pirates


The British-built ship Concorde, destined to become Blackbeard's Queen Anne's Revenge in 1717, underwent its first design change in 1711. The vessel was remodeled in the style of a Dutch flute, which had been a popular design for European merchant ships in the seventeenth century. Blackbeard's vessel may have looked similar to the example shown at right. Image courtesy of The ICW-NET, The South's Coastal Directory.
  The Sign of the Jolly Roger
The discovery of the Queen Anne's Revenge, if that is indeed the ship found by Intersal, Inc., a Florida-based research, survey and recovery company working under permit from the state of North Carolina, would add significantly to our understanding of a bygone era and culture.

dutch fluteYup, we're talking pirates.

Less interested in taking notes than in treasure, these scurvy dogs left a paltry historical record. According to Richard W. Lawrence, the underwater archeologist for the state of North Carolina, the hulk of a pirate ship and its associated artifacts would help historians reconstruct a more accurate picture of the men -- and women -- who plied the oceans as outcasts, looting, sacking and pillaging at every turn.

The only other pirate ship to fall into the hands of archeologists is the Whydah, a ship sailed by Black Sam Bellamy that sank near Cape Cod a year before the Queen Anne's Revenge was lost on the sandy shoals of North Carolina. Since the Whydah was found in 1984, it has provided historians and archeologists with a treasure trove of artifacts, more than 100,000 articles -- weapons, booty (defined), tools, tableware, navigational instruments -- that are helping to flesh out our picture of the everyday lives of pirates and others who lived during the "Golden Age of Piracy."

Why in the name of Davy Jones?
Another find, like the Queen Anne's Revenge, could add considerably to that store of knowledge, Lawrence told The Why Files. Since it was a big ship -- 100 feet from stem to stern -- it could hold lots of artifacts, giving more data for pirate scholars to chew on. "It was a three-masted ship. This would be one of the biggest pirate ships of the day," says Lawrence. Originally fitted with 20 guns, "some accounts say Blackbeard increased that to as many as 40 guns."


bell

A cast bronze bell recovered from N. C. shipwreck (the presumed Queen Anne's Revenge), near Beaufort, N.C. The letters "IHS MARIA" (a Roman Catholic Invocation) and date "1709" are found along top and bottom bands, respectively. Image courtesy of North Carolina Division of Archives and History, Museum of the Albemarle, and Intersal, Inc.
  According to Lawrence, the mass of cannons at the undisclosed 20-foot-deep wreck site (the archeologists want to protect the ship from pirates who still roam the sea), is one weighty clue to the ship's identity. Another, among the dozen artifacts hauled up so far, is a ship's bell etched with the date 1709, placing the wreck at the right moment in time for it to be the Queen Anne's Revenge. The brass barrel of a blunderbuss -- the sawed-off shotgun of its day -- is another clue since buccaneers, in fact as well as fiction, were always armed to the teeth.

The value of the wreck to historians, says Lawrence, will depend a lot on its state of preservation. The hope, he says, is that at least part of the wreck has been covered with sand, protecting it from the wood-munching worms that destroy anything protruding above the sea floor. With a protective layer of sand, wood and other organic materials may have survived the vicissitudes of the sea, preserving a record far superior to those found on land.

Metal, too, wears under the briney conditions of Davy Jones' Locker. While the bronze bell fared well under the sea, its iron clapper dissolved long ago, leaving nothing more than a hollow concretion (defined) inside the foot-tall bell, says Lawrence.

Work on the wreck has just begun and it will likely take many seasons of effort to locate, recover, conserve and study the archeological booty, says Lawrence.

You haven't mentioned the buried treasure...

That's because Lawrence expects none. He figures the actual sinking of the Queen Anne's Revenge was a ploy by Blackbeard to cheat his crew (they don't call them pirates for nothing). After running aground, he deserted the ship with a few handpicked buccaneers and, presumably, whatever treasure he had hoarded, leaving the rest of his crew dubloon-less.

All this talk of pirates and booty has us wondering about other archeological treasures that reside in the briny deep.

Let's turn our spy-glass on a sunken city or two.


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