Sunday, June 19, 2005


Researchers defend shipwreck conclusions


June 16, 2005

What does the number "1730" really mean, etched as it is on a cannon retrieved from a shipwreck that state archaeologists think is the flagship of the pirate Blackbeard? A year? A weight? That's part of the argument about whether the shipwreck really is Queen Anne's Revenge, the ship that historical accounts say Blackbeard intentionally sank off the Outer Banks near Beaufort in June 1718.

At a symposium at East Carolina University, those who believe it is the QAR defended their work. "Anybody that says that's a date is really showing their ignorance of 18th century cannon foundry," said Nathan Henry, archaeological conservator with the state's Underwater Archaeology Branch.

Armory founders of that day used professional engravers to mark the cannons they made, Henry said. "These numbers are chiseled," he said, posing instead the theory that the figures refer to the weight of the gun. His comments referred to the authors of an article in the April edition of the International Journal of Nautical Archaeology that cites the numbers on the cannon as possibly the most important of several reasons to question whether the shipwreck truly is Queen Anne's Revenge.

"If this is a date, it definitely eliminates the identification of the site as Blackbeard's 1718 shipwreck," states the article, by Michigan state archaeologist Wayne Lusardi, a former conservator for the Queen Anne's Revenge Project, and East Carolina University Archaeologists Bradley Rodgers and Nathan Richards. The article further states that the notion that the figures represent the weight is unlikely.

"English weights are denoted in hundredweights-quarters-pounds, written thus with dashes between the numbers," the article states. Additionally, the article indicates that numerals denoting weight are generally placed across the breadth of the gun, not the length. Henry, for example, said the numbers do add up to near the current weight of the cannon, which underwent conservation and cleaning measures after sitting for 200 years under the sea.

"Because guns were sold by the pound, this is a good indication that this is a price tag," Henry said. The article claims those associated with the Queen Anne's Revenge Project may have slanted evidence associated with the wreckage to fit a preconceived notion that it was Blackbeard's boat found in Beaufort Inlet, while ignoring other possibilities. The article puts forth a theory that the vessel appears more like a mid-18th century merchant ship than a pirate's boat.

Speakers at the symposium, however, presented research that dated the artifacts from the site to the early 18th century. "We feel very comfortable that we're actually in the right time frame," said QAR Project Director Mark Wilde-Ramsing.

Several archaeologists from across the country, who participated in a symposium panel discussion, said nothing in the article had convinced them that the shipwreck was not the Queen Anne's Revenge. "It has the likelihood of being the flagship of the pirate Blackbeard and at the very least it's the earliest shipwreck found in North Carolina coastal waters," said Roger Smith, Florida's chief state archaeologist.

State archaeologists never claimed conclusive evidence to identify the site.

From The Charlotte Observer, submitted by David M. Wolan, Charlotte, NC.


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