This presentation is part of the Proceedings of the Maritime Cultural Landscape Symposium, October 14-15, 2015, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Daina Penkiunas: Okay! Now we move on to Joshua Morano, who will be speaking on risk, salvage, and exploring the concept of the maritime frontier. Joshua is a maritime archeologist who has been working at Biscayne National Park since November 2012. He’s a graduate from East Carolina University’s program in Maritime Studies and has earned an MA degree maritime history in nautical archeology, where his researched focused on the application of social theory to maritime archeology. He has previously been employed as an archeological technician for the state of North Carolina, and has participated in several major maritime archeological projects. In addition to his interested in archeology, Mr. Morano is an active member of the United States Coast Guard Reserve. Welcome!
Joshua Morano: Thank you! Just a quick note for you guys who don’t know me personally, I’m getting married in three weeks, so my brain is a little bit of a scatter, so unfortunately, you guys are going to have to deal with it in that you’re going to have to listen to me read a paper, so my apologies.
For centuries the rocky shorelines of the Florida Keys were often littered with the sight of bloated corpses, splintered mast, and jettisoned cargo brutally cast ashore after meeting their fate on the treacherous reefs lined just off shore. While foundering upon the high seas often mean imminent death, the prospect of wrecking upon the shore often held little hope for any assistance. Since vessels first explored the area, the approximate route of the gulf stream between the Florida Keys and Bahamas, often simply referred to as the Straits, had been identified as a dangerous area
The unpredictable nature of the Gulf Stream combined with the limited knowledge of the area culminated in disastrous combination as the reefs along the southeastern coastline of Florida became the final resting place for hundreds of vessels. As such, the rocky reefs and isolated islets of the Florida Keys exemplify the risk associated with navigating near a desolate and dangerous shoreline.
One of the primary goals of maritime archeology is to identify convincing linkages to the physical association represented by shipwrecks and the social institutions that help create them. While not necessarily a new concept, the effective application of Maritime Cultural Landscapes approach in the management of submerged cultural heritage within the United States has been difficult. This is particularly true in regards to the effect of identification, documentation and analysis of maritime cultural landscapes through pre-existing management doctrines, such as the National Historic Landmark program and National Register of Historic Places.
While otherwise ubiquitous institutions within the cultural resource management practices of the United States, the terminology, theory and approaches utilized in the study of Maritime Cultural Landscapes does not currently exist in either of these or any other research management regimes utilized today. As such, the theoretical foundations of this work, we utilize Maritime Cultural Landscapes approach developed and successfully tested in Australia, that have only been recently introduced to the United States. These approaches acknowledge the difficulties in conducting the systematic and scientific study of less tangible ideals associated with human agency and cognition in a variety of applications.
Utilizing the methodologies advanced in these approaches, this work will identify several contexts that begin to shed light on local and regional differences in the perceptions and responses to risk in the maritime environment. This approach can provide invaluable insight into the cultural values of a local community that would not otherwise be apparent through more traditional historic, ethnographic or archeological research efforts. As such, the study will attempt to analyze and explain the development of what would be called maritime salvage landscape through the application of sociocultural theories that highlight cultural motivators contributing to this landscape.
While the development of maritime salvage throughout Florida Keys represents only one of a number of factors contributing to the area’s overall cultural landscape, studying the establishment subsequent evolution of wrecking and salvage practice thematically can shed light on patterns significantly contributing to both the area’s physical and cultural landscapes. Establishing this connection not only helps resource managers locate, identify and interpret thematically related cultural sites, but by understanding cultural factors contributing to their deposition, value and use over time, the application of these theoretical paradigms can help explain contemporary perceptions of similar resources.
While many wrecks undoubtedly occurred offshore, the vast majority occurred within sight of land, only a few miles from the beach. Those unfortunate enough to survive the initial wrecking event were cast onto an isolated lawless and mosquito infested island, many of which lacked access to fresh water. While occasionally uninhabited, many of these islands were home to native populations that were often hostile towards the poor souls seeking refuge after wrecking on the perilous reefs. Survivors of wrecks were often captured and slaved or killed upon discovery by local natives. Tales of torture, abuse and violence permeated many of the survivor’s accounts. The same could be said about the city of Miami today.
Possibly due to the indistinguishable physical characteristics of the islands, or the fear of the natives who resided there, historical accounts emphasizing the physical characteristics of the terrestrial landscape the Florida Keys are lacking. While detailed historical description of the island is forming, the Florida Keys are scarce, most sources denoting the locations for obtaining fresh water, safe harbor and obvious dangers are vaguely described and are apparent in the region’s toponymy. As the area was further developed, major settlements Key West’s Indian key fortifications and Dry Tortugas in Key West, ensure based aids and navigation all contributed to the Maritime Cultural Landscape. Their importance, however, was secondary to that to the shallow reefs lying just beneath the water’s surface. While it could be argued that the presence of more prominent, tangible, physical features more traditionally considered landscape characteristics, ended at the water’s edge, mariners trained by a millennia of tradition, actively maintained watch for physical indicators of the shallow flat’s jagged patch reefs and the wrecks of less fortunate vessels that dangerously lurch just beneath the surface as menacing threats to those unfamiliar with the minute details of the area’s unique bathymetry.
While early sailing directions advocated avoidance of the dangerous area, the early need for detailed survey the Florida Reef, as well as the establishment of a series of lighthouses, buoys, and beacons to identify and avoid the reefs, are well documented in historic record. As knowledge of the area grew, sailing directions cautiously advised mariners to be on constant look out for breaking surf, contrary currents, changes in water color indicating a rapid change in depth or bottom composition, aids in navigation, and any other physical indicators of potential threats to their voyage. The ability to identify, analyze and mitigate the dangers of navigating in an area are considered a staple of good seamanship, and remain a vital skill in navigating the treacherous near shore water ways of the Florida Keys.
While the tiny islets briefly mentioned in early sailing instructions have now been developed beyond recognition, the shoals, rocks and reefs that form the Florida Reef Tract have not appreciably changed throughout the historic period and remain similar to those encountered by mariners throughout antiquity. As such, the study of the discovery, documentation, utilization and avoidance of many of the unique physical characteristics that remain prominent features in the landscape embody both the historical and contemporary difficulties utilizing the area, and therefore provide insight into an element of unique cognitive landscapes of the area. This insight is vital in developing an understanding of the complex role of the exploration documentation utilization that region’s unique landscape plays in the cultural ideals, emphasizing the identification and mitigation of risk in the marina environment.
Introduction to maritime salvage in the Florida Keys. For those in peril along the cost of the Florida Keys, the icy grip of death often consumed sailors’ little hope of rescue. Prior to the establishment of systematic salvage system, their only chance of surviving a wreck or disaster laid with the solemn duty of his fellow seafarers to provide assistance. As was often the case, the isolation of the Florida Keys combined with the early lack of vessel traffic often left little hope of discovery or rescue, and nearly insured shipwreck mariners along the coast were doomed to their fates.
The loss of life in both raw and manufactured material on what was considered the edge of modern world, led to the development of an informal salvage network, first amongst local native inhabitants, and subsequently followed by more formal attempts by the maritime empires sustaining the losses in members of their colonial communities. While not initially meant to serve as a means to reduce risk of navigating near the reef, the abundance and constant presence of opportunistic behemoth wreckers found cruising the Florida Reefs soon became so ubiquitous that wrecked mariners began to depend upon their presence and agonizingly prayed for their speedy arrival in event of disaster. Their exploits, both negative and positive, were often recounted as the only means of survival in an otherwise perilous situation. The reputation of wreckers and the informal salvage network they created, developed the preliminary foundations of a cognitive landscape in which help in the event of disaster was available, and as such was considered when discussing the risk of operating in the Florida Keys.
While this activity aided in establishing a foundation of a cognitive landscape of risk in the Florida Keys, it was not until the annexation of the state by the United States, through this development began in earnest. Spurred by economic development and drastic increases in shipping traffic and the presence of illegal activity throughout the region, led to the establishment of a port entry in Key West in 1822 in the development of a salvage system, unique to the area, and heavily influenced by the area’s physical landscape. The subsequent survey documentation and subsequent establishment of an Aids To Navigation System in the area by the United States Coast Survey, provided some of the first detailed maps of the area and reflected attempts to modify and utilize the area’s unique physical landscape.
These systems were in a state of constant development throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, during which time more than 640 vessels came to grief upon the Florida Reefs, the peak of which was observed during the 1850s when vessels piled up on the coast at a rate of one per week. After the turn of the century, advances in ship work technology, the introduction and utilization of steam, and the continual advancement of survey operations greatly reduced the number of vessels wrecked along the reef. The settlement and development of large portions of the Florida Keys brought unprecedented amounts of people and goods to the area, reducing the need for salvage of mundane goods now more easily attainable through other means onshore. As such, the focus in maritime salvage narrowed to only valuable, desirable, or illicit goods.
This preferential treatment was particularly meaningful, as it represents one of the first major shifts how local mariners perceived and reacted to risk in maritime domain. Focus moved from the systematic salvage of all vessels in peril on the Florida Reef only to those that the salvage of which stood to provide a considerable financial gain. Despite this perceived lack of interest, advancing technologies soon offered new opportunities to exploit shipwrecks along the Florida Reef for financial gain. Coinciding with the advent of recreational scuba gear following the second World War, the concept of salvage in the Florida Keys would be resurrected and reinvented, this time focusing on the recovery of valuable cargos from historic shipwrecks. Fortunately, the methods utilized by those seeking historic salvage of shipwrecks for the sole purpose of capitalizing upon their economic value of their former cargos were particularly detrimental to both the historic fabric of the shipwrecks themselves and to the natural environment around them, both of which are increasingly considered sensitive resource worthy of protection.
The imminent rapid development of the area, combined with the systematic destruction of the area’s submerged cultural resources in the insatiable search for lost treasures threatened local total destruction of the area’s unique natural environment and once extensive collection of finite cultural resources. It’s realization coincided with the development and advancement of a period of political environmental and social awareness known as the conservation movement. Success of the conservation movement, the creation of new legislation specifically protecting archeological sites and the subsequent establish of protected marine zones throughout the Florida Keys significantly curbed development of the area and included the end of commercial salvage in an attempt to ensure its resources, conservation and protection for future generations.
While instituting good faith, each proposed change is met with considerable resistance from those seeking to develop the area in order to capitalize on the region’s natural and cultural resources. This discourse represents the current management issues throughout the region, as the integrity of finite archeological resources, while legally protected throughout the vast majority of the study area, are continually under threat due to persistent cultural attraction of maritime salvage in the area. Given the breadth of human activity occurring in the area, associated with the discovery, exploration and utilization of the Florida Straits and its importance to the local, regional and global scales, the area holds significant potential for future study. Unfortunately, many attempts to study archeological remains in the area focus solely on individual wreck sites, suffering from recent damage from a variety of natural and human factors, or simply site specific documentation surveys. Attempts to examine multiple sites in the area culminated in a series of regional inventories, but have not yet ventured to tie any unifying thematic elements to expand our knowledge of the local cultural elements.
Another challenge in the successful application of Maritime Cultural Landscape approaches in South Florida, resource management stems from a lack of clearly defined sets of terminology, standards and methodologies to effectively identify, evaluate and recognize maritime cultural landscapes, utilizing established means currently in use. This deficiency is due to a combination to the perceived differences in theoretical approaches to the study of submerged cultural heritage, reliance upon particularistic approaches, focusing solely on shipwrecks and submerged cultural heritage, place-based management strategies, and a misunderstanding of the relationships between seafaring people and the natural environment. No where can this phenomenon be more plainly seen than in the attempt to identify maritime cultural landscapes using standards and guidelines established in one of two programs administered by the MPS, National Register, or the National Historic Landmark Program.
As such, this study will utilize theoretical approach that have been successfully utilized to deliniate and interpret Maritime Cultural Landscapes in Australia. Specifically, the study will analyze the role of risk and development of a maritime frontier in the development of maritime cultural landscape, focused on the salvage industry, where Ford argues that while geographics. Geographical studies tend to focus on the questions of “where,” and archeological or historical projects tend to focus on the “when” or “how,” a new approach pioneer Australia hopes to address “why.” Their 2015 work “God Please Send a Wreck” response to 19th century Australian shipwreck community, Brad, Duncan and Martin gives examine the role and the risk in response to shipping mishaps in the development of a maritime cultural landscape in the vicinity of Queenscliff Australia. Duncan and Gibb’s work build on earlier studies that focus on the application of various ethnological approaches to preexisting archeological data sets to explain human behavior not otherwise apparent through traditional analysis.
While many of these studies examine a particular geographic local, analytical focus is not necessarily restricted. Its focus remains fixated on the cultural factors contributing to site formation processes. The goal in much of his work is to successfully apply sociocultural theories to preexisting data sets in order to identify, investigate and interpret certain elements in Maritime Cultural Landscape. This specific focus acknowledges the vast nature of maritime cultural landscapes in that is already geared too complex to be effectively identified through the course of a single research effort. It’s particularly true, given the fact that Maritime Cultural Landscapes are modified and utilized through human agency. Many of the modifications are indicative of social systems that are dynamic and subject to constant change.
The three things that we try to look at in the development of this cultural landscape is basically risk, salvage, and then the frontier. To most, risk is simply identified as a potential for negative and undesirable outcome that is usually synonymous with the terms danger or hazard. For the purpose of this study, however, a better definition of risk may be the systematic way of dealing with hazards and insecurities induced and introduced by mundarity itself. Next definition provides more insightful definition of the term, that explains the actual purpose of risk in society, whereas the concept of risk may be most familiar only as a factor in personal decision making, as such it can be much more influential in larger systems throughout society, the remanence of which may be present as tangible components of the archeological landscape.
It is argued that, while not the only factor involved, risk and/or responses to it play a major role in defining the use of cultural landscapes. For the purposes of this study is argued that, and more specifically, the mitigation of risk in the maritime environment could be considered a near universal trait observable throughout human experience, existence. In order to objectify and identify and measure what could otherwise be described as a feeling or emotion, non-traditional research strategies required, and several recent studies conducted, have developed methodologies to examine the behavioral response to risk and development in Maritime Cultural Landscape.
The concept of risk is to be considered a universal cultural theme within maritime societies, one may question how to systematically and scientifically approach such cognitive subject, and what would we gain from its study? While the concept of risk may be present, local and regional variations in how society perceive and manage risk, provided vital insight to social structures, values and the development and modification of both cognitive and physical landscapes in the local community. As such, the study of the identification, mitigation, and management of risk within the maritime communities holds considerable potential features study.
It’s often been argued for as long as vessels have plied the world’s waterways, there has been the risk of wreck or disaster, the occurrence of which should be seen as a mere eventuality. The saving of property from said disaster, the concept of maritime salvage is therefore potentially as old as the first vessels to venture from the relative safety of their moorings. Salvage has been identified as a rendering of assistance to vessels and their cargo in distress at sea. In his seminal work on the subject, late Keith Muckelroy describes the role historic salvage played but generally refers to it as environmental in nature. While Muckelroy’s work is often considered to be one of the first attempts at the development of middle range theory, it has been critiqued. While he did acknowledge both natural and cultural factors in the formation of this emerged archeological sites, his research primarily focused on an environmental process associated with site formation.
Recent studies have sought to identify cultural and behavioral elements contributing to both the wrecking of vessels, vessel re-use and abandonment, as well as their effects on salvage and subsequent archeological site formation processes. Variations in cultural values, perceived risk, societal structures, and the physical characteristics of the landscape can result in significant variations in the human response to risk, and the dangers specific to a particular local.
In regards to the frontier, while the study of the development of maritime salvage in the Florida Keys may provide insight into how a local community worked to mitigate risk during the maritime activities and mishaps, it’s not necessarily an answer why such efforts were expended. While the obvious underlying theme, particularly in its early stages of economic in nature, it could also be argued that the extreme isolation, danger, and ruggedness of the area forces utilizing the area to develop a survival mentality, similar to that developed and romanticized in the plains of the frontier of the American West, concept known as “Frontier Thesis” was presented in a paper entitled, “The Significance of Frontier in American History” by historian Fredrick Jackson Turner at the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893.
In his paper, Turner argues that the settlement of the American Frontier was formative to the development of American ideals, and were particularly influential in the development of the country’s political, social, cultural ideals. Tuner specifically argues that the availability of free land and the process of developing the frontier created a unique set of cultural ideas that was the base for American democracy. Turner eloquently argues that the frontier is the meeting point between savagery and civilization. Many of Turner’s ideas have been justly criticized of being overly nationalistic and discounting the roles of women, minorities, and native populations in the development of the American West, researchers have also applied Turner’s model in the identification of comparative frontiers across the globe. It is argued here that the core of his frontier theory, particularly the idea of the development of the frontier was formative to the development of unique cultural ideas, is just as applicable to the study of maritime frontier as the vast expanses of the great plains.
For those navigating in the vicinity of dangerous, isolating and poorly documented shorelines, the idea of the maritime frontier aptly describes a dangerous and often lawless environment where help and hope in the event of disaster are just out of reach. As such is argued, while Turner’s theories as a whole are limited by the social and political climate from which they were developed, the underlying cultural theme attributed to the frontier, as discussed by Turner, can be identified as a cultural motivator in the development of unique maritime cultural landscape in the Florida Keys. While the identification and mitigation of risk, the development of maritime salvage, and the perception of value of submerged cultural heritage vary as the focused nature and extent of salvage changes over time, the identification of underlying, unifying cultural motivators help explain regional variations in evolution of salvage activity throughout history.
While Westerdahl established the theoretical basis for the identification and study of Maritime Cultural Landscapes, its effective application in resource management has remained elusive. It is argued here that many of the difficulties in identifying and defining maritime cultural landscapes primarily stems from the broad interpretation of its individual components, and the focus on geophysical rather than cultural components of the landscape. While there has been great enthusiasm for the idea of Maritime Cultural Landscapes, many of the reason attempts to identify them in the United States tend to be geographically oriented and focused wholly on either the geophysical components of the landscape or the historical use of a particular place, many of these studies produce works which more resemble cultural resource inventories, or at best, regional archeological studies in which primary unifying theme amongst all sites included are geophysical in nature which minimal examination of social or cultural factors influencing their deposition.
As such, this work presents a re-evaluation of the maritime cultural landscape approach in which advocates for the broad generalist and multi-disciplinary analysis of maritime archeological sites that can provide researchers with information that may otherwise be unobtainable through more traditional surveys. Specifically, the application of sociocultural theories to historical and archeological data sets, the explicit establishment of both thematic and theoretical frameworks focusing on ethnographic maritime cultural landscape studies is therefore vital in the development of a systematic and scientific approach in convincingly identify cultural themes within existing archeological data sets.