Barry Clifford, the first person to find and salvage a pirate
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
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
Inlet. The state's official information says that comparing
Clifford's finds and the North Carolina artifacts has been an
"Clifford has brought up a wealth of information on the Whydah and
on the lives of the people on board," says Kate Atwood,
for the US Army Corps of Engineers, which issues permits for such
exploratory work in US coastal waters. …