Findings to be presented at the Southeastern Section Geological Sciences Association Meeting
BLACKSBURG, March 23 —- Two research projects in Virginia Tech’s Department of Geological Sciences concern gold on the wreck of what is believed to be Blackbeard’s flagship and the history and trends of American gold production.
The first study is taking a look at the variety of artifacts composed of precious and base metals at the wreck site. "These objects have survived burial with only minimal alteration and are easily recognized and analyzed," said James R. Craig, professor of geological sciences in Virginia Tech’s College of Arts and Sciences. Craig is studying the artifacts with John E. Callahan of Appalachian State University’s geology department and J. William Miller of the Environmental Studies Department of the University of North Carolina at Asheville.
Thus far, the group has found gold grains with the following characteristics of placer grains: the shape, the typical abraded surfaces, and the presence of high-purity gold-rich rims. A variety of gold sources was known in Africa, South and Central America, and the Caribbean at the beginning of the 18th Century, and gold was constantly redistributed, the scientists said.
The also have found tin-based pewter plates and a pewter medical syringe containing mercury likely derived from a medicine used to treat the crew.
Lead shots of a variety of sizes have been found in great quantities around the wreck site and are evidence of its wide use of pistols and all types of cannon, the scientists said. "The shot has developed protective coatings of lead hydroxycarbonate, which have minimized saltwater corrosion in oxidizing environments," the scientists said. "Other cemented clusters of lead shot and sand contain galena and small grains of pyrite, evidencing long burial under reducing conditions."
This paper (#2137) will be presented at the Southeastern Section of the Geological Society of America in Charleston, S.C., March 23 at 2:40 p.m. in the Lightsey Conference Center, Room 217.
In a second study (#2138), to be presented in Room 220 of Lightsey Conference Center at 1:40 p.m. the same day, Craig and J. Donald Rimstidt of Virginia Tech’s Department of Geological Sciences report that the first documented gold find in the United States was by Thomas Jefferson in Virginia in 1782. The talk by Craig and Rimstidt will look at "American Gold Production—History and Trends."
Whereas the Native Americans of Central and South American possessed gold that stimulated the Spanish conquest, the earliest settlements of what is now the United States found Native Americans with little metal and no gold. Except for a few unsubstantiated reports of gold finds in the 1600s, the first documented gold discovery in Eastern North America was Jefferson’s.
Discoveries of gold in North Carolina in the early 1800s spurred gold production throughout the Southern Appalachians and provided the Americans their first source of domestic gold, the researchers said. "North Carolina and Georgia dominated eastern gold production until the discovery of gold in California in 1848 lured away many of the most experienced miners," the scientists said. The West then dominated gold production with great quantities of gold. Alaska, at the end of the 19th Century, became the site of the last of the great gold rushes in the United States.
After gold prices were deregulated in 1968, the price per ounce soared from $35 to $800, stimulating production. In 1992, gold production climbed to more than 10 million ounces in 1992 and remains there today. "Despite the vast increase in production," the researchers said, "reserves now stand at their highest levels in history."
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