Even today, despite the fact that the entirety of the map has been filled in, our daring archaeologists still manage to seek answers to life’s mysteries in the one place in our world that hasn’t yet been completely examined: the past.
Recently, a team of explorers discovered what they believe to be the remains of a deadly and dangerous character, a famous pirate who was once thought to be lost at sea. With the help of modern technology, they hope to discern the truth about this lingering mystery and what really happened to the man who went down with his ship…
Sunken and Trapped
The team had located something buried beneath the ocean. At first, it looked as though it was simply a chunk of sunken concrete, an undersea object known as a “concretion.” It was only once they began delving into it, chipping away at the hardened sand, that they discovered artifacts trapped within the formerly solid block of earth.
A Special Case
What they found inside of the block, along with a number of artifacts from what they believed to be a famous sunken pirate ship, was a human bone. Now, it must be understood that over 200 concretions like this have been located near the wreck over the years, but this one, and this bone; they were special…
Captain Samuel Bellamy, otherwise known as “Black Sam” was an 18th century English pirate who operated out of Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Bellamy had earned a reputation as the “Prince of Pirates.” He also likened himself to Robin Hood because he stole from the wealthy to give back to poor folks like him and his crew.
His vessel, the Whydah, was an impressive vessel that allowed him to plunder what amounts to $120 million worth of treasure in a little over a year. In just over two years of full-time pirating, Bellamy had seized 54 ships. This made him the wealthiest pirate in history and it was why when the Whydah went down, people went looking for it…
Wealth Beyond Modern Measure
The Whydah sank in a storm in 1717 and 102 men lost their lives on that day, including Samuel Bellamy. Many believe that on the day the storm hit, the Whydah was laden with stolen treasure. The ship and its crew remained missing for many years, until 1984, when a group of divers discovered the original wreck off the coast of Cape Cod.
Coins and Souls a’ Plenty
Since that discovery, some 20,000 coins, estimated to be worth upwards of $400 million, have been recovered from the ocean floor, but so much more still remains lost. Many of its sunken crew were found as well. But 40 of those souls were never located, one of them was Captain Black Sam Bellamy. That may have just changed, however…
The Whydah Pirate Museum in Yarmouth, Massachusetts was given the discovered bone, thought to be a piece of a femur, and displayed it with what they believe to be Bellamy’s pistol. Yet, before they could officially label it as Bellamy’s remains, they wanted to prove it was his.
For that, they needed to use modern technology. The museum contacted the University of New Haven to see if they could find a way to extract DNA from the 300-year-old bone and see if they could match it to any existing DNA they might have for Bellamy. As it happened, they did have a sample to compare it to…
Enlisting the forensic scientists at the University of New Haven turned out to be a good idea. The museum was able to contact one of his living descendants and ask them for a DNA sample, which they happily provided. I mean, who wouldn’t want to find out what really happened to one’s famous pirate ancestor?
DNA testing and extraction is not an easy or quick process, however. It is expected that the full process would take about a month, maybe more: especially if they want a mostly definitive answer. Still, the ship sank in 1717, waiting a bit longer to find out what happened to the Whydah’s daring captain wouldn’t be so bad…
Who is He?
Barry Clifford, the man who discovered the wreck and founded the Whydah Pirate Museum, was very excited about receiving the results of the DNA Testing, though he was aware that the bone might belong to someone else. “Who is this pirate, who is this lost pirate?” he said during a press conference “Is he Sam Bellamy? Is he African? Is he from Scotland? Ireland? England? Native American? We don’t know yet.”
The reason that he mentioned so many nationalities is because there was known to be a great deal of ethnic diversity among the Whydah’s crew. Of the 180 pirates on the ship, at least a third were of African origin and were likely former slaves. But Europeans and even Native Americans may have been amongst them as well. So who then did this femur belong to?
Be Very Careful
The forensic science team explained that they had to use a Dremel tool to drill carefully into the bone to retrieve the DNA sample. Normally, DNA extraction involves “pulverizing” the bone, which sounds like it would do more harm than good when trying to preserve remains. The Dremel was deemed to be the most non-invasive method.
Not Every Day
“This really is an exciting opportunity for us,” explained Claire Glynn, the assistant professor in the University of New Haven’s Forensic Science Department. “It’s not every day that we get to work on a case that’s 300 years old.” Professor Glynn is amongst the team responsible for the lineage coding of the DNA search…
Unfortunately, the excitement of the discovery proved to be for naught. It was with a heavy heart that the Whydah Museum made the announcement that the DNA test proved without a doubt that whoever’s bone it was, it was not from the infamous pirate Samuel “Black Sam” Bellamy.
The comparative analysis indicated that the bone was not linked to Captain Bellamy’s living relative, however, they did determine that the femur belonged to a male with general ties to the Eastern Mediterranean area. Based on its location, this may be one of the 40 missing crewmen on the Whydah. It’s bittersweet news, but it means that there’s much more down there left to find…
The Whydah still has plenty of secrets to reveal and that’s a good thing because it means that the search for truth and mystery in our world continues. Author and Whydah research team member Casey Sherman said it best at the press conference. “What the Whydah really represents here in America – it’s America’s version of King Tut’s tomb.”
Since its discovery in 1984, some 20,000 coins have been recovered from the Whydah’s watery grave. But with so much of its treasure still laying upon the ocean floor, it means the true mother lode of treasure has yet to be found. A true treasure trove is still there somewhere, and with it most likely, is what’s left of Captain Bellamy…
More to Come
Experts still believe that they may have found the location of the true “mother lode” and will be conducting more research at the wreck site in the summer of 2018. There is a presumably tremendous amount of treasure at the site and if they can find it, the museum may end up being able to expand over the coming years.
Pirate-related archaeological finds continue to be a source of fascination for people around the world. Many millions in gold and goods were stolen in those days, and many of the people who stole it have gone down to Davy Jones since that time. As more and more of these wrecks are discovered, we continue to learn more about the fascinating men and women of the golden age of piracy.