Thursday, April 07, 2005


State defends wreck site against scholars' article


Carteret News Times
By Cheryl Burke
April 06, 2005

State underwater archaeologists with the Queen Anne’s Revenge project, examine one of the many cannon that have been located at the shipwreck site discovered in 1996 in Beaufort Inlet. A recent report challenging the shipwreck’s identity points to the number of cannon found at the site as one area of dispute. (Cheryl Burke photo).

MOREHEAD CITY – While three archeologists are challenging whether a shipwreck in Beaufort Inlet is Blackbeard’s flagship, the Queen Anne’s Revenge (QAR), state archeologists with the project say all evidence so far points to the wreck’s identity.

Michigan’s underwater archaeologist Wayne Lusardi, who is the former project conservator for the QAR project, and two East Carolina University professors, Bradley Rogers and Nathan Richards, say there is no conclusive evidence confirming the wreck’s identity. This is the first official challenge to the research.

They claim that researchers are capitalizing on the Blackbeard theory to gain funding and that they’re overlooking other theories.

“Of the reasons given for naming the wreck the Queen Anne’s Revenge; the bell, the location, the gold, the cannons, the artifacts, the construction – none seems based on solid archaeological evidence,” the three wrote in a report that was published in the April edition of The International Journal of Nautical Archaeology. “Certainly none represents conclusive evidence to prove the claim that this is the Queen Anne’s Revenge.”

Archaeologists with the QAR project admit they have yet to find “the smoking blunderbuss,” but all artifacts and evidence collected since the wreck’s discovery in 1996 points to the right time frame and description of the infamous pirate’s flagship, which historians say sank after being run aground in Beaufort Inlet in 1718.

“We have come up with the hypothesis that this is the QAR, and everything continues to support that I.D.,” said Richard Lawrence, director of the state’s underwater archaeology branch. “In terms of the evidence, the research they’re basing their report on was dated and they have misrepresented and misstated some of our reports.”

Mark Wilde-Ramsing, project director for the project, said, “We continue to hold judgment on positively declaring this is the site, but it’s a perfect fit to be the QAR,” said Mr. Wilde-Ramsing. “There are no other possibilities in the historical records that fit the description of the site but the QAR.”

The report will likely cause lively discussion at a two-day symposium, “Examining the Shipwreck Believed to be Queen Anne’s Revenge: Science, Mystery and the Pirate Era in North Carolina ,” slated Thursday and Friday at East Carolina University in Greenville .

The main conservation lab for the QAR project is at ECU, with a secondary lab in Morehead City . The N.C. Maritime Museum in Beaufort is curator of artifacts and is where artifacts are ultimately displayed for the public.

A panel of nationally recognized professionals who have studied artifacts will lead the symposium discussions. In the nine years since the discovery of the wreck, scientists and researchers have examined pottery shards, cannons, pewter platters, gold dust and thousands of recovered artifacts.

The shipwreck was located by the nonprofit research group Intersal, Inc., whose president, Phil Masters, will speak on Friday.

While the three archeologists challenging the QAR hypothesis were invited to the seminar, they declined saying they didn’t want to give the impression that they supported treasure hunters.

Mr. Masters, who was searching for a Spanish shipwreck, El Salvador , when the wreck was discovered, said the group was referring to him. Mr. Masters turned over the wreck site to the state in 1997 so artifacts would remain the property of the state.

“The authors of this article did no in-depth research of consequence. Their findings are ridiculous and border on the absurd,” he said.

Sarah Watkins-Kenny, who is project conservator at the ECU lab, said while some treasure hunters may trash wreck sites, Mr. Masters was not one of them.

“It seems to be a very ivory-tower approach,” she said. “In the real world, there are a lot of people who can contribute to archaeology. There are good treasure hunters, and there are bad treasure hunters.”

Mr. Wilde-Ramsing said he was aware the two professors were working on the article last year and invited them to come to the lab to study artifacts and talk with researchers. They declined the offer and based their article on papers that had been published.

Among questions the professors bring up is one dealing with the number of cannons. So far, 23 cannons have been found at the wreck site, with at least 17 remaining on the ocean floor. Five have been conserved and one is still being treated.

Historical accounts indicate the QAR could have carried, 22, 36 or up to 40 cannons.

They say only 14 guns were mounted on the shipwreck, while others were too small to cause damage to other ships and were probably used as ballast to weight the ship. They say other ships traveling during the early 1700s were similarly armed.

They also question the markings on one cannon, 1730. If that is a date for the cannon’s manufacture, they say it would eliminate the wreck as the QAR.

But Mr. Lawrence said gun experts believe the mark was not made by a manufacturer and was roughly chiseled into the barrel, either as a weight mark or by someone selling the gun.

Another question dealt with gold dust found at the site that the report said contained lead. But Ms. Watkins-Kenny said gold doesn’t contain lead and they misinterpreted the data.

While there were other challenges, Mr. Wilde-Ramsing said only 2 percent of artifacts have been retrieved from the site and tight state budgets have limited the amount of work they have been able to do.

This year state researchers received a $145,000 Golden LEAF Foundation grant and $100,000 from the N.C. General Assembly.

Mr. Wilde-Ramsing said with that money they plan to step up research and conservation of artifacts and publish more materials. They also plan to do extensive excavation of artifacts from the wreck site throughout May.

So far about $967,000 has been spent on the Beaufort site, and researchers are seeking about $3.7 million more.

Carteret County has capitalized on the Blackbeard theme to draw tourism to the county. Artifacts have been a draw to the N.C. Maritime Museum , and Dr. David Nateman, director of the museum, said he will continue to display artifacts with that theme.

“It’s not unusual to I.D. a shipwreck based on circumstantial evidence,” he said. “It’s unlikely they’ll find a coffee mug with Blackbeard’s name on it. But there’s still a lot to be retrieved, and they could find something.

“We’re still cautious to say that it is believed to be the QAR. But with the number of researchers and underwater archaeologists who have researched this project, I am absolutely confident in their science.”

The Queen Anne’s Revenge Project is a program of the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources.


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