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Underwater archaeology

Underwater archaeologists at workUnderwater archaeologists at work Underwater archaeologists study the past through the submerged remains of vessels and their cargoes, or even those of ancient cities. While some shipwreck-hunters hope to find long-lost treasure, underwater archaeologists are more interested in what shipwrecks can tell them about life in the past. Clothing and equipment can give a valuable “snapshot” of life at the time the ship went down. Unfortunately, some shipwrecks, especially those that went down in shallow waters, have already been plundered by treasure-hunters over the centuries.

An underwater archaeologist investigates a find.An underwater archaeologist investigates a find.
Divers investigate a shipwreck.Divers investigate a shipwreck.Click to play video

Finding a wreck

Finding a shipwreck can be a long and difficult task. Historical documents and charts are often the only source of information about the location of a sunken ship, and they are often inaccurate and vague. But once in the right area, research vessels can pinpoint the shipwreck exactly using detection equipment such as sonar—which locates objects using sound waves—and magnetometers, which can detect metal objects below several layers of sediment. Divers exploring the seabed can use metal detectors to find iron, bronze, or even silver or gold below the coral and sand.

As a result of the Indian Ocean Tsunami of Boxing Day 2004, the remains of an ancient city were uncovered in Tamil Nadu, India. A fisherman survived the tsunami by clinging to the arch of a submerged temple.

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