Ethnography started as a part of anthropology. However, recently maritime archaeologists use this method in their research in order to document the remaining maritime traditions which could be used as a link for better understanding of ancient maritime cultures. Ethnography investigations could lead to have an end-product of a full recording of these boats in its own geographical and social context and to preserve this endangered traditions for future generations.
Ethnography also can be defined as a social science method designed to build knowledge by observation and interviewing of a community’s members. It can be of great value to archaeologists as one of the sources to be used in the interpretation of excavated material. Ethnographic studies can make the archaeologist aware of a range of solutions to general problems such as are those found in house building, boatbuilding, pottery making, and other ancient technologies.
Ethnoarchaeology focuses on contemporary maritime cultures including maritime communities, boat-building traditions, maritime activities, crafts and practices, navigation, the cultural seascape, and oral traditions.
The term "ethno-archaeologist" was coined more than 100 years ago. The formal emergence of ethnoarchaeology as a subdiscline of anthropology is best dated to the appearance in the second half of the 20th century. This called on the archaeologist to take to the field of living communities with his/her own theoretical orientation and gather the necessary information. this would include data on artifact function and typological variation, subsistence, social structure, and an attempt to to define where and in what degree the total non-material culture of the community could be inferred from the information gathered.
James Hornell's "Water Transport" is considered as one of the best and earliest sources about traditional boats and seafaring traditions. After working for several more years in India, organizing the fisheries of Madras, Hornell retired, and thus began his next career as an ethnographer of seafarming and maritime life. He traveled extensively around the Indian Ocean world and east Asia, making records of indigenous watercraft, sailing on Junks and Sampans, and as a member of an expedition to the south seas made many records of the watercraft of Polynesia. Further travels brought encounters with watercraft of northern India, the Mediterranean, the Nile, Uganda, Madagascar, Iraq, and northern Europe.
Research project: Boats of South Asia (1996 - 2001) Formerly directed by Professor Sean McGrail and then led by Dr Lucy Blue, the 'Boats of South Asia' Project conducted fieldwork in the Indian sub-continent between 1996 and 2000.
Ethnographic Boat Recording: Ethnographic study of present day boat building traditions is also a way to go back in time. Maritime ethnography can yield identification of early boat types, bring an insight on early seafaring and make it possible to draw parallels with past conceptions and methods of construction. A boat is not only a means of transportation solely dictated by function or environment, but can be considered as a mirror of the associated culture reflecting various cultural components through its shape, construction and use. This can provide a better understanding of the practical aspects of life along the coast of Cochinchina.
MARES Project: is a three year, multi-disciplinary, multi-period project focusing on the maritime traditions of the peoples of the Red Sea and Arabian-Persian Gulf. Drawing on ethnography, archaeology, history and linguistics, it seeks to understand how people have inhabited and navigated these seascapes in late antiquity and the medieval period, and how they do so today. The MARES Project team is based at the Institute for Arab and Islamic Studies (IAIS) at the University of Exeter in southwest England. The project is led by Professor Dionisius Agius, Al Qasimi Professor of Arabic Studies and Islamic Material Culture and the research team includes post-doctoral research associates Dr John P. Cooper and Dr Chiara Zazzaro, and Ph.D. candidates Julian Jansen van Rensburg and Lucy Semaan. Research administrative support comes from Beata Faracik.