Researchers recovered an anchor from a shipwreck believed to be that of pirate Blackbeard's flagship, the Queen Anne's Revenge, this summer in the waters near Beaufort Inlet. (Photo by Cliff Hollis)

ECU students, faculty on board with Blackbeard cannon recovery

By Jeannine Hutson
ECU News Services 

When archaeologists raise an eight-foot cannon Wednesday, Oct. 26 from the wreck of the Queen Anne's Revenge, students from East Carolina University will be receiving hands-on experience, not just observing from the decks of the recovery vessels.

The cannon has been resting at the bottom of Beaufort Inlet since Blackbeard's flagship Queen Anne's Revenge wrecked off North Carolina's coast in 1718.

This week's dive is to raise the approximately one-ton cannon, encased in concretion, the solid mass of mineral deposits, which must be removed along with the soluble salts in the metal to make the object stable to be studied, handled and displayed.

The cannon will be on display in Beaufort after it's brought to the surface Wednesday – weather permitting – and then will be transported Thursday to the Queen Anne's Revenge Conservation Lab, housed at ECU's West Research Campus. The lab is a joint venture between the university and the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources.

"This fall has allowed a large group of maritime studies students and professors to not just visit (the recovery site) but to also be part of the team," said Sarah Watkins-Kenney, the QAR Lab Director and Underwater Archaeology Branch Chief Conservator with the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources.

"These students are getting hands-on experience," during the retrieval of artifacts, Watkins-Kenney said. Onboard the research vessels this week will be ECU graduate students in anthropology and maritime studies, undergraduate students, and Dr. Lynn Harris, QAR intern and independent studies instructor with ECU Maritime Studies.

Approximately 10 ECU student interns and independent study students are expected to participate in this fall's expedition to the Queen Anne's Revenge recovery site. "What we've been able to offer students out there, not just volunteering but also getting course credit, is exciting," Watkins-Kenney said.

"It's a step forward for ECU. The students will get hands-on experience in the recovery of artifacts from the ocean. They will get to work on a real project instead of just seeing it in a textbook."

ECU maritime studies students are part of the dive team, and Watkins-Kenney is hopeful that will continue for future recovery dives. Working and directing the ECU students will be fellow Pirates – alumni of the ECU Maritime Studies and Coastal Resources Management degree programs, including Mark Wilde-Ramsing, expedition director and state underwater archaeologist, and Chris Southerly, assistant state archaeologist and one of the dive supervisors for the underwater archaeology branch, and Dave Moore with the N.C. Maritime Museum who worked on mapping the site.

If the weather permits, the main dives at the Queen Anne's Revenge will end this week and the site will be closed for the winter.

Two ECU graduate students –in anthropology and in maritime studies – are working in the QAR Conservation Lab currently, Watkins-Kenney said.

"In addition to those students, we have ongoing research projects with ECU faculty and their students," Watkins-Kenney said. Also undergraduate classes in history, anthropology, conservation, maritime studies, and from the Honors College visit the facility.

Dr. Anthony Kennedy from the Department of Chemistry is working with his students on artifact materials identification, for example a horn, and diffusion rates of preservatives in waterlogged archaeological wood. And Dr. Matt Schrenk and his students are researching microorganisms found in the conservation lab storage tanks.  

To date, 12 other cannons have been recovered from the site. Nine are in the process of being conserved at the QAR Lab. And three are on exhibit at the N.C. Maritime Museum in Beaufort, the Museum of the Albemarle in Elizabeth City, and the Museum of History in Raleigh.

The Queen Anne's Revenge originally was a French slave ship, La Concorde, measuring 90- to 100-feet long with three masts and a crew of 150 to 200. Blackbeard captured La Concorde in 1717 and renamed it before it ran aground in 1718 near what is today Fort Macon State Park.

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