Mythical Pirates and Modern Treasure Hunters

| | @YesWeekWhitney

Few people can say that they didn’t dream of being a pirate as a kid. There’s something about the lawless life, open seas and treasure hunting that seems more fun than almost anything imaginable. A new interactive exhibit at the Greensboro Science Center allows visitors to see and experience the history of vessels lost at sea and the reality of what it’s like to search for buried treasure on the ocean floor.

Odyssey’s Pirates and Treasure includes artifacts and precious metals recovered from historic shipwrecks and the technology used to find and recover treasures from 1,700 feet below. Odyssey Marine Exploration is a company based in Tampa, Florida that specializes in deepocean shipwreck exploration. The team of underwater archeologists has discovered hundreds of shipwrecks dating all the way back to the third century.

Museum curator Kelly Crawford likes how the exhibit mixes myth and lore with technology. “It’s a good fit for us,” said Crawford. “It’s a science exhibit and it’s also a history exhibit, so it hits on a lot of different things that our visitors are interested in.”

One of Odyssey’s discoveries featured in the exhibit is the Civil War-era SS Republic. The side-wheel steamship was lost in a hurricane off the coast of Georgia while traveling to New Orleans from New York in 1865. The ship was carrying $400,000 in gold and silver coins to assist with the reconstruction efforts in the South. When hurricane force winds stirred up waves large enough to sink the ship, most of the crew and passengers were able to escape on lifeboats, but the coins were lost.

Odyssey located the remains of the SS Republic in 2003 near Savannah, Georgia after searching old journals and maps for clues. An interactive map at the exhibit in Greensboro illustrates what the designated ship looked like to the archeologists upon discovery. While most of the ship’s frame had dissolved, the huge wheels were still visible on each side of the vessel.

Each step of this search has been turned into an engaging display. Visitors can virtually experience what it’s like to control the remotely operated vehicle nicknamed Zeus that Odyssey uses to explore the wrecks. It takes patience and a steady hand to carefully maneuver the robotic arm on Zeus in order to gently blow sand away from buried treasure.

The exhibit at the Science Center features nearly 400 pounds in gold and silver found by Odyssey. Giant silver bars from a World War II-era shipwreck are valued at over $80,000 each.

The shiny treasures are certainly eye-catching, but history buffs can enjoy other artifacts on display. A pile of bottles found at the SS Republic site are beautifully crafted and colorful. Other ceramic trinkets and dishes also survived over a hundred years on the bottom of the Atlantic. The exhibit includes game pieces, toy tea sets, religious statues, writing slates, toothbrushes and 19 th century holistic remedies that paint a unique picture of what life was like before the modern world. Looking at these objects elicits a sense of curiosity as to why they meant enough to someone for that person to bring them on a voyage.

The children visiting the exhibit clearly love the elements that they can touch and manipulate. Kids line up to peek through replicas of handheld telescopes to identify passing ships. The blustery winds of the hurricane simulator incite giggles from children before the kids become quiet as they focus on trying to pick up coins from a bed of sand using the robotic arm from Zeus.

“This is my fourth exhibit since I’ve been here and this one is by far the most interactive,” said Crawford. “You get the artifacts and you get the history and the science

but then you get the chance to touch and experience a lot of things, and it really pulls you in in a way that our previous exhibits haven’t done.”

The exhibit has had such a positive response that the museum has been encouraged to focus on adding and enhancing interactive components in all of its attractions. For now, there is no better time than the middle of the summer to explore the tales and treasures of the deep. !


SHIPWRECK! Pirates & Treasure will be at the Greensboro Science Center on 4301 Lawndale Drive through September 1. The museum is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Ticket prices are $17.50 for children and $18.50 for adults.