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'X Marks the Spot: The Archaeology of Piracy'

Give a man an eye patch, a hoop earring, a flowing shirt, and a bandanna, and you begin to create an image. Throw in a cocked hat, peg leg, and parrot, and you remove all doubt. We imagine pirates in ways beloved to movies, stories, and Halloween. Yet how much is reality?

Surely, joke Russell K. Skowronek and Charles R. Ewen, not all of them had peg legs. The scholars were once boys who loved playing pirate but grew up to be archaeologists, at Santa Clara and East Carolina Universities, respectively. Together they edited X Marks the Spot: The Archaeology of Piracy (University Press of Florida). Despite popularity in fiction and history books, pirates have been rare in archaeological research. One reason is the link with treasure hunters. But another is difficulty. To what extent is it possible to recognize a pirate in the archaeological record, distinguishable from other sailors, without historical documentation? Exploring such issues, the 16 contributors examine piracy in the 17th and 18th centuries in North America, the Caribbean, and the Indian Ocean, covering land and water.

Among those writing on the former are Donny L. Hamilton on the pirate haunt of Port Royal, Jamaica; Joan M. Exnicios on Jean Lafitte's camp on Grand Terre Island, La.; and Daniel Finamore on a pirate settlement in Belize, where he examines the finding of fragments from high-quality Chinese porcelain used by the otherwise spartan rogues. Exploring the pirates' egalitarian ways, he suggests they may have used the china to thumb weathered noses at the British upper classes.

Underwater, Christopher E. Hamilton's essay deals with the Whydah, a pirate ship wrecked off Cape Cod. Across the seas, John de Bry reports on the excavation of a vessel off Madagascar that was thought to be Willliam Kidd's Adventure Galley but was later identified as the Fiery Dragon, of an obscure but luckier pirate, Christopher Condent, who, unlike Kidd, avoided a violent early death on the gallows.

Identity figures also in a cordial duel between two archaeologists, both involved in the excavation of a ship in Beaufort Inlet, N.C. Mark U. Wilde-Ramsing outlines what he calls a good circumstantial case that the ship was the Queen Anne's Revenge, wrecked in 1718 by none other than Edward Teach, or "Blackbeard." Wayne R. Lusardi demurs. Among his objections, he wonders why the alleged QAR, thought to have originally been a French slave ship, had only one French object recovered: a pewter urethral syringe, still with traces of the mercury used to treat a sailor's occupational hazard, venereal disease. Avast, ye colleague, he seems to say, circumstantial evidence isn't enough.