RALEIGH, N.C. – A shipwreck off the North Carolina coast believed to be that of notorious pirate Blackbeard could be fully excavated in three years, officials working on the project said.
"That's really our target," Steve Claggett, the state archaeologist, said Friday while discussing 10 years of research that has been conducted since the shipwreck was found just off Atlantic Beach.
The ship ran aground in 1718, and some researchers believe it was a French slave ship Blackbeard captured in 1717 and renamed Queen Anne's Revenge.
Several officials said historical data and coral-covered artifacts recovered from the site — including 25 cannons, which experts said was an uncommonly large number to find on a ship in the region in the early 18th century — remove any doubt the wreckage belonged to Blackbeard.
Three university professors, including two from East Carolina University, have challenged the findings. But officials working on the excavation said Friday that the more they find, the stronger their case becomes.
"Historians have really looked at it thoroughly and don't feel that there's any possibility anything else is in there that was not recorded," said Mark Wilde-Ramsing, director of the Queen Anne's Revenge Project. "And the artifacts continue to support it."
Wilde-Ramsing said a coin weight recovered last fall bearing a likeness of Britain's Queen Anne and a King George cup, both dated before the shipwreck, further bolster their position.
So far, about 15 percent of the shipwreck has been recovered including jewelry, dishes and thousands of other artifacts. The items are being preserved and studied at a lab at East Carolina University, and eventually more will become available for the public to view, Claggett said.
Nearly 2 million people have viewed shipwreck artifacts since 1998, including at a permanent exhibit at the North Carolina Maritime Museum in Beaufort and at a maritime museum in Paris, project officials said.
Researchers shared some of their findings Friday at the North Carolina Museum of History. They said studying the artifacts will provide insight into the era's naval technology, slave trade and pirate life.
Blackbeard, whose real name was widely believed to be Edward Teach or Edward Thatch, settled in Bath and received a governor's pardon. Some experts believe he grew bored with land life and returned to piracy.
He was killed by volunteers from the Royal Navy in November 1718 — five months after the ship thought to be Queen Anne's Revenge sank.