Tedone and Alcántara-Garcia can't explain how the fragments survived, but several theories have been proposed.
"It's possible the paper fragments weren't actually exposed to water
while underwater in the shipwreck," Tedone said. "They may have been
caught in a pocket of air."
Or they may have been in a spot where there was no oxygen.
"It could be the 'magic' of not having oxygen," Alcántara-Garcia
said. "Oxygen does nasty things. But I don't think there is a way to
know. Right now, my guess is that somehow as the ship was sinking these
tiny pockets didn't get water and didn't get much air."
Whatever it was, "it was just jaw-dropping," she said.
Tedone also is astonished that Erik Farrell, conservator in the QAR
Lab, recognized the fragments as bits of paper, mixed as they were in
mucky sludge, heavy with gunpowder, water and other sediments.
"He noticed some fibers and said we better save this handful of
muck," she said. "And then -- on top of that -- it's crazy enough that
there were paper fragments, but on some the printing was still intact."
Even more astonishing, the words were unique enough for researchers
-- after months of effort -- to trace the fragments to the book from
which they were torn, a first-edition 1712 volume of Captain Edward
Cooke's “A Voyage to the South Sea, and Round the World, Perform’d in
the Years 1708, 1709, 1710 and 1711.”
The "tiny pirate papers" -- as
Tedone and others call them -- came to Winterthur and UD by way of
Tedone's longtime friend and former grad school classmate, Emily
Rainwater, now a conservator for the State Archives of North Carolina.
Rainwater knew of Winterthur/UD's reputation and analytical capabilities
and contacted Tedone about the find.
"The QAR Conservation Lab does not have a paper conservator on
staff," Tedone said. "Who would expect to find paper on a 300-year-old
shipwreck? As you can imagine, this is outside the scope of any paper
Would Tedone be interested in consulting on the project?
Blackbeard? Shipwreck? 18th-century papers? Oh -- why not?
"And it just so happens that Jocelyn -- our scientist who is a
specialist in paper and fibers -- is also into scuba diving and obsessed
with shipwrecks," Tedone said.
Ideal for this project, in other words.
Tedone and Alcántara-Garcia traveled to North Carolina to meet with
the QAR team there and discuss the best ways to study and conserve them.
"The most exciting thing to me is that there was a group of people in
this room, highly trained, highly specialized, highly passionate about
these things -- all staring with a big question mark on our faces at a
bunch of fluffy paper fragments," Alcántara-Garcia said.
Several fragments were brought to Winterthur for analysis.