By Talal Al-Khatib
The recent identification of Columbus’ lost ship is among the most significant finds in marine archaeology. Beneath the ocean waves lurks many other vessels of historical significance that have disappeared from history, only to resurface from the depths centuries later.
1. The RMS Titanic
Undoubtedly the most famous shipwrecks in history, thanks in part to a hugely successful film in the 1990s based on the sinking, the RMS Titanic was for a time the largest ship in history, and as a consequence the largest shipwreck. Despite its size, however, the whereabouts of the lost ocean liner were unknown for decades following its disappearance in 1912.
That changed in 1985, when the Titanic was found at a depth of 12,500 feet off the coast of Newfoundland. The shipwreck is composed to two large sections that drifted and settled about a third of a mile apart.
Because of its size and the state of deterioration of the vessel, raising it from the ocean’s depths is prohibitively difficult. The Titanic also is now home to practically an entire underwater ecosystem, with a community of crabs, fish and bacteria now inhabiting its decks.
2. The Queen Anne’s Revenge
The flagship of one of the most notorious pirates in history, the Queen Anne’s Revenge was missing for centuries after it ran aground in 1718, the same year that Edward Teach, better known as Blackbeard, would meet his end.
In 1995, a shipwreck was discovered off the coast of North Carolina that was thought to be the legendary pirate frigate. It took another 15 years of piecing together the evidence before researchers would claim with certainty that the wreck was in fact the Queen Anne’s Revenge.
Items recovered from the wreck include a bell inscribed with the date 1705, apothecary weights, some gold and of course a cache of many weapons, including the cannon seen in this photo.
3. The Whydah Gally
Unlike the Queen Anne’s Revenge, there was no mistaking the Whydah Gally for any other vessel soon after the pirate ship was discovered in 1984.
The flagship of Captain “Black Sam” Bellamy, the ship ran aground and sank off the coast of Cape Cod following an intense storm in 1717. Relying on a map assembled by a salvager who was a contemporary of Bellamy, modern-day marine explorers were able to ascertain the location of the shipwreck.
Among the more than 200,000 artifacts discovered abroad, which included cannons, coins and more, was the ship’s bell, bearing the simple inscription “The Whydah Gally 1716.” It was the first ever discovery and authentication of a pirate ship.
4. The Black Swan
If you found a half billion dollars worth of sunken treasure, would you be able to keep it a secret?
In 2007, the underwater salvage company Odyssey Marine Expeditions discovered a Colonial-era shipwreck in the Atlantic Ocean that yielded more than half a million silver coins, hundreds of gold coins and more. Codenamed “The Black Swan,” the haul was thought to belong to the Spanish navy frigate, Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes, which sank in the early 19th century.
The discovery led to a series of court battles between the Spanish government and Odyssey, with the company being forced to relinquish the entire load to Spain. The Peruvian government had also sought to lay claim to the treasure, insisting that the coins were mined and minted within its borders.
5. Nuestra Señora de Atocha
The 1622 wreck of the Nuestra Señora de Atocha is among the most valuable in history. The Spanish treasure ship had been hauling the wealth of the New World in its cargo hold, laden with jewels and precious metals.
Some 460 years later, the shipwreck would be found by Mel Fisher, an Indiana chicken farmer turned treasure hunter. The immense fortune Fisher uncovered came at a hefty price, however. On a previous expedition to find the sunken vessel, Fisher’s wife and son died after their boat capsized while looking for the treasure.
Since it’s discovery, the Nuestra Señora de Atocha is estimated to hold around $450 million to half a billion dollars worth of treasure, and excavation work to find what remains of the ship’s haul continues to this day.
6. The Vasa
The Vasa is a 17th-century Swedish warship that’s famous not so much for its (dismal) sailing career as it is its afterlife after being salvaged.
An expensive and ornate vessel built for king Gustavus Adolphus, the Vasa embarked on its maiden voyage in 1628, sailed about half a mile from the shore, and promptly sank. The bronze cannons abroad the wreck were salvaged, but the ship itself was left forgotten.
In the 1950s, the Swedish government devised a rescue operation for the forgotten vessel, finally bringing it back above water in 1961. Despite spending three and a half centuries underwater, the Vasa was remarkably well preserved and as a result later restored and put on display, becoming a popular tourist attraction in Sweden.
7. The Silver Standard
The British treasure ship S.S. Gairsoppa may not be a household name, but the discovery of this wreck in 2011 may be the deepest and largest precious metal recovery in history, as reported that year by Discovery News.
The 412-foot ship in 1941 had more than 1,200 bars of silver, totaling 1.4 million ounces, aboard when it sank after being torpedoed by a German U-boat. Discovered by Odyssey, the ship was found three miles below the waters of the North Atlantic.
8. The ‘Ship of Gold’
The S.S. Central America isn’t the most famous or even the most valuable shipwreck in history. But with “The Ship of Gold” as a nickname, it arguably has the best branding.
In 1857, the steamer sailed from San Francisco on its way to New York, a journey at the time that required it to carry its 10 tons worth of gold mined during the California gold rush around two continents. After a hurricane hit off the coast of South Carolina, the ship was lost, an event so significant that it actually contributed to the panic of 1857.
The shipwreck was discovered in 1988, bearing an estimated $100 million-$150 million worth of gold, including one ingot weighing 80 pounds that later sold for $8 million all by itself.
9. The Diamond Shipwreck
It’s hard not to feel sorry for the sailors aboard the Bom Jesus, a 16th century Portuguese trading vessel.
Sailing in a ship laden with gold and ivory, the ship was caught in a storm while rounding the southern tip of Africa. After days of battling the elements at sea, the ship and its crew were tossed onto a coast that holds more than a hundred million carats of diamonds. Although the men aboard the Bom Jesus were surrounded by almost incomprehensible wealth, none of the men aboard what has become known as the Diamond Shipwreck survived.
The wreck was finally uncovered in 2009 by a geologist working for De Beers. An archaeological investigation into the site yielded more than 2,000 gold coins, 11 tons of copper ingots, cannons, swords, ivory and more, according to National Geographic.