January 2018 | Rebecca Rego Barry

Book Fragments Found Aboard 300-Year-Old Shipwreck

Avast ye! The North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources (DNCR) announced a major find last week: fragments of paper from the wreckage of Queen Anne's Revenge, the flagship of the notorious pirate Blackbeard.

5 QAR1445.019 pg186 Composite_wm.jpgDuring conservation work on the ship's artifacts, sixteen tiny scraps of paper were discovered "in a mass of wet sludge removed from the chamber for a breech-loading cannon." Working with specialists from the department's Division of Archives and Records and the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation, the DNCR lab conservators carefully removed the fragments and noticed that some contained still legible printed text. According to a press release, "The challenge then became not just to conserve the paper fragments, but also to identify where they were from."

Incredibly, after several months of research, they now have an answer. The fragments derive from a 1712 first edition of Captain Edward Cooke's A Voyage to the South Sea, and Round the World, Perform'd in the Years 1708, 1709, 1710 and 1711. Well, shiver me timbers!

6 QAR1445.021 Pg178 Composite_wm.jpg"This unique find from the wreckage of Queen Anne's Revenge provides archaeological evidence for books carried on ships in the early 18th century, and adds to our knowledge of the history of Blackbeard's flagship and those who sailed her. The historical record has several references to books aboard vessels in Blackbeard's fleet, but provides no specific titles; this find is the first archaeological evidence for their presence on QAR."

Images courtesy of the North Carolina DNCR