Underwater Archaeologist Jonathan Moore, Artsci'91

Jonathan Moore, Artsci’91, goes to great depths for his job. As an underwater archaeologist with Parks Canada, he travels across the country searching and documenting historical artefacts in Canada’s lakes, rivers, and oceans. His work on shipwrecks gets the most attention from the media and the general public. But Jonathan has also searched for traces of human occupation (from 10,000 years ago) in submerged lands off the Queen Charlotte Islands and helped find a Second World War plane in the St. Lawrence River.

Jonathan, a Department of Classics graduate, took time out of his busy schedule to talk about his job and give advice to students on how to become a full-time archaeologist.

Question: Why do you love archaeology?

Answer: I've had a keen interest in archaeology since I was a kid. For all of the years I've been doing archaeology, I suppose it's been my curiosity about the daily lives of people in the past that captivates me most. In a way, archaeology transports one back in time and provides a tangible link with these past lives and their stories. In the case of underwater archaeology, we often explore intact shipwrecks on which people once travelled, worked, lived, and in many cases, perished. Frequently, the evidence of lives lived on what were once floating ships is very well preserved. We also explore submerged landscapes people once inhabited that, although radically transformed through inundation, can also be archaeologically vivid. All of this is extremely interesting to me and it is a privilege to be able to explore these places.

Question: What is a typical day like for an underwater archaeologist?

Answer:For our team, this depends on whether we are in the office or field. Our year is usually divided into two periods. Normally, we begin fieldwork preparation in March with diving re-certification exercises that entail pool drills and later open water diving in a local quarry. By early May, we have usually begun field projects that last anywhere from a few days to two months.  These projects usually entail long days filled with a morning group briefing, loading gear and preparations on a work boat or ship (whether for diving or marine remote sensing surveying), travel to a survey area, the survey or diving operations themselves, and then the return trip to base. Once back on shore or back at the mother ship, we then do tasks such as filling SCUBA tanks, writing field notes, data transfers, photo cataloguing, and uploading information to Parks Canada social media sites. Weather and underwater conditions often affect what we will do on any given day. One of the great things about underwater archaeology is the fantastic variety of things we might be doing on any given day, and the wonderful sites we find and explore. There is no less variety when we are back at the office in Ottawa, usually by late September. Here we are busy with wrapping up field data, writing reports, training, and communicating our findings with the public. By January, we are well into planning the summer's field projects.

Question: What did you learn at Queen’s that helps you with your current job?

Answer: Archaeology draws upon a wide range of disciplines and demands a mix of skills. There are many varieties of archaeology that a student can pursue and a multitude of related studies and professions (e.g. artefact conservation, palaeolandscape studies, remote sensing, and palaeometallurgy). Queen's Department of Classics focuses, of course, on Old World classical archaeology, so this will be of interest chiefly to those wishing to pursue this type of archaeology. Other universities specialize in other varieties of archaeology (such as historical archaeology). While I did not pursue a career in classical archaeology following graduation, I took courses at Queen's that have been extremely useful to me as an historical archaeologist. The courses were not only from the Department of Classics, but also from the geography and history departments. I recall a fantastic mix of archaeology, geography and history courses during my first year (when I also learned to dive) and I continued this mix throughout my next three undergraduate years. In addition to Classics classes, I took courses on a wide variety of topics such as topographical surveying, the history of cartography, and map making. In short, I was able to take a range of courses at Queen's that helped me greatly in my career. I am confident that there is a wealth of professors and researchers at Queen's pursuing archaeology and related work from which prospective students can help build a career in archaeology. Currently, our Parks Canada team is actively collaborating with Department of Classics professor George Bevan and his master's students on underwater archaeological research.

Question: Any words of advice to a student interested in becoming a full-time archaeologist?

Answer: I field questions from prospective archaeologists every year as part of my duties. To these students I advise that while obtaining full-time employment in archaeology (both terrestrial and underwater) can be challenging, if one is dedicated and assembles the right knowledge and skills, it is entirely possible. A career in archaeology entails passion, dedication, and patience. An excellent first start, even while still in high school, is to seek out terrestrial archaeological field schools that will give an excellent introduction to the work of archaeologists. People should consider volunteering on local archaeological projects. Sometimes Parks Canada welcomes archaeological volunteers. (The Parks Canada website has a lot of valuable information and links for budding archaeologists.) Aspiring underwater archaeologists should learn to dive from a reputable training organization and begin to build up their diving experience and work towards gaining the necessary skills to be a scientific diver. At the undergraduate level, students need to take a range of courses that cover the theoretical and practical skill sets required for archaeology. Gaining field experience is a must. Queen's offers an archaeological field school at the Bader International Study Centre at Herstmonceux Castle, England, and Queen’s Department of Classics professors are engaged in field projects annually. For full-time professional employment in terrestrial and underwater archaeology in Canada, one has to hold a master's degree in archaeology or a closely related field. While working towards that degree, students in underwater archaeology should gain more advanced diving experience, establish contacts in the field at conferences (and other venues, where possible), and look to take part in underwater archaeological field schools or projects. To boost their experience at both the undergraduate and graduate level, students should consider volunteering with reputable avocational groups like Save Ontario Shipwrecks and the Underwater Archaeological Society of British Columbia. In short, if you want to become a full-time archaeologist, get involved and study the subject at every opportunity. Connect, survey, and dig with professional archaeologists as much as you can and develop your own unique set of knowledge and skills.