Monday, May 30, 2005


2,000 pound cannon raised on second attempt


Carteret News Times
May 27, 2005

FORT MACON — If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.

That’s what state underwater archaeologists did Thursday when they raised the eighth cannon from the shipwreck believed to be the Queen Anne’s Revenge (QAR), flagship of the infamous pirate Blackbeard.

State archaeologists had attempted to raise the cannon Tuesday, but had to abort the mission because the winch aboard the vessel being used, the R/V Martech from the Maritime Technology Program at Cape Fear Community College in Wilmington, was too small.

The Martech did raise a smaller 6-foot cannon earlier Tuesday that weighed about 800 pounds. It shot a 4-pound cannonball.

After the failed attempt for the second cannon, QAR Project Director Mark Wilde-Ramsing located a larger vessel, the R/V West Bay, operated by the N.C. Marine Fisheries Division.

The cannon raised Thursday is 8 1/2 feet long and weighs more than 2,000 pounds. It shot a 6-pound cannon ball.

"It’s probably English, but I can’t be sure until we get it cleaned up," said Nathan Henry, archaeologist with the project.

So far archeologists have located 24 cannons at the site, which lies about 23 feet below the surface in Beaufort Inlet.

Dr. Lindley Butler, historical consultant with the project, said the 6-pounder is among the largest cannons found so far at the site.

"It’s the largest, and we’ve found several of them down there," he said.

Archaeologists are also interested in artifacts embedded in the concretion, which is the sand and rock covering the cannon. One easily identifiable artifact stuck to the cannon is a lead sounding weight, which was used to determine the depth of water.

Divers also were rewarded with the unexpected discovery of a significant find, a large piece of wood that Mr. Wilde-Ramsing says is part of the hull structure.

"It looks like a stern post — the back of the ship where the rudder was attached."

Mr. Wilde-Ramsing said the wooden block was about 4 feet wide and of undetermined length. Because of its size, recovery was not attempted. It’s one of several prizes from the month-long research expedition, including a kettle attached to the smaller cannon, two and a half plates, part of a large ceramic jug and a pissdale, believed to have been the captain’s toilet.

"We will assess what we’ve done so far," Mr. Wilde-Ramsing continued. "We will probably plan for a major recovery in 2006."

The cannons and other artifacts were transported to the conservation lab at East Carolina University in Greenville, where they join thousands already being conserved.

Two cannons are already on display at the N.C. Maritime Museum in Beaufort, with the rest being conserved, a process that can take up to three years.

Historical records indicate there were up to 40 cannons on the QAR, which was a former French slave ship, La Concorde. Blackbeard stole the ship and added armament to pillage the East Coast until the vessel sank in 1718.

The two cannons are among nearly 200 artifacts retrieved from the site during a month-long expedition in May.

Other artifacts brought up this month include the pissdale (urinal apparatus), pewter plates, cannonballs, onion bottles, pieces of earthenware and a piece of stemware from a glass.

Dr. Butler was particularly interested in the stemware, which dates between 1710 and 1720.

"It’s Silesian stemware from Germany," he said. "When King George (I) came to power ... it became very popular."

Mr. Henry said like other artifacts retrieved from the site, it fits the right time period to be from the QAR.

"If we can find datable artifacts, we’ll be happy," he said.

While they have yet to find anything with Blackbeard written on it, archaeologists and other scientists working the project believe it’s the right site.

"All the archaeology and historical evidence fits," said Dr. Butler. "The place it is in Beaufort Inlet, and the size and armament — it shouldn’t be there. The types of boats going in there during that time period would be fishing boats.

"Even at the larger ports like Charleston, there’s nothing near that size tonnage or with that amount of armament.

We still don’t absolutely know, but we actually have more ID here than at many other archaeological projects. I’ve done enough historical research to know there’s nothing else it could be."

The dive officially ends today, with archaeologists securing the site for future expeditions.
"We hope to do this again in the fall," said Mr. Henry.

Mr. Wilde-Ramsing said this year’s expedition will be among several conducted during the next three to four years to retrieve the remainder of artifacts from the ocean floor.

"There’s still 95 percent of the site that has not been brought up," he said. "All experts from our symposium (held in April in Greenville) agreed this is an extremely important site, and it’s threatened by hurricanes. The best solution is to start a major recovery effort."

Retrieval and conservation of artifacts have been hindered by lack of funds, and this spring’s month-long expedition was made possible by a Golden Leaf Grant.


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