Underwater Archaeology/Shipwrecks

Underwater archaeological excavation is very similar to traditional land archaeology. The most common (and perhaps most popular) type of sites studied are shipwrecks. However, marine archaeologists also investigate other kinds of sites, such as flooded land sites or fishing structures.

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Content essays

Background essays are written by explorers involved in a specific expedition in order to provide further background on specific topic areas associated with the expedition. Below are selected essays focused on underwater archaeology and shipwrecks.

Identifying Deepwater Historic Wreck Sites using Multibeam Sonar Data

Searching for historic ship and aircraft wrecks in deep water should always begin with a thorough review of historic records in order to identify a search area. Once that crucial step has been completed, the next step is to employ sonar systems to identify viable targets within the search area that could potentially be what you’re looking for.

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Biology of Shipwrecks from the Battle of the Atlantic

Shipwrecks on the sea floor provide protection and food to wildlife around them.

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Discovering a World War II B-29 Superfortress

We investigated sonar anomalies that we thought might be a B-29 aircraft lost in World War II near Tinian Island. One target, out of several in the area, stood out because it had a harder surface than the surrounding sand. Not knowing for sure if this was airplane wreckage or a rock, we decided to take a look. See what we found!

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Amakasu Maru WWII Shipwreck

We set out to explore a potential shipwreck target that had been mapped during a previous Okeanos Explorer cruise. Scientists believed that the wreck might be the Japanese Imperial Naval Destroyer, Hayate, which was sunk during the Battle of Wake. What we found was not what we expected.

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Uncovering a Pirate City: 3D Mapping for Marine Applications

Employing state-of-the-art marine robotic 3D mapping for underwater archaeology, we set out on an archaeological field expedition to the underwater city of Port Royal, Jamaica, known at the time as the ‘Wickedest City on Earth.’

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Archaeology of the Atlantic Canyons

The mid-Atlantic outer continental shelf (OCS) intersects with some of the most historically significant waters in the United States and the historical and archaeological importance of the region is substantial.

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Underwater Archaeological Excavation Techniques

Underwater archaeological excavation is very similar to traditional land archaeology.

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Deep Wrecks 2009

On September 5, 2009, a team of archaeologists and other scientists joined the NOAA research vessel (R/V) Ronald H. Brown at sea in the Gulf of Mexico for the second leg of the Lophelia II 2009: Reef, Rigs, and Wrecks cruise.

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Deep Water Archaeology

Shipwrecks are a random sample of voyages, a record of that ancient trade and communication. Unlike elaborately contrived sites such as graves and temples, shipwrecks are accidental and therefore show the past as it really was.

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The Steamship Portland and the National Marine Sanctuaries Maritime Heritage Program

What does it mean to the Portland’s future now that positive evidence confirms that it lies within the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary?

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Gulf of Mexico 2012 Expedition: Marine Archaeology

In 2012, NOAA's Okeanos Explorer was cruising in the wake of 500 years of ships of discovery in the Gulf of Mexico.

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Why Do We Study Shipwrecks?

Shipwrecks are a random sample of voyages, a record of past trade and communication. Unlike elaborately contrived sites such as graves and temples, shipwrecks are accidental and therefore show the past as it really was.

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Why Is the USS Monitor Famous?

Designed by Swedish-American engineer John Ericsson, when it was constructed, the USS Monitor represented a radical departure from traditional warship design.

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Lessons

This section provides direct access to selected lessons about marine archaeology developed by scientists and educators during Ocean Explorer field seasons. These lessons are geared toward students in Grades 5-12. Presented here as Web-based education materials, each lesson corresponds with a specific ocean exploration and can be supplemented with daily logs prepared by scientists and educators during each mission at sea. Additional lessons on underwater archaeology and shipwrecks can be found using the Lesson Plan search feature.

Older lessons are aligned to the National Science Education Standards and newer lessons support the Next Generation Science Standards (and their associated Common Core Standards). All lessons from 2006 to the present also support the Ocean Literacy Essential Principles and Fundamental Concepts. Note: The web links provided in lessons are verified at the time of publication, but over time, some links may change or become obsolete.

To Find A Lost Fleet

Grades: 6-8

Focus
Magnetometer surveys for shipwrecks (Physics/Earth Science/Social Studies)

In this activity students simulate a magnetometry survey, using a smartphone app or a conventional compass, to describe the cause and effect relationships of magnetic interactions that underlie magnetometer surveys for shipwrecks.

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Looking for Clues

Grades: 5-6

Focus
Marine archaeology of the Titanic (Social Studies)

In this activity, students will be able to draw inferences about a shipwreck given information on the location and characteristics of artifacts from the wreck, and will list three processes that contribute to the Titanic's deterioration.

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Shipwreck Explorers

Grades: 5-6

Focus:
Marine archaeology (Physical Science)

In this activity, students use data about the location and types of artifacts recovered from a shipwreck site to draw inferences about the sunken ship and the people who were aboard.

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Ship of the Line

Grades: 5-6

Focus
Maritime History (Physical Science/Social Science)

In this activity, students will be able to describe general characteristics and technologies used in 18th century naval ships; draw inferences about daily life aboard these ships; and explain at least three ways in which simple machines were used on these vessels.

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This Old Ship

Grades: 7-8

Focus
Ancient and Prehistoric Shipwrecks (Earth Science/Social Studies)

In this activity, students will be able to describe at least three types of artifacts that are typically recovered from ancient shipwrecks, explain the types of information that may be obtained from at least three types of artifacts that are typically recovered from ancient shipwrecks, and compare and contrast, in general terms, technological features of Neolithic, Bronze Age, Hellenistic, and Byzantine period ships.

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Ping!

Grades: 7-8

Focus
Sidescan sonar (Earth Science/Physical Science)

In this activity, students will describe sidescan sonar, compare and contrast sidescan sonar with other methods used to search for underwater objects, and make inferences about the topography of an unknown and invisible landscape based on systematic discontinuous measurements of surface relief.

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The Robot Archaeologist

Grades: 9-12

Focus
Marine Archaeology/Marine Navigation (Earth Science/Mathematics)

In this activity, students will design an archaeological survey strategy for an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV); calculate expected position of the AUV based on speed and direction of travel; and calculate course correction required to compensate for the set and drift of currents.

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Do You Have a Sinking Feeling?

Grades: 9-12

Focus
Marine archaeology (Earth Science/Mathematics)

In this activity, students plot the position of a vessel given two bearings on appropriate landmarks, draw inferences about a shipwreck given information on the location and characteristics of artifacts from the wreck, and explain how the debris field associated with a shipwreck gives clues about the circumstances of the sinking ship.

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Multimedia

Below are links to a few selected videos and images of underwater archaeology and shipwrecks from previous Ocean Explorer expeditions.

OceanAGE Careers Connections

The Ocean Careers to Inspire Another Generation of Explorers, or OceanAGE Careers webpage, invites students to learn about the talented people who explore our ocean planet. From underwater pilots to research scientists, these marine explorers provide students with first-hand knowledge of exciting careers through videotaped interviews and written profiles.

Dr. Beverly Goodman
Geoarchaeologist

Chuck Meide
Maritime Archaeologist

Explorers in Training

Meet NOAA's newest ocean explorers, who have trained on the Okeanos Explorer.

Related Expeditions

The above items are only a selection of underwater archaeology and shipwrecks content on our website.

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