In all the excitement, a number of questions emerged. Although several historical accounts place up to 20 pounds of West African gold dust onboard the ship, there was no pirate booty. No chests filled with jewels. No evidence of a battle, and no human remains. So why did it sink?

"It's an interesting wreck," says Queen Anne's Revenge Shipwreck Project director Mark Wilde-Ramsing. "The vessel should have had a lot of stuff on it. If it was a raging storm [that sunk the ship], you'd have shoe buckles and personal items. At the same time, if you had an abandoned ship, in a common enough area, it'd be stripped clean. So there's something going on there in between that's part of the mystery."

Before each expedition, the wreck site is mapped out on a grid. Each scuba diver works within a five-foot square, photographing and videotaping the excavation. Objects are carefully retrieved and then taken to the QAR Conservation Laboratory at East Carolina University for treatment by professional conservators.

Artifacts are saturated with salts, which must be removed before the objects are allowed to dry out. The desalination process is essential, otherwise the metal will corrode and damage other objects. Often, several objects are stuck together within a concretion (a combination of sedimentary deposits and shells) and must be gently separated. Artifacts are then dried, given protective coatings, and reassembled if they're broken. Archaeologists document and analyze the objects, and then enter information into an artifact database. Finally, each artifact is transferred to a repository at the North Carolina Maritime Museum in Beaufort, where it resides until it's made available for research and public exhibit.

Blackbeard fans have several options to satisfy their curiosity. A QAR display at the North Carolina Maritime Museum currently features the ship's bell, glass wine bottles, and other artifacts, and has attracted nearly two million visitors since 1998. A traveling exhibit has been shown around the state, including at the North Carolina State Fair. Another exhibit journeyed to the Maritime Museum in Paris, and representatives of the Smithsonian Institution are considering a possible exhibit. Information about the QAR and its history is posted at Fort Macon, North Carolina, on the coastline closest to the shipwreck. And in 2006, the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores will reopen with a QAR display - a large tank with a model of the site as it is today.

Streaming Internet educational programs in the past few years have allowed schoolchildren to learn about the wreck online. The kids can ask questions to laboratory staff and divers working at the site. A new outreach program called Dive Down is being finalized for this fall, in which recreational divers can enroll in a two-day program and then make a controlled dive to the QAR site.