Photo Source: nps.gov
There’s something really cool about the idea that there are boats full of buried treasure at the bottom of the sea. The idea of hidden treasure has been romanticized by storytellers, but sometimes we forget that we can find these ships full of treasure in reality. With the help of technology and a bit of luck, we have been able to unearth these old vessels, finding billions of dollars worth of historical artifacts, jewelry, and other treasures.
To find a shipwreck, one needs to have the right technology (It’s not likely you’re going to be able to scuba dive at your local beach and stumble upon a thousand-year-old ship). One way organizations find old shipwrecks is to survey the ocean floor (Future Learn). If there seems to be a big change in the sea depth in a certain area, it’s more likely that there is a ship on the ocean floor. After scouting out the certain anomalies, the organization can come in and check it out. Some companies will deploy high-tech automated submarines to survey the ocean floor and use technology like sonar to more easily find the shipwrecks. This technology is also used to recover modern, lost ships on the ocean, and these companies often work in conjunction with the families of the lost crew to provide some closure (Infinite Oceans).
Since we have all this technology, have we found all that there is to be found in the bottom of the ocean? Not even close. According to the Odyssey Marine Exploration, there is estimated to be at least billions of dollars worth of treasure on the ocean floor from shipwrecks alone (Metal Detector). While it seems simple enough to just throw some automated summaries down there and vacuum up the treasure, the actual execution is more complex. Scanning the ocean takes a lot of time, and not every anomaly leads to sunken treasure. However, there have been come great success stories over the years. One recent notable find was in Columbia off of the island of Baru (Seeker). The Columbian Navy and an international team from the Columbian Institute of Anthropology and History recovered an 18th century Spanish Galleon filled with gold coins and precious stones. The ship has been estimated to be worth between 4 and 17 billion dollars. It has since been declared as heritage property of the Columbian state, and researchers today are still studying the found ship. Discerning who owns a shipwreck is sometimes not that easy. There are laws regarding finding sunken property according to the UN, but it can take years of court litigation to figure out exactly which country has claim to the ship (especially if plundering was involved).
The idea of sunken treasure has captured the minds and dreams of storytellers and researchers for centuries, and there are still plenty of ships waiting to be found. One example is the Merchant Royal, also called the “El Dorado of the Sea,” and estimated to be worth around 1 billion dollars (Daily Beast). With some luck and evolving science, there is a chance that we will be able to give real credence to these legendary shipwrecks and uncover lost pieces of history in the process.