First Steps: Five Basic Questions

First Steps: Five Basic Questions - Page in Progress

This section of the website is meant for the beginner:  that is, for the person coming to the question of the origins of seafaring for the very first time.  It is not written by a scholar or specialist.  Instead, it represents the work of a student who is just starting her third year as an undergraduate at Colgate University.  Her name is Briana Zeck, and she began to explore the five basic questions that are considered below only in the last six months.   In short, this section of the first Argonauts is an account of an intellectual Odyssey – her “first steps” in trying to learn more about when, where and why people in the Mediterranean lands began going to sea on a regular basis.

The First Question. How far back in time can we trace the earliest seafaring in this part of the world?

One way to start thinking about this question is to ask it in a somewhat different form.  Which came first in the Mediterranean world:  agriculture or seafaring?  This is a leading question when it comes to the start of the region’s long history.  If one had asked this question at the end of the twentieth century, the answer would have been that agriculture was the older of the two.  Conventional wisdom at the time still held that early farmers went out to islands in the Mediterranean in search of new land.  Today we know better.  The correct answer is that seafaring came first.  Recent archaeological investigations conducted on several Mediterranean islands now show that going to sea actually has a greater time depth than early farming.  Voyaging by coastal foragers – by those who still based their livelihood on hunting and gathering – can be traced all of the way back to the cold snap in the world’s climate known as the Younger Dryas,the closing years of the last ice age (12,800 to 11,600 years ago).   Work on this section of the web site is still in progress.  The four other basic questions that Zeck will consider are the following ones.

The Second Question.  How does one use the evidence from island archaeology – so far no sea-going boats going back to the time of interest are known in the archaeological record – to make the inference for early seafaring?

The Third Question.   Why did the study of early seafaring in the Mediterranean get off to such a late start?  In fact, archaeologists there had completely missed the boat, as it were.  This calls for an explanation.

The Fourth Question.   Are terms such as “seafaring” and “seafarer” really the right ones to use when it comes to what we are studying?  Or are there other terms -- such as “voyaging” and “voyager” -- that are more appropriate?

The Fifth Question.  What inferences can we make today with regard to early voyaging as a way of life?  What new kinds of evidence both from archaeology and from the earth sciences will help to fill out and clarify the picture?

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