Sunday, June 03, 2007

 

Research continues at supposed Blackbeard shipwreck

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The Charlotte Observer
June 03, 2007


BEAUFORT, N.C. --Ten years and $2 million have yet to result in a "smoking blunderbuss" that proves a shipwreck off the coast of Beaufort belonged to the notorious pirate Blackbeard.

But researchers say they haven't found anything among the cannons, coins, anchors, and other artifacts that rules it out.

"Ten years of archaeological and historical research all say it's the Queen Anne's Revenge," said Lindley Butler, of Wentworth, the historian on the shipwreck project.

Some state officials stop short of confirming the oldest shipwreck ever found in North Carolina waters belonged to Blackbeard. They say it's best to remain cautious because the state's reputation is on the line.

"I ... won't let them," said Jeffrey Crow, a deputy secretary of the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources. "There's a slim possibility that it could be another shipwreck."

But even if it turns out not to be the French slave ship many believe Blackbeard captured in 1717 and renamed Queen Anne's Revenge before it ran aground off Atlantic Beach a year later, the decade of research and examination have been worth the effort, said Jerry Cashion, chairman of the N.C. Historical Commission.

"This is the most important maritime wreck in North Carolina regardless of what it is," Cashion said. " ... It's a treasure trove."

The French frigate measured about 100 feet long with three masts and a crew of 150 to 200. The shipwreck, discovered in late 1996, is within sight of Fort Macon State Park in 23 feet of water.

"What you see is the ballast stone pile, large anchors and stacks of cannons," Butler said of the 3-foot-high pile of artifacts that covers an area about 20 feet by 25 feet. "I have never seen anything like that."

Scientists believe the wreck of the Queen Anne's Revenge has laid buried under the shifting sands of Beaufort Inlet.

Florida-based Intersal, a private research firm, received a state permit in 1989 to search for the QAR, the Adventure - one of Blackbeard's smaller ships, and El Salvador, a Spanish treasure ship that sank in the area in 1750.

What's believed to be the QAR was discovered by an Intersal crew on Nov. 21, 1996.

The following March, state officials announced the find and said it "may be" Blackbeard's flagship.

Archaeologists thought it would take five to six years to recover all the artifacts when they began the process in 1997. But they say a lack of money has slowed the effort. The state has spent about $1.2 million on the project with another $600,000-plus coming from grants and other private sources. Further excavation and conservation will likely cost another $1.4 million.

"As high-profile as it is, it has been indifferently funded," said Charlie Ewen, an anthropology professor at East Carolina University.

Only about 15 percent of artifacts have been recovered to date, including jewelry, dishes and thousands of other items that are being preserved and studied at a lab at East Carolina University.

Blackbeard, whose real name was widely believed to be Edward Teach or Thatch, settled in Bath and received a governor's pardon. Some experts believe he grew bored with land life and returned to piracy.

Five months after the ship thought to be Queen Anne's Revenge sank in June 1718, Blackbeard was killed by volunteers from the Royal Navy.

Divers plan to return to the site - weather permitting - later this week to recover more artifacts and, they hope, eventually remove any doubt the ship belonged to the most fearsome and famous among pirates.

"We haven't found ... the smoking blunderbuss," Crow said. "It's like a crime-scene investigation, just like 'CSI,' just like 'Law & Order.' "

But they might find that indisputable link.

"We are not going to find a license plate on it that says Blackbeard," said Steve Claggett, the state archaeologist. "These guys didn't keep diaries."


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