Marine Archaeology

Adventure & Archaeology

Underwater archaeologist working on a site of amphorae on the shipwreck of the Mazotos, in Cyprus
Underwater archaeologist working on a site of amphorae on the shipwreck of the Mazotos, in Cyprus

On opposite sides of the planet from each another, two historic shipwrecks sit in a constant state of change. Both bear historical witness to the story of their day, yet they are very different: One is a Mediterranean cargo vessel from over 2,300 years ago, the other a Norwegian tanker that sank off the coast of New Jersey in 1964.

The stuff of dreams! Financially significant artifacts recovered from shipwrecks off the coast of Florida

Returning cultural heritage to its rightful owner

Earlier that summer, the government of Spain successfully argued that, under the terms of international Sovereign Immunity, it never abandoned or otherwise relinquished its ownership of the Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes, which sunk during a sea battle with the British Navy in 1804. At the time of its loss, the Mercedes was sailing back to Spain from South America.

  Diving is a kind of leisure activity we never really associate with Stone Age people
Diving is a kind of leisure activity we never really associate with Stone Age people

Did Stone Age people swim and dive just for the fun of it?

Surfer's ear is the common name for an exostosis or abnormal bone growth within the ear canal. Irritation from cold wind and water exposure causes the bone surrounding the ear canal to develop lumps of new bony growth which constrict the ear canal. The condition is not limited to surfing and can occur in any activity with cold, wet, windy conditions such as windsurfing, kayaking, sailing, jet skiing, kitesurfing and diving.

Florida's Storm Wreck: Conserving Three Muskets Found Off St. Augustine

Archaeologist Brendan Burke carefully brings an artifact aboard. Photo courtesy of St. Augustine Lighthouse Maritime Museum.

In 2009, underwater archaeologists from the St. Augustine Lighthouse and Maritime Museum discovered a site dubbed the "Storm Wreck"""" in the murky waters off St. Augustine, Florida. Analysis of the artifacts revealed that the Storm Wreck dates back to the end of the American Revolutionary War.

Maritime Archaeology Program at University of Southern Denmark

Divers build a frame, which they will later bring to the surface with the help of a lift bag. Photo courtesy of the Maritime Archaeology Program at the University of Southern Denmark.

In 2006, a postgraduate program in maritime archaeology was established at the University of Southern Denmark. Based in Esbjerg, on the west coast of the Jutland Peninsula in southwestern Denmark, it is a one-of-a-kind university program in this centuries-old seafaring nation. The program is designed for students who want to pursue a professional career in maritime archaeology and heritage management.

Kyrgyzstan's Lake Issyk-Kul: Touching Eternity

Scenes from the ruins of an ancient cemetery at 2m depth. The bones were highly mineralized in the lake so they did not dissolve. Local craftsmen made vessels out of the skulls for wealthy collectors.

In Medieval times, when Lake Issyk-Kul in Kyrgyzstan was a stop-over on the Silk Route, which connected Europe and Asia, the lake level was some 8m lower than it is today. In areas along what used to be the coastline but have since become submerged, divers have discovered the remains of a 2,500-year-old advanced civilization. Vladimir Gudzev and his buddies went to the area to have a look.

Shipwreck CSI

Vasa on display in Stockholm

All artifacts and other features, such as a ship’s timbers, are measured, drawn in detail, and photographed. Archaeological excavation underwater is usually done by hand with the aid of a hand-held dredge, commonly called an “air-lift.” Sediment is often screened so that not even the smallest artifact is lost.

Who Owns a Shipwreck?

Wreck of the African's Company Steamship Soudan in Funchal Bay, Madeira, ILN 1875

New technology now allows for the exploration of deep-water wrecks previously not accessible. But, who really owns a shipwreck?

Most countries, especially coastal states, have their own legislation that regulates the exploration and exploitation of shipwrecks as a cultural or economic resource.