Over the centuries many shipwrecks have occurred in the oceans, seas, rivers and lakes across the globe. Many of which we possibly don’t even know about due to poor or lost record-keeping. Although a good number of shipwrecks are documented in history as existing and lost, the remains of these boats are still a mystery. According to UNESCO, more than three million shipwrecks are resting on the bottom of the world’s oceans. Only a small percentage of those have been found. And even a smaller percentage of them have been explored. [1], [2]

Greek shipwreck
Credit: By Jebulon (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bow_shipwreck_Nea_Artaki_Evia_Greece.jpg

Every so often a wreck site will surface. Sometimes found by fishing boats, other times by salvage companies, divers or amateur explorers. In recent years there have been some pretty cool and/or unusual cargo finds. I’m not talking about treasure (i.e. gold or other coinage), but other types of valuable or once important items that are remarkably well-preserved. Here are a few of them:

1. Preserved Food

An ancient ship was located in 2012 beneath the waters of the Italian coast and experts say it occurred an estimated 2,000 years ago. The ship and its contents were found buried in the mud and was reported to be in well-preserved condition over the centuries. The cargo found on the ship contained food vessels that carried items such as fish, wine, oil and grain. For many centuries it quietly remained beneath the water's surface near Varazze, an Italian coastal town near Genoa, until local fishermen began to find remnants from a former civilization. [3] According to The Age, fisherman have been collecting pieces of Roman artifacts in their nets for over 80 years. Finding artifacts is common for them, but this find was described as being something special. [4]

2. Beer and Champagne

In 2010 salvage divers made an astonishing discovery – beer. Not just any old beer, but is believed to be the world’s oldest drinkable beer. Experts estimate the beer was transported somewhere between 1800 and 1830 and the wreck was found between the Aland island chain and Finland.

The cultures in the beer were found to be still living. If you think about it, that’s pretty amazing to still have properties of active ingredients, especially sitting at the bottom of the sea all this time. Although, it is exactly those conditions that experts say helped those spirits survive. [5]

This was the second find of its type, a few months earlier that year the team had uncovered drinkable champagne that was made between 1772 and 1785. The bottles’ shape was characteristic of a late 18th century production date. A few of the divers tasted the champagne and described it as sweet with a strong tobacco scent and a tinge of oak taste.

In 2014, Belgian scientists successfully recreated the beer and it is being produced and distributed by Stallhagen, a brewery located in Finland. It is sweeter than modern beer because of the way malt was produced in earlier centuries. Proceeds from the sales will go towards supporting scientific projects, which will also include archaeological research in Finnish waters. [6]

Champagne and glass
Credit: Pexels via Pixabay CC0 Public Domain https://pixabay.com/en/bottle-champagne-drink-1836261/

3. Antikythera Mechanism

Sponge divers in 1900 stumbled across a remarkable and unusual find when they were beneath waters near the island of Antikythera. Coming upon an ancient Roman shipwreck that carried many items, one that included pottery, jewelry, statues and other goods, it also had a large computing device. Described as an ancient analog computer, researchers say the 2000+ year corroded bronze device was capable of many things, including the phases of the moon, positions of planets (the known ones at this time were Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn) and eclipses. In terms of non-space related events, it tracked the dates of Olympic games.

When studying the device, researchers found an event dated back to May 12, 205 B.C.E. It also contained an Egyptian calendar and the Greek zodiac. Astonishingly, due to the other treasures found with the device, no one really paid it any attention until the 1950s. Over the decades it has been studied by various people using technology as it developed. In recent years it was decided the device was older than originally believed and that it pre-dates any similar devices unearthed to date by at least 1,000 years. In 2016 it was announced that a skeleton was found at this wreck site. In time, the DNA will be studied which may shed more light on ancient life 2,000 years ago. 

Computers have come a long way since this time and have shrunk considerably, however, considering the age of this device and what other potential capabilities it might have, it’s quite noteworthy. [7],[8]

4. Chinese porcelain

In 2008 a large amount of 16th century Chinese porcelain was discovered off the coast of Indonesia sitting 200 feet down at the bottom of the ocean. According to news reports, there were 700,000 pieces strewn across the ocean floor which included dishes, cups and bowls made during the time of Ming dynasty Emperor Wanli, who ruled China from 1572 to 1620. Experts estimated the 400-year-old haul to be worth $43 million in current markets. Experts say the salt water helped contribute to the porcelain’s survival. [9]

5. Cargo from 700 BC

In this case, it’s not so much what was found, but how old it was dated to be. In August 2014 researchers found an ancient ship and its cargo and was dated to be from about 700 BC. Experts were saying this find is probably the oldest ever found in the Mediterranean Sea. Among the ship’s remains included 20 grinding stones (made of lava) and 50 amphorae (large jugs used to carry wine) which had belonged the Phoenicians.  The Phoenicians were a trading civilization and sailed the Mediterranean waters from 1550 BC until 300 BC. [11]

In related news, in 2015 underwater archaeologists working in Greek waters found a “ship graveyard”, 22 vessels in all. The wrecks contained cargo that was dated 700 to 480 BC. At the time of the find, it was believed there were more wrecked boats in the vicinity. In the remains, there were types of amphorae pottery that were previously undescribed. [12]

When a vessel’s remains are discovered it’s intriguing. What was the identity of the boat? Who was on it? What was its purpose? What was its cargo?  Sometimes those questions can be answered, other times they’ll remain a mystery. One of the benefits of technology is that as it progresses it helps solve some of these mysteries. Who knows in the future what other unusual treasures of cultural, historical and actual value might be found.

Related reading:

10 Unusual and Totally Cool Archaeological Finds

10 Awesome Historic Finds Uncovered by Nature