North Carolina Shipwreck Offers Clues About Blackbeard

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This is SCIENCE IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English. I'm Jim Tedder.

And I'm Christopher Cruise. This week, we will tell about a shipwreck discovered near the coast of North Carolina. We also answer a listener’s question about the disease fibromyalgia.

Beaufort, North Carolina, is a small town in the southeastern United States. Many people who live in this part of the country are fishermen. They make their living in the nearby Atlantic Ocean.

Three hundred years ago, Beaufort was the home of Edward Thatch, who also made his living on the water. But he was not a fisherman. He was feared by many and known as Blackbeard the Pirate.

One of Blackbeard’s ships, Queen Anne’s Revenge, was discovered under seven meters of water near Beaufort fifteen years ago. Since then, scientists have been studying the ship and bringing to the surface many of the artifacts -- things made by hand -- that they have found.

An exhibit of those objects opened last month at the North Carolina Maritime Museum in Beaufort. David Moore is the museum’s Nautical Archeologist.

David Moore: “One of the first items that came up from the site back in nineteen ninety-six, when it was first discovered, was a bell. Part of the inscription on the bell was the date … seventeen-oh-five. And so when you can find an artifact that very comfortably dates the site to the appropriate period, that’s exciting for an archeologist.”

David Moore believes that Blackbeard once had three or four hundred men and four ships under his command. They sailed up and down the Atlantic Coast and stole anything of value from other ships.

DAVID MOORE: “Most of what these guys were grabbing was food, alcoholic beverages, spare cannons, sails, anchors -- anything that they needed to get by on a day to day basis.

But what about the stories of pirate treasure -- silver and gold and jewels? How much of that has been found?

DAVID MOORE: “Very small, tiny bits of gold that would have been picked up in streams in West Africa, and panned, and collected. And what we have on Queen Anne’s Revenge is probably somewhere around fifteen grams, five thousand little tiny bits of gold.”

Finding the artifacts and bringing them to land can be difficult. Most of them need months or even years of cleaning before they can be put on display in the museum. The objects are usually covered with sand and seashells that are hard to remove without causing damage.

DAVID MOORE: “For every month we spend in the field, mapping and excavating and recovering material, there’s a corresponding eleven to twelve months in the laboratory.”

Recently, a large anchor from the ship was discovered and moved to land. But it is so huge that it may be five years before it can be cleaned enough to be seen by the public.

Part of the display at the Maritime Museum is a model of the ship Queen Anne’s Revenge. Visitors can study the model and imagine what pirate life was like three centuries ago. The model has an opening on one side so you can see inside.

David Moore says about one hundred fifty men lived on the ship at one time. He also says real pirates like Blackbeard were different from what we see in the movies. When they robbed other ships, they asked their new prisoners to join their crew. And they did not usually find boxes filled with gold coins. But other things made of metal, like a device used to measure land, were worth taking.

DAVID MOORE: “We’ve got what appears to be a surveyor’s compass. And in those days it was made from brass. And this would have been a high dollar item, as it would be today. They could have easily traded or sold that in the market somewhere, some port that they stopped in.”

For many years, Blackbeard was America’s most famous pirate. But in November of seventeen-eighteen, the governor of Virginia sent soldiers to kill or capture him. It took many sword wounds and gun shots before Blackbeard fell. Soldiers then cut off his head and put it on the front of a ship as a warning to others that pirates would be punished.

Hundreds of the things Blackbeard used on Queen Anne’s Revenge can be seen at the North Carolina Maritime Museum. But there are many more items yet to be brought up from the sea bottom. Archeologist David Moore says only about half their work has been completed.

Earlier this year, Tomohiko Hagino in Japan wrote to ask for information about a painful disease -- fibromyalgia.

America’s Food and Drug Administration says fibromyalgia affects about three to six million people in the United States each year. The American College of Rheumatology says fibromyalgia may affect two to four percent of the population. Other studies show that, in some countries, three and a half percent of adult women and one half percent of adult men suffer from the disease.

Untreated or incompletely-treated sufferers often have pain in their muscles and joints. And they are always tired, even when they get a lot of sleep. Fibromyalgia is what doctors call a chronic syndrome. It causes pain and difficulty in movement throughout the soft tissues that support and move the bones and joints.

The central nervous system of a patient with fibromyalgia is more sensitive to extreme “pain transmission” than the nervous system of a healthy person. Experts believe that patients have a surplus of neurotransmitters -- the chemicals that cause pain. Their central nervous system may tell the brain that there is pain even when there is no cause for the pain. Or the neurotransmitters tell the brain that there is more pain than there really is.

Russell Rothenberg is a rheumatologist in Bethesda, Maryland. He is one of the nation’s leading experts on fibromyalgia. He has written many reports about the disease and has produced videos to help those who suffer from it.

Dr. Rothenberg says he has seen more than ten thousand patients with fibromyalgia over the past thirty years. About eighty percent of them are women. He says some of his patients have had a medical problem or injury that led to the disease. He says people with rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and osteoarthritis appear to be more likely to have fibromyalgia.

Dr. Rothenberg told VOA that some people who develop fibromyalgia have a family history of the disease. He says researchers have found abnormal genetic factors to be more common in some families.

RUSSELL ROTHENBERG: “Well, we know that it could be genetic. And we know that there are certain families where there is a high incidence of fibromyalgia in three generations. So we’re still learning about the genetics of fibromyalgia … our knowledge of who is more at risk for developing this hypersensitivity of pain in the central nervous system.”

The signs of fibromyalgia are complex. Many patients suffer from weakness or what is called a “pins and needles” feeling in the arms and legs. They may also have dry eyes, head pain and bowel problems. Most patients have pain everywhere in their body. The pain can be so intense that, in some cases, even the weight of clothing is too much. Yet some patients have trouble persuading their doctor that their pain is real.

One study found that some patients had to wait three to five years before doctors confirmed the presence of fibromyalgia. One reason for the delay was that many patients looked healthy. And identifying the cause of the pain can be difficult, especially for untrained doctors.

Doctors who left medical school before nineteen-ninety may not be familiar with fibromyalgia. That is because the disease was only given its name in nineteen ninety. There are currently no blood tests or medical imaging tests to help doctors with their diagnosis.

Long delays in the identification and treatment of fibromyalgia can lead to severe disability and the inability to work. People can also be unable to perform the simple activities of daily living without assistance because of the severe myofascial pain.

Dr. Rothenberg says he needs at least an hour with a new patient to find if they are suffering from fibromyalgia. That is much longer than many doctors give to one patient.

RUSSELL ROTHENBERG: ”My experience and other doctors in the field talk about the holistic, comprehensive care that’s required to treat a fibromyalgia patient, and that requires time. And we need to go through all their meds, all their organ systems, their exercise, how they’re functioning.”

Some patients are misdiagnosed as suffering from depression because many of the symptoms are the same – poor sleep patterns, depressed feelings and pain all over the body. And some patients were told that the pain was not real, that they were just imagining it or that that they had mental problems.

Next week, we will hear more from Dr. Rothenberg. We also will hear from a drug company that is advertising a product to treat fibromyalgia. And we will talk with a doctor who is critical of that advertising.

This SCIENCE IN THE NEWS was written and read by Christopher Cruise and Jim Tedder. Our producer was June Simms. I’m Mario Ritter. Join us again next week for more news about science in Special English on the Voice of America.

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