Monday, July 18, 2005


$50 worth of treasure found so far on 'Blackbeard' shipwreck


Rocky Mount Telegram
By Tom Murphy
July 17, 2005

In March 1997, archaeologists in Raleigh made an exciting announcement: Divers had discovered a wreck the previous year off Beaufort Inlet they believed to be the Queen Anne's Revenge, the flagship of the famous pirate Edward Teach, better known as Blackbeard.

The Queen Anne's Revenge sank in approximately that location in June 1718, Dr. Sim Wilde, program administrator for exploration of the ship, told Rocky Mount Kiwanis Club members Thursday at Benvenue Country Club. A diving expedition in October 1997 provided additional evidence strongly suggesting that the wreck is, indeed, the Queen Anne's Revenge, he said.

"Blackbeard the pirate ran the Queen Anne's Revenge aground at Beaufort," Wilde said. "In October 1996, after 10 years of surveys, we found the wreck of what is believed to be the Queen Anne's Revenge."

Mike Wilde-Ramsing, project director of divers searching the remains of Blackbeard's pirate ship, said the ship wreck was found by a team of private divers who turned their findings over to North Carolina officials.

"In 1997, an underwater archaeology group began assessing the site," Wilde-Ramsing said.

Wilde-Ramsing said that since the summer of 1998, some of the more durable artifacts from the ship have been touring Eastern North Carolina in a traveling exhibit assembled by the N.C. Division of Archives and History.

However, many interesting artifacts haven't been seen yet, because they are still being processed to eliminate salt water and stabilize them for study, Wilde-Ramsing said.

In September 1998, divers resumed their work at the wreck site, he said. Since that time, several cannons have been raised from the wreck, he said.

"Divers have found a small amount of gold — a few small flecks, tiny pieces of Blackbeard's treasure that would be worth about $50," he said.

Wilde-Ramsing said there are many lines of evidence leading to the conclusion that the wreck is the Queen Anne's Revenge, but these three convince most scientists:

-In the very first dives to the wreck, divers returned a ship's bell dated 1709. This proves the wreck can't be any older than that date.

-The artifacts recovered so far are all consistent with the wreck date 1718: Everything looks like it's from the early 1700s, and nothing has been found that could not have been made before 1718.

-The ship is now known to have carried at least 12 cannons. That's a lot: Merchant vessels would not have carried so many guns, if they had any at all. Warships weren't exactly common at Beaufort in the early 1700s so this is almost certainly a private vessel; in other words, a pirate vessel. Aside from the Queen Anne's Revenge, no other pirate ship known to have visited Beaufort is this large.

Wilde-Ramsing said the care and preservation of artifacts is important and difficult, even for ordinary archaeology on land; but it's much harder for underwater archaeologists.

The items archaeologists remove from a site are irreplaceable, so preserving them is the most important aspect of archaeology, he said.

Everything on the Queen Anne's Revenge is saturated with salt, Wilde-Ramsing said. Nothing can keep salt out for 280 years, he said — even heavy cannonballs are permeated with it.

"We've only excavated about 2 percent of the wreck, which is about 150 feet long and 60 feet wide. It's in 23 feet of water about a mile off shore looking straight south from Fort Macon, and visibility at times for divers is good," he said. "We've found two large anchors and 24 cannons. We haven't found any swords, pistols or coins."

Ramsing said raising the wreck would be an expensive proposition.

"It would take three or four years to get it up, and another 10 to 12 years to go through more than a million artifacts," he said. "It's no ship. It's just a wreck, so raising it hasn't been strongly considered."


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