Gibbins was born in 1962 in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada, to British parents who were both academic scientists. He travelled around the world with them by sea as a boy, including four years living in New Zealand, before returning to England and Canada. He attended the University of Bristol, England, where he was awarded a First Class Honours Degree in ancient Mediterranean studies. He then went to Cambridge University as a research scholar of Corpus Christi College, where he completed a PhD in archaeology in 1990.
Gibbins learned to scuba dive at the age of 15 in Canada, and dived under ice, on shipwrecks and in caves while he was still at school.
After holding a research fellowship at the University of Cambridge, he spent most of the 1990s as a lecturer in the School of Archaeology, Classics and Oriental Studies at the University of Liverpool before devoting himself full-time to writing and fieldwork.
He has led several underwater archaeology expeditions in the Mediterranean Sea, including five seasons excavating ancient Roman shipwrecks off Sicily and a survey of the submerged harbour of ancient Carthage. In 1999–2000 he was part of an international team excavating a 5th-century BC shipwreck off Turkey, when he was an adjunct professor of the Institute of Nautical Archaeology. His publications on ancient shipwreck sites have appeared in scientific journals, books and popular magazines. Most recently his travels have taken him to the Arctic Ocean, to Mesoamerica, to the Great Lakes in Canada and to the waters off south-west England.
In 2016 he and other recreational divers off Cornwall in England rediscovered the wreck of the Schiedam, a ship involved in the evacuation of English Tangier in 1684 and associated with Samuel Pepys. The discovery was reported in the media, including the BBC.
On leaving academia he became a novelist, writing archaeological thrillers derived from his own background. His novels have sold over three million copies and have been London Sunday Times and New York Times bestsellers. His first novel, Atlantis, published in the UK in 2005 and the US in September 2006, has been published in 30 languages; since then he has written ten further novels, published in more than 200 editions internationally. His main series is based on the fictional maritime archaeologist Jack Howard and his team, and forms contemporary thrillers involving a plausible archaeological backdrop. He has also written two historical novels set in ancient Rome.
Gibbins, David, 1990. "Analytical approaches in maritime archaeology: a Mediterranean perspective". Antiquity 64 (243), pp. 376–389.
Gibbins, David and Christopher Chippindale, 1990. "Heritage at sea: proposals for the better protection of British archaeological sites underwater". Antiquity 64 (243), pp. 390–400.
Gibbins, David. 1993. "Bronze Age wreck's revelations." Illustrated London News 281 (7116), pp. 72–3.
Gibbins, David, 1993. "Das im Mittelmeer verborgene Museum." Mannheimer Forum 92/93. Ein Panorama der Naturwissen schaften. Mannheim: Boehringer Mannheim, pp. 175–243.
Gibbins, David, 1995. "What shipwrecks can tell us." Antiquity 69:263, pp. 408–411.
Gibbins, David J.L., Mike M. Emery and Keith J. Mathews, 1996. The Archaeology of an Ecclesiastical Landscape. Chester Archaeology Excavation and Survey Report No. 9. Chester City Council/The University of Liverpool. ISBN978-1-872587-09-7
Gibbins, David, 1997. "Deleta est Carthago?" Antiquity 71 (271), pp. 217–219.
Gibbins, David. 1998. "Maritime archaeology". in Shaw, I. and R. Jameson (eds) Dictionary of Archaeology. Oxford: Blackwell. ISBN978-0-631-17423-3
Gibbins, David. 2000. "Classical shipwreck excavation at Tektas Burnu, Turkey." Antiquity 74:283, pp. 199–201.
Gibbins, David. 2001. "Shipwrecks and Hellenistic trade." in Zofia H. Archibald et al. (eds.), Hellenistic Economies. London/New York: Routledge, pp. 273–312. ISBN978-0-415-23466-5
Gibbins, David and Jonathan Adams (eds), 2001. Shipwrecks.World Archaeology 32.3. London: Routledge. ISSN 0043-8243
Gibbins, David and Jonathan Adams, 2001. "Shipwrecks and maritime archaeology." World Archaeology, 32:3, pp. 279–291.
Gibbins, David. 2001. "A Roman shipwreck of c. AD 200 at Plemmirio, Sicily: evidence for north African amphora production during the Severan period." World Archaeology 32.3, pp. 311–334.