Blackbeard Cannon Recovery: Getting to the Goods Inside

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When archaeologists at the wreck of Blackbeard’s flagship, Queen Anne’s Revenge   (QAR), raise an eight-foot-long cannon on Wednesday, Oct. 26, it will be the public’s first view of the weapon after nearly 300 years on the ocean floor. 

QAR researchers work aboard the RV Shellpoint for recovery of most artifacts in the fall [Credit: N.C. Maritime Museum]

Since 1997, the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources’ Underwater Archaeology Branch has led the research at the wreck site.  Next week researchers will raise a one-ton cannon that is encased in concretion, a cement like shell of sand, salt and sea life.  It is only through the conservation process, which can take up to five years, that the archaeologists will learn what the cannon’s concretion actually contains.  To date, 12 other cannons have been recovered, and the concretions have held gun flints, a sounding weight and other articles of shipboard life. 

“It’s like Christmas,” explains QAR Project Director Mark Wilde-Ramsing. “During an earlier expedition, one of the concretions actually held two cannons and lots of attachments that resembled nuts.  We called that one Baby Ruth!” 

Some surprises can come once the concretions are removed.  “Four cannons were all found to be loaded, with cannon shot and wads in place ready to be fired,” observes QAR Chief Conservator Sarah Watkins-Kenney.  She says three of the cannons are now exhibited at the N.C. Maritime Museum in Beaufort, one at the Museum of the Albemarle in Elizabeth City and one at the N.C. Museum of History in Raleigh.

“Remains of rope wrapped around the muzzle of another cannon also are intriguing,” Watkins-Kenny adds. “Materials as fragile as rope rarely survive, so finding this vindicated the cleaning used to carefully excavate the concretion layers, rather than just knock it off to reveal the cannon.”

It may take years to discover the secrets of the cannon which will be raised on Wednesday.  However, the current expedition already has reaped a number of recovered artifacts, including shackles, a nesting cup lid, concreted bar shot (projectile fired from a cannon), a crystal wine glass fragment, and various items associated with ship’s rigging. 

To recover the large cannon, a research vessel from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) will join the expedition for the heavy lifting.  In addition, for more than 10 years the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ Marine Fisheries Division has provided support for the project with a research vessel participating in recovery of nearly all of the artifacts.   

Another strategic partner in the QAR project is East Carolina University (ECU).  As one of the premier maritime studies programs in the country, ECU houses the conservation laboratory where the recovered cannon will be taken for analysis.  Also, for the first time ECU students provided most of the diver support during the Fall 2011 expedition.  

Other partners include the Town of Beaufort, N.C. Maritime Museums, U.S. Coast Guard – Fort Macon, Fort Macon State Park, N.C. State Ports, and Friends of the Queen Anne’s Revenge. 

The public is invited to see the recovered cannon beginning at 12:30 p.m. in front of the N.C. Maritime Museum in Beaufort.  Project participants will be available to discuss the recent findings.  Tours of the 

Blackbeard’s Queen Anne’s Revenge exhibit at the Maritime Museum also will be available. The recovered cannon will depart at 2 p.m. and will be taken to the QAR Conservation Laboratory for further study. 

For additional information call Fay Mitchell (919) 807-7389 or e-mail [email protected]. 

The Underwater Archaeology Branch is part of the Office of State Archaeology within the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources.  It is considered one of the oldest and most respected underwater archaeology programs in the country. 

About the Queen Anne’s Revenge Shipwreck Project 

The flagship of the notorious pirate Blackbeard – the Queen Anne’s Revenge — sank off Beaufort Inlet in June 1718.  The shipwreck was located in 1996 by Intersal, Inc. of Florida, by Operations Director Mike Daniel through research provided by Intersal president Phil Masters. 

To date, more than 280,000 artifacts have been recovered. 

The Queen Anne’s Revenge Project is a coordinated undertaking involving a number of individuals, organizations and institutions under the overall management of the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources. 

About the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources 

The N.C. Department of Cultural Resources annually serves more than 19 million people through its 27 historic sites, seven history museums, two art museums, the nation’s first state-supported  Symphony Orchestra, the State Library, the N.C. Arts Council, and the State Archives. Cultural Resources champions North Carolina’s creative industry, which employs nearly 300,000 North Carolinians and contributes more than $41 billion to the state’s economy.  To learn more, visit www.ncculture.com.  

Source: North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources [October 20, 2011]

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