Q: Why did you decide to get into archaeology?
A: To me, it’s that combination of things: using your body as a tool to help you understand things, as well as using your brain to think about what those things meant and applying that to the big picture about people.
Q: How many underwater archaeologists are there?
A: For every 100 archaeologists, maybe one to five of them are underwater archaeologists, and most of them are shipwreck archaeologists. I’m one of only a few dozen maybe in the whole world who focus on landscapes that got covered by sea level rise or prehistoric settlements that were terrestrial but ended up underwater.
Q: What are some of the challenges you face underwater that you wouldn’t on land?
A: The water’s really dark, so you can’t see a long ways away, and you can’t have as many people working at the same time. Also, you can’t talk underwater, so you have to communicate via hand signals, which can slow things down.
Q: What’s misunderstood about underwater archaeology?
A: If you talked to other archaeologists, they would think that a lot of [underwater archaeologists] do this because we like to scuba dive and that we aren’t trying to answer research questions. We have this reputation as the cowboys of science — most of us aren’t like that. Most of us are just as serious as our terrestrial compadres. I work on land as much or more than I work underwater; I just feel that water lines shouldn’t be a limitation to your research.
"This article originally appeared in print as "Q&A: Jessi Halligan."