Pirate Ship Treasures Plucked from the Sea

Article excerpt

Barry Clifford, the first person to find and salvage a pirate ship and then build a museum to display the ship's artifacts to the public, has been all but accused of being a pirate himself.

An influential group of academic archaeologists charge that Mr. Clifford has commercialized their discipline. They want to stop his work. Ricardo Alia, an archaeologist at Boston University, once wrote that archaeologists who have worked with Clifford have made a Faustian bargain and lost their professional souls.

Since the late 1980s, the Society for Historical Archaeology has banned papers on Clifford's work at its meetings. And Mr. Alia has retrospectively criticized such presentations made in the mid-1980s as improper. He argues that the professional ethics of archaeologists are above private-property laws, which have allowed Clifford to do his work. Has Clifford really commercialized archaeology? Or are some archaeologists simply jealous of his startling results? Clifford does his work through a private, nonprofit organization that is regulated by state and federal laws. For years, he sought and finally found in the early 1980s the wreck site of the pirate galley Whydah that was smashed in a storm on the coast of Cape Cod in 1717. After bringing up more than 100,000 documented artifacts over 15 years, Clifford last summer finally located what he thinks are two large chunks of the galley's hull. Until then, he and his team had found only a scattered mess, not an intact wreck. So far, Clifford hasn't found his mother lode of gold. But he has found a career. By sticking with the hunt, building his museum, and making his finds available to the public and to scholars, he has become an explorer and educator, according to state and federal archaeologists who monitor his work. Members of the Society of Historic Archaeology have "unfairly chastised Clifford and have taken the lead in censorship of him," says Victor Mastone, director of the Massachusetts Board of Underwater Archaeological Resources in Boston. As further corroboration, the state of North Carolina has acknowledged Clifford's work. Its division of archives and history is exploring what experts believe to be the remains of Blackbeard's flagship, Queen Anne's Revenge, which was wrecked in 1718 at Beaufort Inlet. The state's official information says that comparing Clifford's finds and the North Carolina artifacts has been an "excellent" support. "Clifford has brought up a wealth of information on the Whydah and on the lives of the people on board," says Kate Atwood, archaeologist for the US Army Corps of Engineers, which issues permits for such exploratory work in US coastal waters. …