April 01, 2019
Cover of the book Blackbeard’s Sunken Prize: The 300 Year Voyage of Queen Anne’s Revenge

Pirates aren’t usually the first thing that come to mind when you go into work. However, for alumnus, Mark Wilde-Ramsing, real-life pirates were a huge part of his work as he was an underwater archeologist who directed the recovery of the lost flagship of the most iconic pirate, Blackbeard and his Queen Anne’s Revenge.

Mark Wilde-Ramsing, who earned his master’s in anthropology at Catholic University in 1984, delivered a lecture and book signing of Blackbeard’s Sunken Prize: The 300 Year Voyage of Queen Anne’s Revenge at Catholic University, hosted by the Anthropology department.

Wilde-Ramsing’s experience includes, working at the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources and then the Department of Underwater Archaeology to evaluate coastal projects and underwater sites. This is where he directed the investigation of Blackbeard’s shipwreck from 1996 to 2012.

His lecture gave a glimpse into his exploration.

Conner Horvath, sophomore, says, “I take anthropology 206, which is pretty much archaeology in general where we touch base on artifacts. When I heard about the lecture I was interested in learning how the artifacts I see in class are compared to what was discovered in the shipwreck.”

In 1717, Blackbeard captured a French slaving vessel off the coast of the Caribbean island, Martinique, and made it his flagship, renaming it Queen Anne’s Revenge. Over a few months, the ship and its crew captured riches of merchant ships sailing the Caribbean and Carolinas. However, in 1718, British authorities were closing in on Blackbeard’s ship, where he reportedly ran Queen Anne’s Revenge aground just off the coast of what is now North Carolina’s Fort Macon State Park.

It is said that he intentionally grounded the ship, then he and a smaller group of pirates abandoned the ship and kept some riches for themselves. A few months later, Blackbeard was caught by the Virginia military and was beheaded.

The ship and its riches remained hidden until divers discovered the wreck in 1996. Thousands of artifacts from around the world have been recovered from Queen Anne’s Revenge, including weapons, jewelry, coins, kitchen utensils, tools and so much more. Hundreds of those artifacts were restored and now on display at the North Carolina Maritime Museum and other museums, including the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C.

Those at the campus lecture had the opportunity to see the work that goes into underwater archaeology and how many people are involved in an exploration like Queen Anne’s Revenge. When discovering a shipwreck, “one thing I learned at Catholic University at that time was to learn your environment. Be friends with the earth scientists, they will tell you what has happened over the past 300 years, what condition the wreck is, why the ship was hidden and what effects it had being in the ocean,” says Wilde-Ramsing.

Excavation of artifacts is long and careful process. Similar to land a site, they had grids to map everything. They used a dredge system where a vacuum cleaner would get sand off the artifacts. And just like in any archaeological discovery, they did constant documentation where everything they found was tagged. What is interesting about underwater excavation is that they had to keep the artifacts wet because if anything dries out it could disintegrate.

The lecture ended with Mark Wilde-Ramsing reading from Blackbeard’s Sunken Prize: The 300 Year Voyage of Queen Anne’s Revenge, who is the co-author with Linda F. Carnes-McNaughton.

“The most exciting part of Dr. Mark’s lecture was how he and the team found the ship and handled the artifacts. From scuba diving to taking X-ray images, I learned how careful and detailed each person has to be when handling the artifacts,” says Elizabeth Yaremko, a sophomore student at Catholic University.