Part of the mission of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) is to ensure that significant archaeological sites are not adversely affected by oil and gas exploration and development. This responsibility often includes the protection of historic shipwrecks. Historical research indicates that over 2,000 ships have sunk on the Federal OCS between 1625 to 1951; thousands more have sunk closer to shore in state waters during the same period. Only a handful of these have been scientifically excavated by archaeologists for the benefit of generations to come. In several cases, BOEM has partnered with state and Federal agencies conducting this research. The work conducted by BOEM and other scientists in the Gulf of Mexico contributes to our understanding of how our Nation developed by studying the technology that fostered the growth of the United States.
For several millennia, ships were the most sophisticated machines on earth. They have shaped history by expanding trade and waging war, spreading ideas (and sometimes plague), and discovering and colonizing new lands. At the same time, the crews of these ships lived in closed societies, with traditions, beliefs, vocabularies, and hierarchies that set them apart from those on shore. When one of these ships met with disaster at sea or sank as a result of war, its remains literally became a time capsule, preserving clues to the story of our past. When archaeologists scientifically excavate a shipwreck under water, they read these clues to form a picture of what it was like to live on a ship that sank hundreds of years ago. In that sense, shipwrecks are special archaeological sites because, unlike sites on land, everything on board was in use during a single moment in time. Because of this, the study of shipwreck sites has contributed to the understanding of broader issues of human history, and helps us to understand better who we are by telling us where we have been. BOEM has taken part in the study of some of the most historically significant shipwrecks in the Gulf, a few of which are summarized in the links above.