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The History of Maritime Piracy

Cindy Vallar, Editor & Reviewer
P.O. Box 425, Keller, TX  76244-0425


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Books for Adults - Nonfiction

Cover Art: X Marks the Spot

X Marks the Spot: The Archaeology of Piracy
Edited by Russell K. Skowronek and Charles R. Ewen
University Press of Florida, 2006, ISBN 0-8130-2875-2, US $55

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Much of what is known of pirates of yore comes from historical records, but is there archaeological evidence to support or enhance that information? Editors Russell K. Skowronek, associate professor of anthropology and founder of the Archaeology Research Lab at Santa Clara University, and Charles R. Ewen, professor of anthropology and director of the Archaeology Laboratories at East Carolina University, decided to see what insights archaeology has offered about “the world of the pirates.” X Marks the Spot is divided into three parts: Pirate Lairs, Pirate Ships and Their Prey, and Pirates in Fact and Fiction. The various essays within each section are written by archaeologists or those who have worked closely with them to unearth new data and artifacts. Pirate Lairs explores the pirate haven Port Royal, Jean Laffite’s Barataria, and the Bay of Honduras. Pirate Ships and Their Prey examines the Speaker (the first pirate ship ever excavated archaeologically), the Fiery Dragon (Christopher Condent’s ship), the Whydah (Samuel Bellamy’s ship), and the Queen Anne’s Revenge (Blackbeard’s flagship), as well Mississippi River pirates and identifying pirate victims in the Spanish Caribbean. The final section examines pirate imagery and whether or not X marks the spot.

Perhaps, the two opening quotes of the Introduction best sum up the editors’ goals in compiling these essays:

Archaeology is the search for fact. Not truth. If it’s truth you’re interested in, Dr. Tyree’s philosophy class is right down the hall. So forget any ideas you’ve got about lost cities, exotic travel, and digging up the world. We do not follow maps to buried treasure and “X” never, ever, marks the spot! – Indiana Jones

Sometimes it does. – The authors of this book

X Marks the Spot includes a brief look into the history of piracy, with particular focus on the Caribbean, North America, and the Indian Ocean. What the editors discovered as they researched was that there are myriad historical works about pirates, but very little archaeological literature on them. Each essay includes maps, charts, illustrations, and pictures of artifacts. There is also an extensive bibliography and index.

This proved to be a most interesting book, and for the most part the essays make fascinating reading. It’s a look at piracy from a perspective rarely seen, and the conclusions the archaeologists have drawn are intriguing. While the price is a bit dear, X Marks the Spot is a worthy addition to any serious pirate’s collection.

Book Review Copyright ©2006 Cindy Vallar


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