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Getting Your Feet Wet
Barriers to Inclusivity in Underwater Archaeology and How to Break Them

The full article and more information about the groups that collaborated on this work can be found at:

Numerous studies have demonstrated imbalances in archaeology with regards to gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, class, and disability (e.g., Bardolph 2014, 2018; Bardolph and Vanderwarker 2016; Battle-Baptiste 2011; Beaudry and White 1994; Blackmore et al. 2016; Colwell 2016; Colwell-Chanthaphonh 2010; Colwell- Chanthaphonh et al. 2010; Díaz-Andreu 2007; Ford 1994; Ford and Hundt 1994; Franklin 1997, 2001; Fulkerson and Tushingham 2019; Gero 1985; Goldstein et al. 2018; Gosden 2006; Heath-Stout 2019; Hutson 2002; O’Mahony 2015; Rautman 2012; Rutecki and Blackmore 2016; Shott 2006; Silliman 2008; Tushingham et al. 2017; Victor and Beaudry 1992; Watkins 2002, 2005, 2009; Yellen 1991).

Addressing racial diversity specifically, a 2015 survey of over 2,500 Society for American Archaeology conference participants revealed that less than 1.0% of respondents self-identified as African American (Association Research 2016:6). This percentage is particularly striking given that the same miniscule percentage of American archaeologists identifying as Black or African American was documented years earlier (Franklin.1997), indicating that the field has seen little growth in this category of racial diversity. Surveys in Canada and the United Kingdom have had similar results, with most archaeologists identifying as white—90% and 97%, respectively (Aitchison and Rocks-Macqueen 2013; Jalbert 2019). Overall, although the field is approaching gender parity (e.g., Franklin 1997; Heath-Stout and Hannigan 2020), positions of authority are still largely male dominated (see Heath-Stout and Hannigan 2020), and it is clear that there is a lack of representation of Black, Indigenous, and people of color in archaeology as well as in such additional areas as socioeconomic standing, sexual orientation, and ability. It is important to note that these categories can be additive and intersectional. Concerns about representation are heightened in a specialized field such as underwater archaeology, where the demands of working in a submerged environment create further challenges to inclusivity.

Within the broader context of institutional inequality, exclusivity, and structural racism impacting the field overall, underwater archaeology has additional barriers for underrepresented communities seeking to gain entry, particularly when it comes to knowledge about career opportunities and access to the specific skills needed to conduct this type of research. The result is an exclusive field with little diversity and a lack of accessibility, which is particularly striking when the factors of race, gender, and wealth are considered. Looking at data from the United States, the 2018 Diving Equipment and Marketing Association (DEMA) analysis on scuba divers shows that 73.2% of open-water divers (the basic level of certification) are white, 60.1% are male, and 32.6% have at least one college degree (Diving Equipment and Marketing Association [DEMA] 2018). In terms of marketing scuba to new individuals, the same DEMA report considers “highly likely” customers as those in the “Summit Estates,” “Top Professionals,” and “Established Elite'' market clusters. These clusters are described as 73.2% white, with individual net worth calculated at $100,000–$249,000. A 2019 Scubanomics report demonstrates that at least 50% of divers earned more than $100,000 a year (Kieran Reference Kieran2019), and the DEMA (2021) “Fast Facts” on diving and snorkeling similarly reveal that 69.4% of open-water divers have an average annual household income of $100,000–$150,000. Among individuals who seek additional dive training in the DEMA (2021) survey, 70% of individuals are male, and 68.9% have an average household income of $100,000–$150,000. Ultimately, these statistics suggest that scuba diving is a white and rich enterprise, largely dominated by men. Although finances are not the only factor impacting inclusion and participation, they clearly play a significant role in the contemporary scuba-diving community.

It comes as no surprise then that a field that involves both archaeology and scuba diving will be especially exclusive. Overall, underwater archaeologists are a largely homogeneous group, particularly along the lines of race and wealth—categories that often overlap (see Ransley 2006 for issues of queer representation in maritime archaeology). In the context of asking broader questions such as “Why haven't things changed?,” “How can we do better?,” and “Why are there so few underwater archaeologists of color?” (see Tan 2020), this article identifies the problem of increasing diversity in underwater archaeology, outlines common barriers to inclusivity in the field, and offers solutions for improving inclusion and accessibility. To improve the practice of underwater archaeology moving forward, this article also provides information on case studies and additional resources. Underwater archaeology is a growing discipline, particularly in the United States, with a need for qualified practitioners, and providing training to diverse communities is essential for improving overall representation in this burgeoning field.

The authors of this article represent a broad range of underwater archaeologists with experience in academia, nonprofit organizations, public outreach, and nongovernmental organizations. In addition, they possess a range of research and technical expertise from historical shipwrecks to ancient, submerged landscapes; and from technical scuba diving to remote-operated vehicle piloting and sonar operations. The authors are affiliated with the Advisory Council on Underwater Archaeology, Diving With a Purpose, Underwater Adventure Seekers, and the Florida Public Archaeology Network. Many of the solutions and case studies provided in this article are the work of these organizations, and additional resources can be found on their websites.


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