Non-destructive X-ray Imaging System Helps Reveal the Past

Blackbeard and the Queen Anne's Revenge
Painting of Blackbeard’s Queen Anne’s Revenge (inset: Edward Teach, better known as Blackbeard).

Blackbeard’s infamous pirate ship, The Queen Anne’s Revenge (QAR), lay lost on the ocean floor off the North Carolina coast for almost 300 years. It was discovered in 1996, but most of the relics of colonial culture aboard its decks, such as specks of gold, glass beads, firearms and brass pins, remain hidden inside a thick crust of muddy sand and shells.

With the help of the Davidson Research Initiative, Ryan Kozlowski ’16 and Professor of Physics Dan Boye hope to shed some light on those items by using their Digitome non-destructive x-ray imaging system. Their examination of a half-dozen items from the pirate ship this summer at the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources lab located at Eastern Carolina University could add to the evidence that this was indeed Blackbeard’s ship.

“Digitome imaging can be done on a laptop,” explained Kozlowski. The configuration at Davidson consists of three main parts. A source shoots x-rays into the cabinet. The object of the examination rests inside the cabinet on a circular plastic plate attached to the image plate. The object and image plate can be tilted and the plastic plate can be rotated to record as many as 32 different perspectives of the object, though just eight views are commonly captured. The system’s proprietary software immediately assembles the different views such that any mathematically-defined contour can be viewed.