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Salvage team set fair to identify Blackbeard's ship

There is almost certainly no pirate's treasure - no pieces of eight nor gold doubloons - to be found in the 18th-century wreck just off the North Carolina coast, but that does not stop United States marine archaeologists from calling the long-lost ship the most important discovery of its kind in 20 years.

And small wonder. The vessel, they believe, is what remains of the Queen Anne's Revenge, the flagship of the notorious pirate Blackbeard, which foundered on a sandbar at the entrance of Beaufort Inlet harbour in June 1718.

"We haven't absolutely identified it," said Jeffrey Crow, the head of North Carolina's Department of Cultural resources, which oversaw the project, "but all indications are [that] this is the Queen Anne's Revenge".

Among those indications, retrieved by divers working in minimal visibility, is a foot-tall brass bell bearing the date 1709, the barrel of a cannon, a lead sounding-weight and a blunderbuss, the short-barrelled muzzle-loading firearm of the era.

"The artefacts are in good shape, and there's a pile of cannon still down there," Mike Daniels, one of the divers, said.

The find is the climax of a decade's search at a site first suggested by a map in a 1719 book recounting a pirate trial.

Finally, the archaeologists hit on a small piece of wood sticking up from the sand, perhaps exposed by last autumn's hurricanes in the region. All being well, much more of the vessel is still intact under a protective layer of sand.

However, according to historical documents, the pirate took the treasure from the wreck before he left for shore.

Blackbeard, whose real name was Edward Teach, is legendary for his swagger and for his gargantuan appetites, but above all for his cruelty and brutality. Between 1716 and 1718 he terrorised the Caribbean and the coasts of the Carolinas - until the Queen Anne's Revenge ran aground as it returned from a week's blockade of Charleston, 250 miles to the south.

The pirate was only to outlive his ship by five months. On 22 November 1718 he was killed by English troops in a battle at Okracoke in the North Carolina barrier islands, and his head displayed from the bowsprit of a ship.