Monday, October 24, 2005


Ophelia's scouring revealed items from Queen Anne's Revenge ship


Winston-Salem Journal
October 22, 2005

Researchers excavating the site of the pirate Blackbeard's wrecked ship got an unexpected assist from Hurricane Ophelia, which unearthed an apothecary mortar from the remains of the Queen Anne's Revenge.

The item - familiar to modern eyes in pharmacy logos, where it is shown with a pestle - was among several items revealed among the wreckage when the storm churned up the North Carolina coastline last month, said Chris Southerly, project archaeologist for the Queen Anne's Revenge Shipwreck Project.

Two cannons, an anchor and other debris were also exposed when Ophelia scoured sand to the south and southwest of the main ballast pile.

Project workers believe that is the stern of the vessel, where the officers' quarters would have been and where divers are most likely to find Blackbeard's personal items, Southerly said.

"Probably, the majority of artifacts that would have a date or some (identifying mark) would be found toward the back of the vessel unless, of course, we could find the bell," Southerly said.

The storm's help wasn't all beneficial. It also appeared to have damaged the bronze or copper alloy pestle, stripping off bits of a thin corrosive layer that had protected its surface as it lay on the ocean floor.

"It looks like in several places on the artifact that (the layer) had come off," Southerly said.

Conservators who find artifacts clean such layers off, but do so carefully to avoid marring the surface of the object, he said.
"In doing this you can lose makers' marks or any other identifying marks that would have been on the artifact," Southerly said.

Ophelia was not so meticulous. The storm also may have washed away less heavy artifacts, such as glassware or ceramic pieces.

The pestle is a significant find that could provide useful historic data about the ship. When Blackbeard took control of the slave ship La Concorde in the Caribbean in 1717, renaming it Queen Anne's Revenge, he forced three of the ship's surgeons to remain aboard.

In May 1718, Blackbeard demanded and received supplies to refill his medicine chest during a weeklong blockade of Charleston Harbor. The ship ran aground in Beaufort Inlet about a month later.

"It wouldn't be surprising if there were one or more surgeons aboard," Southerly said.

Ophelia's damage and the threat from other storms that regularly pass through the area worry those working on the QAR Project. Director Mark Wilde-Ramsing said that the group will push for a full-scale recovery of the site over the next couple of years.


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