Monday, October 04, 2004


Divers to return to Blackbeard vessel this week


The Daily News
Patricia Smith

MOREHEAD CITY - For the first time in four years, state underwater archaeologists plan to dig on the site believed to be the wreckage of the Pirate Blackbeard's flagship.

Researchers with the Queen Anne's Revenge Project have scheduled an exploratory dive this week, during which they hope to uncover buried artifacts on the northwest side of the shipwreck.

"We're not really planning to do any artifact recovery other than what is absolutely necessary," said QAR Project Archaeologist Chris Southerly.

The main purpose of the dive is to assess and document any damage to the site caused by recent hurricanes.
But while they are down there, archaeologists want to find out what set off their metal detectors when they conducted magnetometer surveys in 1999 and 2001, Southerly said. If they come across some fragile pieces in the process, they will bring them up, he said.

The magnetometer may have been picking up part of the ship's rigging or possibly another cannon, Southerly said. Archaeologists don't really know yet, he said.

Divers expect to remove a top layer of sand about a foot deep in a 20-square-foot area before getting to another level of sand where the artifacts rest, Southerly said.

The QAR Project last excavated in 2000 following the hurricanes of 1999. At that time, archaeologists recovered pieces of the hull and other artifacts that had been uncovered and strewn by the storms.

Afterward, the project concentrated on conservation of those objects, working under a $350,000 Save America's Treasures grant from the National Park Service. That money runs out at the end of the year. And while there are two permanent, full-time employees paid by the state, the project has not yet secured a funding source to retain four temporary full-time employs next year, Southerly said.

There was also no appropriation in this year's state budget for next week's dive. The expedition will use existing staff from the QAR project, the state Underwater Archaeology Unit and the N.C. Maritime Museum.

They will rely on their own equipment and in-kind contributions from other state agencies and the local business community, Southerly said.

For instance, the Division of Marine Fisheries is loaning a research vessel for the week, and the Comfort Inn in Morehead City is providing motel rooms for the divers from out-of-town, he said.

Even the staff is taking a cut, agreeing to waive their travel per diems for the week, Southerly said.
"We're going to just pick up our own tabs for meals and expenses," he said.

They're willing to do this, Southerly said, because they truly believe the dive is something that needs to be done.

"We haven't really been able to do much in the field in the past couple of years other than just observations of what's going on," Southerly said.

What's going on, he said, is a lot of scouring.

"We have gotten unreplenished sand loss," Southerly said.

That causes concern not only that the state may be losing lighter-weight artifacts to the ocean currents, but also that currents may be moving the artifacts around, he said.

"For an archaeologist, where things are found are just as important, if not more important, as what things are found," Southerly said.

By considering both, an archaeologist can draw social conclusions about the pirate, he said.

Divers plan prepare the shipwreck site Sunday afternoon so that excavation and other elements of the expedition can begin Monday, Southerly said.

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