For many millennia waters have separated but also connected civilizations. They have been the carriers of countless human adventures. Some of the traces of the travelers, warriors or merchants have found their final resting place on the bottom of oceans, rivers and lakes.


An estimated 3 million shipwrecks are spread across ocean floors around the planet. Some of these wrecks are thousands of years old and can provide precious historical information. A shipwreck by nature is testimony to trade and cultural dialogue between peoples. It also functions as a time capsule, providing a complete snapshot of the life on board at the time of sinking.

Famous shipwrecks include:

  • the Titanic shipwreck;
  • the shipwrecks of the Armada of Philipp II of Spain;
  • the sunken fleet of Kublai Khan off Japan;
  • the ships of Christopher Columbus;
  • the Spanish galleons that connected America to Spain; and
  • the Greek Antikythera wreck.

The cargo of some shipwrecks can be of special interest to the arts. Many precious statues have been found in ancient Greek and Roman wrecks and are now exposed in museums. The Antikythera wreck contained exquisite marble and bronze statues. While the marbles where badly damaged by the saltwater, the bronzes, including the well-known Antikythera Youth, were recovered thanks to conservation efforts. Also, several more modern ships, such as the Vrouwe Maria and the Lusitania, carried invaluable works of art when they sank.

Block-ships and wreck barriers

A block-ship is a ship deliberately sunk to prevent passage through a river, bay, or canal. Some block-ships were sunk to defend waterways against the entry of attacking enemy forces. Some, however,  were also sunk by attacking forces to prevent the exit of a defending navy.

Examples include:

  • The HMS Thetis, Iphigenia and Intrepid, which were scuttled during the Zeebrugge and Oostende attack in 1918 to prevent the port from being used by the German navy,
  • The 10th century naval barricade near Skuldelev in the Roskilde Fjord, set up to protect the important Roskilde trading center,
  • The Swedish ship barrier consisting of 20 wrecks deliberately sunk in 1715, in Greifswald Bay off the island of Rügen, on the Baltic Sea coast of Germany.

Aircraft wrecks

The oceans, rivers and lakes of the world not only hold shipwrecks, but also the remains of other means of transportation, such as airplanes from various wars and from accidents of civil aviation.

They can be of considerable historic importance, as for instance:

  • The Lockheed P-38, discovered in the Mediterranean off the island of Riou, close to Marseille – the plane carried the famous author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry when it crashed.

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