Blackbeard was a real-life pirate of the Caribbean, who carefully cultivated a bloodthirsty reputation that struck fear through seafarers. His most famous ship was the Queen Anne's Revenge which now lies in about 25ft of water just off the coast of North Carolina in America.
Now, almost 300 years after Blackbeard's death, marine archaeologists have discovered a huge anchor and an arsenal of "improvised" ammunition from the wreck of his flagship, Queen Anne’s Revenge.
New evidence about the terrifying and deadly tactics employed by Blackbeard is emerging from the diving expedition on the vessel’s presumed remains. The divers have discovered that weapons used by the pirate were not only intended to kill but were designed to strike terror into survivors and force them into a swift surrender.
The shipwreck lies in about 25ft of water just off the coast of the American state of North Carolina and the expedition to recover artefacts is being led by the state’s Department of Cultural Resources.
During the two-week exploration, the team aimed to recover a 1.4 ton (3,000lb) anchor from the ship, which they have now successfully raised.
They are also searching for three large “artefact conglomerates” – or “clusters” of metallic objects – which, as they have deteriorated, have stuck together. Once on the surface, the items can be separated up into their constituent parts and identified.
The “conglomerates” – which cover areas of up to a metre and a half by a metre square of the sea bed – are thought to contain an unusual assortment of “improvised” missiles and weaponry used by the pirate to inflict both terror and casualties on enemy ships.
On earlier dives, the researchers have found evidence of a range of “makeshift” devices, such as canvas bags filled with a lethal mass of lead shot, nails, spikes and glass and then fired from the cannon, pouring a deadly hail of projectiles onto opponents. This type of bundled ammunition was known as “langrage” and was not used by Royal Navy ships, according to 18th-century documents.
The ship’s unusual arsenal already identified also includes nine-inch bolts, which were pushed down in the barrels of cannons and would by fired out by a cannonball loaded behind them, as well as “double-headed” cannonballs – where two are linked together by a bar or chain – and which produced a spinning effect when fired from cannon and were effective at bringing down rigging.
The researchers’ bid to bring the ordnance to the surface comes as Blackbeard himself is resurrected in the new film Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, which was released earlier this month. His ship is also depicted in the new film, in which the pirate is portrayed by British actor Ian McShane, while his fictional daughter, Angelica, is played by Penelope Cruz.
During the expedition, which ends this week, the team are also fixing experimental zinc anodes to any large metal items they are not yet able to recover, including cannons.The devices will conserve the artefacts before they can be brought to the surface by slowing, and possibly even reversing, the process of corrosion.
The wreck was first discovered in 1997 and the state government is now behind a scheme, similar in scale to the Mary Rose project, to excavate and recover items from the ship, before it is lost, as sand around the vessel is eroded away by storms.
A further recovery expedition is planned for the autumn.