Not just flora and fauna are getting caked in oil. So is the Gulf of Mexico's barnacled history of pirates, sea battles and World War II shipwrecks.

The Gulf is lined with wooden shipwrecks, American-Indian shell midden mounds, World War II casualties, pirate colonies, historic hotels and old fishing villages. Researchers now fear this treasure seeker's dream is threatened by BP PLC's deepwater well blowout.

Within 20 miles of the well, there are several significant shipwrecks — ironically, discovered by oil companies' underwater robots working the depths — and oil is most likely beginning to cascade on them.

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