdictions, and provide a clear benefit to Memorial University.

Dr. Bell's Coracle funding has been instrumental in leveraging other support, he said, including seed money from University College of Dublin, where SLAN was one of eight featured projects at its December Winter Celebration of Research event.

"We visualize this network we've established as being long-term, probably 20 years," he said.

In the immediate future, SLAN plans three roundtables, the first in Dublin to explore educational opportunities at the graduate level. "We would like this to have a strong educational component that would draw graduate students from related fields like marine science, archaeology and geography," he noted.

A second roundtable, expected to be held in St. John's, will look at developing government and industry partnerships.

"More and more, people are realizing the seafloor's importance," Dr. Bell explained, pointing to ongoing development of resources like oil and gravel, as well as the building of bridges and digging of tunnels. "For all this work, people need an awareness of what's there. Archaeological sites are one more important resource. I believe we can work together for the mutual benefit and understanding of everyone."

For more information, visit: http://www.mun.ca/geog/people/faculty/tbell.php