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Archaeologists have been recovering historical artifacts from the vessel possibly stolen by Blackbeard since 1996. (Granger Collection, New York)

Did Archaeologists Uncover Blackbeard's Treasure?

Cannons. Gold dust. Turtle bones. For archaeologists researching the notorious pirate's flagship, every clue is priceless

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But since pirates acquired loot from everywhere, the best clues may be in the bones of the ship itself.

There isn’t much timber left to examine, since wood that isn’t buried deteriorates in salt water. Fortunately, part of the vessel remained covered in sand. When the team recovered a 3,000-pound piece of the stern, they found two draft marks meant to show how much of the vessel was below the waterline. While such measurements were vital to navigation, this ship’s seem curiously off—there are 12.75 inches in between the markings, as opposed to a standard foot. But, Moore realized, 12.75 inches was the French measurement for a foot at that time.

The most compelling argument against the shipwreck being Blackbeard’s is found on a cannon barrel marked rather crudely with three very large numbers–1,7,3–and a slightly smaller 0. If these numbers signify a date, 1730, it would be the death knell for the Blackbeard theory. But researchers say the figure more likely refers to an antiquated weight system or perhaps a catalog number.

Blackbeard lived only six months after the abandonment of the Queen Anne’s Revenge; a Royal Navy lieutenant from Virginia ambushed him at sea and sailed home with the pirate’s head dangling from his bowsprit. The pirate’s legend, though, swashbuckles on. His popular exhibit at the North Carolina Maritime Museum is soon to be supplemented with dozens of never-before-seen artifacts, and Blackbeard—played by Ian McShane—and the Queen Anne’s Revenge will both be resurrected in the latest Pirates of the Caribbean film, On Stranger Tides, due out this spring.

Meanwhile, archaeologists are itching to start work on the largest concretion of all: a huge pile of cannons and anchors still on the seafloor. They hope the mound is big enough to contain preserved material for micro-organic analysis. Bits of food, sediment or insect parts could tie the ship to the Caribbean or Africa. Or perhaps they’ll just discover “some hooks and wooden legs,” jokes Mark Wilde-Ramsing, a state archaeologist working on the project. “Parrot bones, maybe.”

Staff writer Abigail Tucker last wrote about lynx in the February issue.

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A frequent contributor to Smithsonian, Abigail Tucker is writing a book about the house cat.

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