Submarines in the Silent World

Exploring Films as an Archaeological Record


  • Mirja Arnshav Swedish National Maritime Museums
  • Anna McWilliams Södertörn University, Stockholm



Baltic Sea, documentation, film analysis, maritime archaeology, method, submarine, World War II, wreck


The wrecks of two Soviet submarines, the S7 and the SC-305, were discovered by private wreck-searching teams in 1998 and 2007 respectively. For more than half a century the whereabouts of the wrecks had remained a mystery. Drawing from the case of the two sunken Second World War submarines, this paper addresses the archaeological significance of moving-image documentation produced in non-archaeological contexts as a tool for interpreting the sites. What kind of research can archaeologists, denied direct access to a site, conduct through the use of film documentation gathered by nonarchaeologists? Is it possible to use films produced by divers or marine survey teams (non-archaeologists) to interpret underwater sites? Can film be considered an archaeological documentation method, and how can data gathered in this way be handled and interpreted? Moreover, how does the distance created though lack of physical contact with sites and the non-professional gathering of data affect the research and analysis? Our work indicates that using already existing film and photographic material, created for purposes other than archaeological documentation, can be a valuable source material for understanding past events as well as how archaeological sites are experienced today. We found that working with material created by non archaeologists had limitations, but it also opened up a whole new set of opportunities of viewing and understanding the sites.


Download data is not yet available.

Author Biographies

Mirja Arnshav, Swedish National Maritime Museums

Mirja Arnshav Lic. phil. works as a research coordinator at the Swedish National Maritime Museums. She has a special interest in wrecks with regard to collections, narrations and uses of the past.

Anna McWilliams, Södertörn University, Stockholm

Anna McWilliams is a researcher in archaeology. She has an MSc in Forensic Archaeology from Bournemouth University and has also worked as a Heritage Consultant since 2006. McWilliams specialises in contemporary and twentieth-century archaeology with a particular focus on the archaeology of conflict. In her doctoral thesis she investigated the physical remains of the former Iron Curtain.


Adams, J. 2013. “Experiencing Shipwrecks and the Primacy of Vision.” In Interpreting Shipwrecks: Maritime Archaeological Approaches, edited by J. Adams and J. Rönnby, 85–96. Southampton, UK: Highfield Press.

Arnshav, M. 2014. “100 Years of Contemporary Collecting: Revisiting the Sailor Tattoos at the Maritime Museum, Stockholm.” In Collecting the Contemporary: A Handbook for Social History Museums, edited by O. Rhys and Z. Baveystock, 214—249. Edinburgh: MuseumsEtc.

Ballard, R. D. and W. Hively. 2002. The Eternal Darkness: A Personal History of Deep-Sea Exploration. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

____., A. M. McCann, D. Yoerger, L. Whitcomb, D. Mindell, J. Oleson, H. Singh, B. Foley, J. Adams, D. Piechota and C. Giangrande. 2000. “The Discovery of Ancient History in the Deep Sea using Advanced Deep Submergence Technology.” Deep-Sea Research Part I: Oceanographic Research Papers 47 (9): 1591–1620.

Berggren, Å. 2001. “Swedish Archaeology in Perspective and the Possibility of Reflexivity.” Current Swedish Archaeology 9: 9–23.

____., 2002. “Reflexivitet inom arkeologin.” In Reflexiv fältarkeologi?: återsken av ett seminarium, edited by Å. Berggren and M. Burström, 17–26. Malmö: Riksantikvarieämbetet and Malmö Kulturmiljövård.

____., and I. Hodder. 2000. At the Trowel’s Edge: An Introduction to Reflexive Field Practice in Archaeology. Oxford: Westview Press.

____. 2003. “Social Practice, Method and Some Problems of Field Archaeology.” American Antiquity 68 (3): 421–434.

?????, ?. and ?. ???????. 2015. “????? ???????? ?????.” Available online:

Edgeworth, M. 2012. “Follow the Cut, Follow the Rhythm, Follow the Material.” Norwegian Archaeological Review 45 (1): 76–92.

Eitzen, D. 1995. “When is a documentary? Documentary as a Mode of Reception.” Cinema Journal 35 (1): 81–102.

Ekman, P.-O. 1981. Sjöfront: sjökrigshändelser i norra Östersjöområdet 1941-1944. Helsinki:

____. 1983. Havsvargar: ubåtar och ubåtskrig i Östersjön. Helsinki: Schildt.

Eriksson, N. and J. Rönnby. 2012. “‘The Ghost Ship’: An Intact Fluyt from c.1650 in the Middle of the Baltic Sea.” International Journal of Nautical Archaeology 41 (2): 350–361.

Hamilakis, Y. and F. Ifantidis. 2015. “The Photographic and the Archaeological: The ‘Other Acropolis’.” In Camera Graeca: Photographs, Narratives, Materialities, edited by P. Carabott, Y. Hamilakis and E. Papargyriou, 133–157. Farnham, UK: Ashgate Publishing.

Hodder, I. 1997. “Always Momentary, Fluid and Flexible: Towards Reflexive Excavation Methodology.” Antiquity 71 (273): 691–700.

____., 1999. The Archaeological Process: An Introduction. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.

____., ed., 2000. Towards Reflexive Method in Archaeology: The Example of Çatalhöyük. British Institute of Archaeology at Ankara Monograph 28. Cambridge: McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research and British Institute of Archaeology at Ankara.

Kijanen, K. 1977. Finlands ubåtar I krig och fred. Stockholm: Marinlitteraturföreningen.

Latour, B. 1999. Pandora’s Hope: Essays on the Reality of Science Studies. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

____. 2000. “When Things Strike Back: A Possible Contribution of ‘Science Studies’ to the Social Sciences.” In British Journal of Sociology 51 (1): 107–123.

Marchessault, J. 2015. ”Invisible Ecologies: Cousteau’s Cameras and Ocean Wonders.” Journal of the New Media Caucus 11 (2). Available online:

McWilliams, A. 2013 An Archaeology of the Iron Curtain: Material and Metaphor. PhD Diss., Stockholms universitet/Södertörns högskola.

Lucas, G. 2012. Understanding the Archaeological Record. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Olsen, B. 2012. “After Interpretation: Remembering Archaeology.” Current Swedish Archaeology 20: 11–34.

Pétursdóttir, Þ. 2012. “Small Things Forgotten Now Included, or What Else Do Things Deserve?” International Journal of Historical Archaeology 16: 577–603.

Rotha, P. 1952 [1935]. Documentary Film. London: Faber.

Thorén, R. 1992. Ryska ubåtskriget i Östersjön 1941-1945: den svenske marinattachén i Helsingfors 1942-1945 Ragnar Thorén rapporterar. Stockholm: Probus.

Tilley, C. 1994. A Phenomenology of Landscape. Oxford. Berg.

Westerlund, T. 1998. “Ubåten klövs av vår torped. Arvi Putus, 83, glömmer aldrig dramat på Ålands hav.” Aftonbladet, 1 August. Available online:

Winston, B. 1995. Claiming the Real. The Documentary Film Revisited. London: British Film Institute.



How to Cite

Arnshav, M., & McWilliams, A. (2017). Submarines in the Silent World: Exploring Films as an Archaeological Record. Journal of Contemporary Archaeology, 4(1), 19–37.