These are the most valuable shipwrecks ever discovered. Seafaring vessels have been around for thousands of years around the globe, so it only makes sense that there have been quite a few shipwrecks over the course of time. These ships carried a number of goods, including unique treasures and mercantile goods that make them particularly valuable today. Join us as we take a look at the 10 most valuable shipwrecks ever found.
10. The Belitung Shipwreck
The Belitung shipwreck is also commonly known as the Tang or Vatu Hitam shipwreck, and was found off of the coast of Belitung Island, Indonesia, in 1998. The ship itself is an old Arabian dhow, which is a generic term for a traditional Arabic sailing vessel possibly dating back as far as 600 BC. The ship was travelling between Africa and China in 830 AD, and apparently sank to the ocean floor on its return journey.
Surprisingly, the ship was off course during its return journey and experts are not entirely certain why. For a more direct return route, the ship should have gone through the South China Sea and then along the southern coast of Asia where it could meet back up with the northeastern corner of Africa. Instead, the ship ended up nearly 380 miles off course and wrecked.
What is most unique about this shipwreck was that it held a vast number of Tang dynasty artifacts–perhaps the largest collection known to modern archaeology. The Tang artifacts were primarily made of bowls and included:
- Yue ware from Zheijiang Province (a form of Chinese ceramic decorated with celadon glaze common in southern China)
- Changsha ware (one of the oldest forms of Chinese pottery, named for the capital of Hunan province’s highest populated city)
- White ware or Dehua porcelain (a white ceramic developed in China’s Fujian province)
Over 60,000 pieces were found in the ship’s cargo hold, and while the Chinese bowls made up the majority of the artifact collection, there were a number of other impressive items as well, including:
- Spice jars (and spices)
- Funeral urns
- Gilt-silver boxes
- Metal ingots
- A Tan dynasty gold cup (the largest ever discovered)
- Buddhist lotus symbols
- Central Asian motifs
- Persian motifs
- Koranic inscriptions
- Iranian pottery (heavily influenced by Chinese designs)
Today, the Belitung shipwreck’s treasure hoard is believed to be worth around $90 million.
9. Ship of Gold
In 1857, the SS Central America and its 477 passengers set out from Colon, Panama, aiming for the shores of distant New York City. The 280 foot sidewheel steamer was loaded with nearly 10 tons of gold that had been prospected in California during the Gold Rush era (1849). Six days after its departure from shore, the ship was caught in a vicious hurricane. Although the SS Central America did what it could to stay afloat, the hurricane decimated the ship’s sails and eventually began tearing at the ship’s hold. After two days of fighting, a hole in the ship’s side filled with water, dropped the steam pressure of the ship, and the ship slowly began to sink. More than 420 people died on the SS Central America, while the rest were rescued by a passing Norwegian ship.
The shipwreck was not rediscovered until 1988 when the Columbus-America Disocvery Group based out of Ohio planned and sent out a remote operated vehicle to take a look at the old wreck. The gold and other artifacts that were discovered were immediately set upon by insurance companies claiming they were owed the funds due to the 19th century wreck. After many legal battles, the Discovery Group was eventually granted 92% of the gold and the site came under jurisdiction of archaeological groups. The “Ship of Gold” is worth more than $150 million.
8. The Antikythera Shipwreck
This ship dates back to the first century BC and was discovered by Greek sponge divers in 1900 off of the coast of the island of Antikythera near Crete. Over the course of several years, a number of artifacts were recovered from the wreck that dated as far back as the fourth century BC. These artifacts included:
- A number of bronze statues (including one dubbed “The Philosopher” and another named the “Youth of Antikythera”)
- 36 marble sculptures of different ancient Greek heroes and gods (such as Hercules, Hermes, Apollo, etc.)
- 3 marble horse statues
- A bronze lyre
- A number of glasswork pieces
- Lead sounding weights (6 and 14 kg, respectively)
- The Antikythera Mechanism (known as the world’s oldest analog computer)
The shipwreck is more than 2000 years old and today the artifacts that were found are worth around $160 million.
7. The SS Republic Shipwreck
Eight years after the SS Central America met its untimely end, the sidewheel steamship the SS Republic set off from Georgia’s coast on its way south toward New Orleans. The ship bore a number of passengers and around $400,000 in gold coins. Five days into the ship’s journey, a hurricane built up and overtook the ship and its crew. Within a day, the hull had been damaged so badly that it began to take on water too fast for its crew to bail. Those on the ship escaped on lifeboats and were found two days later by the Horace Beals and its crew.
The SS Republic was rediscovered in 2003 by an archaeological company out of Florida. Today, the artifacts and coins that were recovered are worth around $180 million.
6. The Titanic Shipwreck
Perhaps the most famous shipwreck in the world, the RMA Titanic sank in 1912 after its hull was gouged by an iceberg. Numerous salvaging plans were put forth to try and reach the Titanic from the moment it sank. However, it was not until 1985 that a group finally succeeded in reaching the massive ship. Of the more than two thousand passengers on the ship, only around 700 survived.
The passenger ship was full of a number of artifacts and treasures, including diamonds, gold bars, silver, and so on, thanks to its extensive wealthy passenger list. Today, the items founds in the wreckage of the Titanic are believed to be worth around $200 million.
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