Saturday, January 07, 2006

 

Artifacts could be key to Blackbeard mystery

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The Daily News
By Daniel McNamara
January 04, 2006


GREENVILLE - They're two completely different types of fasteners.

Archaeologists working with the Queen Anne's Revenge Project have found a coat button and some hardware that looks like it might be part of a set of shackles - both items that could have belonged to the pirate Blackbeard or one of his crew.

The artifacts are buried in separate concretions of sand and shell raised from a shipwreck on the ocean floor.

"We're planning to work on the two concretions during January to extract the button and the possible shackles," said Sarah Watkins-Kenney, who heads up the QAR Conservation lab in Greenville.

They know the items are there because they had the concretions x-rayed. At least they know the button is there. They're not certain the other item is shackles.

"We can't be 100 percent sure until we excavate the concretion," Watkins-Kenney said.

Archaeologists also cannot be sure how significant the artifacts will be to tying the shipwreck to Blackbeard until they chisel away the hardened layers surrounding them.

The button is about three-quarters of an inch wide, made of a copper alloy or pewter and appears well-preserved, Watkins-Kenney said.

"It's kind of a like dome-shaped and there's a loop underneath which is where it would have been sewn on or secured," she said.

Some of the buttons used in colonial times had decorations or insignias, or were gilded, Watkins-Kenney said. Once the button is cleaned, any markings might help archaeologists date the shipwreck site, she said.

In contrast, the hardware thought to be shackles is likely made of iron and appears heavily corroded, Watkins-Kenney said.

"If that's what it is, it could help tie (the shipwreck) to the La Concorde," QAR Project Manager Mark Wilde-Ramsing said.

La Concorde was a French slave ship captured by Blackbeard in 1717 and renamed Queen Anne's Revenge.

David Moore, nautical archaeologist and maritime historian with the N.C. Maritime Museum in Beaufort, said that if the hardware is shackles, the QAR Project will still need to find more like it to make the case it had been a slave ship and not just any colonial vessel.

"Most of the ships would have kept a set of manacles or shackles or even several sets for unruly seamen," Moore said.

Archaeologists found more than 80 sets of shackles on the Henrietta Marie, a slave ship that wrecked off Florida in 1700, Moore said. It is, however, a positive sign to find fetters, if that is indeed what they turn out to be.

The QAR project has also found some limited numbers of glass beads, used as a trade commodity for slaves in West Africa but also with American Indians, he said.

"Those are the types of items we would expect to find on board, so to now start seeing them come out of concretions looks pretty good," Moore said.

The concretions were x-rayed this past fall at the N.C. Museum of Art in Raleigh. The museum recently purchased the new x-ray machine, which can shoot in six different directions instead of just one, said Noelle Ocon, associate conservator of paintings for the museum. The museum bought the machine with a donation from ABB Inc., a power and automation equipment company, she said.

"The QAR was the first time that we used it," Ocon said.

The QAR x-ray project was funded by a $12,000 agreement with National Geographic Expeditions Council, according to Wilde-Ramsing, who added that National Geographic Magazine is scheduled to publish an article on the QAR conservation efforts in July.


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