Blackbeard’s cannon and Kublai Khan’s shipwreck


OK, OK — I’ve been remiss for not posting about the two “breaking” shipwreck stories of the past week: the raising of “Blackbeard’s cannon” and the discovery of a 13th-century vessel from Kublai Khan’s second invasion fleet. So let’s get to it:

On October 26th, The Queen Anne’s Revenge Project raised a 2,000-pound, eight-foot cannon from the wreck alleged to be Blackbeard’s flagship, the QAR (it’s my understanding that there remains a hotly contested debate over which ship these folks are actually pulling artifacts from). The cannon joins approximately 280,000 other artifacts (including 12 cannons) the Project has already pulled from the waters off Beaufort, North Carolina. Nevertheless, the recovery caused quite the buzz. As Greensboro native Joy Herndon told one reporter: “We read about it last night, and I asked the kids: are we going to skip school tomorrow and go see this?” The answer appears to have been yes as Lucy, Kevin, and Joy travelled 230 miles to see the cannon break the surface of the water. The Herndons were not alone in their pirate-archaeology fervor–more 100,000 people have visited the Beaufort Maritime Museum to see an exhibit of objects recovered from the QAR that opened in June. Impressive stats! Let’s hope the Project gets the funding complete their audacious recovery program. For more see this story.

Two days before the 300-year old cannon surfaced off North Carolina, researchers from the University of the Ryukyus announced their discovery of a 13th-century Mongolian vessel near Matsuura, Japan. The team, which focuses on wrecks from the two failed Mongolian invasion fleets, found a 35′ section of keel with 12′ frames still attached. Chinese pottery and other associated artifacts clearly date the find to the second Mongolian fleet of 1281. Professor Yoshifumi Ikeda was unequivocal about the find:  “This discovery was of major importance for our research. We are planning to expand search efforts and find further information that can help us restore the whole ship.” I’m looking forward to seeing some images of the finds. For more see here and here.

These stories share much in common, but what struck me most was the connection between shipwreck archaeology and tourism dollars. Beaufort has already cashed in and will, no doubt, continue to benefit from The QAR Project’s excavations long after the last bit of pirate loot is removed from its waters. In Japan, The Mainichi Daily News reported “Matsuura city officials are hoping that the discovery may turn the area into a tourist hot spot and attract visitors from all over the world.” Who would have thought–shipwrecks as engines of economic development? (It seems to be working in lovely Alpena, Michigan–see these earlier posts). Clearly its an emerging model for public-private cooperation that preserves our cultural heritage and fosters economic development.

Many thanks to everyone who sent along clips and thoughts!


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Filed under Shipwreck culture, Wrecks in the News

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