11 Books On Shipwreck And Maritime Archaeology You Might Be Interested In

Ships are one of the sturdiest megastructures built by man, weighing anywhere between 10,000 to 600,000 deadweight tons. And they should be, considering the harsh conditions they encounter, the unpredictability of the environment they sail in, and the sheer magnitude of operations needed to manage a vessel of such large proportions.

Safety and adherence to laws are paramount, and all efforts are taken to keep the vessel all passengers on board safe. For this purpose, several maritime laws and regulatory bodies exist to patrol and enforce the laws of the sea.

However, despite the billions of dollars spent on constructing a seaworthy and safe ship, accidents and mishaps can happen at any time. The sea throws up all sorts of challenges that can prove difficult for even the most experienced of sailors and captains.

Problems can arise due to equipment malfunction, human negligence, freak accidents, or the so-called “Acts of God”. In maritime parlance, an Act of God is an unavoidable problem such as a tsunami or large wave that occurs without any warning. For all the sophisticated technology used to keeps ships safe, such problems just cannot be prevented.

So, what does happen when some calamity befalls a ship and it sinks? The remains that rest on the seabed are known as shipwrecks and have been a subject of interest for several centuries.

They hold treasures- both literal and historical. For the ship’s owners or crew, it may have prized possessions or expensive goods. For pirates and collectors, it may have precious cargo that can be sold off.

For history buffs, it provides a keen insight into how people on board lived and the history of that particular time. Irrespective of the purpose, shipwrecks continue to fascinate both sailors and laymen.

In this article, we are going to take a look at the top 11 books that will provide you with a complete idea about shipwrecks, maritime archaeology, and how to go about studying and salvaging these wrecks.

This list is not in any specific order.

1. DK Eyewitness Books Titanic: Learn the Full Story of this Tragic Ship From its Famous Passengers to the Exploration of its Remains
By Simon Adams

As one of the bestselling titles of the 100 plus Eyewitness Books from publishers Dorling Kindersley (DK), this book on the Titanic takes the reader through the history, reports and investigations, discovery, and eventual exploration of the doomed liner.

Filled with survivor stories, exclusive photographs, and technical information on the operations conducted to salvage the shipwreck, the book is a complete and competitive authority on the Titanic. The histories of certain famous and distinguished passengers on board that fateful night has also been provided with accounts of their actions after the ship struck the iceberg.

The book delves into the subject of exploratory studies and operations undertaken on the Titanic in an effort to salvage the wreckage that was discovered several decades after the actual sinking.

DK Eyewitness Books: Titanic: Learn the Full Story of This Tragic Ship—from its Famous Passengers to the Exploration of its Remains
  • Adams, Simon (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 72 Pages - 06/16/2014 (Publication Date) - DK Children (Publisher)

2. Encyclopedia of Underwater and Maritime Archaeology
By James P. Delgado

The domain of underwater and maritime archaeology is immense with a very wide scope. For beginners and experts alike, this complete book provides the ultimate reference guide to this field. Complete with a list of famous underwater remains discovered over the years, it provides a peek into the world of experts who deal with this on a daily basis.

What makes this book really interesting is how it doesn’t stick to just the topic of shipwrecks, and instead looks at the bigger picture. From the so-called lost cities to ritual deposits from the past, the book covers several topics that give the reader a clear picture of what goes on in the field of underwater archaeology.

The book is well illustrated and has numerous archival photographs. It was put together by an international team of 150 plus experts under the guidance of James Delgado, who serves as the executive director at the Vancouver Maritime Museum. Overall, it is an excellent and complete guide for anyone interested in this field.

Encyclopedia of Underwater and Maritime Archaeology
  • Hardcover Book
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 494 Pages - 01/21/1998 (Publication Date) - Yale University Press (Publisher)

3. Ships and Shipwrecks of the Americas: A History Based Approach on Underwater Archaeology
By George F. Bass

When studying about the rich naval and maritime culture of the Americas, this book stands out for being a trustworthy guide throughout the years. Published back in 1996, it continues to be used as an educational tool across both the continents. The book focuses on the history and study of underwater shipwrecks and ruins that dot the coastline. Chronologically, it covers the boats of the native Americans and some of the most advanced battleships that were sunk during wars throughout the years.

Spanning nearly 300 pages, it delves in great detail into the history of vessels in the region, through 12 chapters filled with interesting information. When searching for a concise yet thorough underwater archaeology guide for the Americas, this book is an excellent choice.

Ships and Shipwrecks of the Americas: A History Based on Underwater Archaeology
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 272 Pages - 11/17/1996 (Publication Date) - Thames & Hudson (Publisher)

4. Ships’ Graveyards: Abandoned Watercraft and the Archaeological Site Formation Process
By Nathan Richards, Co-published by The Society for Historical Archaeology

Conventional books dealing with shipwrecks tend to focus on the wreckage itself and take the tested route of a single-site approach to underwater studies. But in this comprehensive guide from the professor and author Nathan Richards, the reader is introduced to a completely different type of maritime archaeological study. Discarding the traditional observations, the book focuses solely on the lessons to be learnt from intentionally abandoned ships and boats.

The author strives to make a distinction between cultural site formations and natural formations. By analyzing why and how a million-dollar vessel is willingly abandoned, the reader is introduced to the intricacies of the unique discipline of archaeology in the maritime industry. Considered to be one of its kind books dealing in a very specialized topic, it provides a theoretical approach to new techniques and theories. The book uses the Australian coastline as the basis for the various cases presented and looks at over 1,500 wreck sites from the past 2 centuries.

Ships' Graveyards: Abandoned Watercraft and the Archaeological Site Formation Process (Co-published with The Society for Historical Archaeology)
  • Used Book in Good Condition
  • Hardcover Book
  • Richards, Nathan (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 304 Pages - 08/31/2008 (Publication Date) - University Press of Florida (Publisher)

5. Shipwreck in the Americas: With 73 Illustrations
By Robert F. Marx

Shipping and shipbuilding in the Americas have been important industries since the early 1200s. As technology improved throughout the following years, numerous accidents occurred off the coastline, dotting the region with shipwrecks. Some carried ordinary goods while others were laden with treasures and precious goods. In this illustrated text by author and archaeological expert Robert Marx, the tales of many such ships and vessels that sank off the coast are cleverly woven together to immerse the reader in the world of shipwrecks.

From his personal experience as a reputed salvage and diving expert, the author provides a detailed guide to the numerous shipwrecks he has encountered throughout his career. What makes the book interesting to read is that the author goes on to explain the actual process behind locating a shipwreck, surveying it, and then salvaging it. Additionally, the locations of verified wrecks are included in the book for interested individuals to explore.

Shipwrecks in the Americas: With 73 Illustrations
  • Marx, Robert F. (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 560 Pages - 11/24/2011 (Publication Date) - Dover Publications (Publisher)

6. Submerged Cultural Resource Management: Preserving and Interpreting Our Sunken Maritime Heritage
By James D. Spirek and Della A. Scott-Ireton

The cultural aspect of shipwrecks is rarely discussed due to the novelty of this field. However, both authors have created an incredibly detailed document that provides the reader with a complete picture of the domain. For both experts and novices, it is written in a simple and easy to read manner.

It provides details on the underwater heritage trail that shipwrecks have spawned over the centuries. It also looks at the interpretations to be drawn from such sites, and the various attempts made. The follies and successes of each strategy have been outlined for the reader. Various preservation techniques are also given along with extensive documentation on-site surveying and analyzing. For its detailed text on an upcoming field, this book is a must-read for those interested in the social impacts of shipwrecks.

Submerged Cultural Resource Management: Preserving and Interpreting Our Maritime Heritage (The Springer Series in Underwater Archaeology)
  • Amazon Kindle Edition
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 198 Pages - 12/06/2012 (Publication Date) - Springer (Publisher)

7. Encyclopedia of Western Atlantic Shipwrecks and Sunken Treasure
By Victoria Sandz and Robert F. Marx

Divided into a 2-part series, the Encyclopedia of Shipwrecks in the Western Atlantic is incredibly well researched and ideal for history buffs and professionals alike. Authored by retired coast guard officer Victoria Spandz and archaeologist Robert Marx (who has authored numerous books on the subject), the book is primarily a reference guide.

The book uses several types of surveying and scientific approaches to studying shipwrecks including the surrounding marine flora and fauna, aerial and remote underwater surveying, and regional ocean behaviour. It provides details on maritime archaeology, treasures troves of the past, salvaging techniques and equipment, and shipwrecks. The book is divided into 2 sections, with section 1 detailing the processes and operations involved, and section 2 listing out shipwrecks in the region. Details on the shipwreck are listed alphabetically based on the location, name, type etc.

Encyclopedia of Western Atlantic Shipwrecks and Sunken Treasure
  • Hardcover Book
  • Sandz, Victoria (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 232 Pages - 07/01/2001 (Publication Date) - McFarland Publishing (Publisher)

8. Stories from the Wreckage: A Great Lakes Maritime History Inspired by Shipwrecks
By John Odin Jensen

Shipwrecks are often far more than just being abandoned hulls at the bottom of a sea or ocean. They carry stories with them about the people of that era, their lives on board the ship, and the final actions that culminated in the vessel reaching its watery end. While most other books on the subject look to deal mainly with the archaeological or technical aspect of shipwrecks, this book by the professional marine surveyor and engineer John Jensen looks at the more human aspects.

Focused in and around the Great lakes, it tells the tales of the people on board doomed ships from centuries ago. The book is incredibly well documented and written. Filled with research articles that describe various shipwrecks, it provides an interesting take on the field of maritime wrecks.

Ships and Shipwrecks of the Americas: A History Based on Underwater Archaeology
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 272 Pages - 11/17/1996 (Publication Date) - Thames & Hudson (Publisher)

9. Interpreting Shipwrecks: Maritime Archaeology Approaches: Southampton Monographs in Archaeology Series
By Jonathan Adams and Johan Rönnby

From editors Jonathan Adams and Johan Rönnby, both reputed professors of archaeology, comes this short guide to interpreting shipwrecks. Aimed at anyone looking for a quick refresher course or guide to this domain, the book is well detailed and thorough in its examination of the maritime archaeology approaches to studying shipwrecks.

It begins by analyzing how the perception about shipwrecks has changed over the centuries, finally receiving the appropriate attention it needs over the last few decades. Techniques, equipment, and technology behind studying underwater wrecks are covered in the book. It is a culmination of the efforts of numerous experts who came together to share their experiences and findings.

Interpreting Shipwrecks: Maritime Archaeology Approaches (Southampton Monographs in Archaeology New Series)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 160 Pages - 02/01/2014 (Publication Date) - The Highfield Press (Publisher)

10. Under the Mediterranean 1: Studies in Maritime Archaeology: Honor Frost Foundation Research Publication
By Stella Demesticha and Lucy Blue

One of the most comprehensive guides to be published in the field of Maritime Archaeology and shipwrecks, this book is an excellent reference guide for anyone interested in this domain. Focusing on the Mediterranean region, the book is divided into 3 sections.

The first section of the book primarily deals with both the famous and the lesser-known shipwrecks that dot the coastline. The next section on harbours and ports details the various operations of ports in the region. It includes a historical view as well, providing details from as far as back the 12th century. The last section delves into the maritime culture that has evolved from seaborne interactions.

Under the Mediterranean I: Studies in Maritime Archaeology (Honor Frost Foundation Research Publication)
  • Hardcover Book
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 380 Pages - 04/22/2021 (Publication Date) - Sidestone Press (Publisher)

11. Site Formation Process of Submerged Shipwrecks
By Matthew E. Keith, Co-published by The Society for Historical Archaeology

Finding accurate and trusted sources of information about the field of maritime wreckage sites is a difficult task. The niche nature of the work makes it tough to obtain resources on the same. This comprehensive guide stands out for being one of the few books to provide a detailed and thorough understanding on shipwreck site formation and is the 2nd book in our list from the Society for Historical Archaeology Series.

Aimed at covering a large number of catalogued shipwreck sites, the book looks at the technical and complex aspects that govern the cultural and physical nature of these sites. From the role of geology and sediment dynamics to the effects or marine and microbiology, the book is resplendent with information that makes it an excellent read. It also includes case studies to provide the reader with real-time analysis of how site studies are carried out for shipwrecks.

Site Formation Processes of Submerged Shipwrecks (Co-published with The Society for Historical Archaeology)
  • Hardcover Book
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 288 Pages - 01/26/2016 (Publication Date) - University Press of Florida (Publisher)

Over to you..

Do you know any book on shipwrecks and maritime archaeology that can be added to this list?

Let’s know in the comments below.

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About Author

Ajay Menon is a graduate of the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur, with an integrated major in Ocean Engineering and Naval Architecture. Besides writing, he balances chess and works out tunes on his keyboard during his free time.

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