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Last modified: Thursday, January 28, 2010

Captain Kidd's pirate cannon from the Caribbean comes to Indiana University

Partnership with The Children's Museum of Indianapolis makes above-water viewing at IU's Underwater Science Conservation Lab the first possible in 310 years

Editors: For b-roll film, contact Dave Rust at For a Spanish version of this release, visit

Jan. 28, 2010

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- The first pirate's cannon recovered in the Caribbean is resting in a Hoosier underwater science lab at Indiana University Bloomington under the watchful eye of archaeologist Charles Beeker and other researchers and students. The Children's Museum of Indianapolis, the world's largest children's museum, announces its partnership with IU to provide funding for the transport of the 17th century relic.

cannon photo

Photo by Aaron Bernstein

Captain Kidd's Great Gun rests in water in the Underwater Science Conservation Lab in the School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation.

Print-Quality Photo

Beeker, director of the Office of Underwater Science in IU Bloomington's School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation, has been authorized by Dominican Republic authorities to bring the cannon to his lab for five years of study and conservation.

"This is a great opportunity for Indiana University faculty and students to obtain hands-on experience during the conservation of this unique artifact that has created such international interest," said Beeker, who traveled to the Dominican Republic recently to oversee the shipping.

Jeffrey H. Patchen, president and CEO of The Children's Museum of Indianapolis, said museum and Indiana University have similar interests in bringing fascinating discoveries to the public.

cannon photo

Photo by Aaron Bernstein

Cannon detail

Print-Quality Photo

"We were pleased to provide financial support for this one-of-a-kind artifact that will showcase the importance of scientific research and conservation," Patchen said. "We're eager to explore opportunities to work with IU in the near future."

The cannon is one of 26 found stacked in 10 feet of clear Caribbean waters just 70 feet off of Catalina Island in the Dominican Republic. Beeker and his research collaborators say all signs point to this surprising find being the Cara Merchant, the ship Captain William Kidd commandeered and then abandoned in 1699 as he raced to New York in an ill-fated attempt to clear his name of piracy charges.

Getting the cannon to Bloomington was no small feat. The 1,500 pound cannon, which was being stored in the Dominican Republic in a water bath, had to be boxed and kept wet to protect it from further deterioration, and then shipped by air cargo to Miami. From there it was express trucked to IU, where Dean Robert Goodman, School of HPER, arranged for a crew to help Beeker safely move the cannon into the Underwater Science Conservation Lab.

Capt. Kidd Cannon

The cannon is removed from its water bath so it can be boxed and shipped to Indiana University.

"It is not every day we receive such a significant historic shipment as one of the Great Guns of Captain Kidd, but when working with Beeker, his cross-campus colleagues and our newest partner, The Children's Museum, you are prepared for the unusual," Goodman said.

Beeker, who has been conducting research in the Dominican Republic for nearly 20 years, was asked to examine the shipwreck in 2007 while on another research mission involving the search for Christopher Columbus' lost ships. Beeker and IU archaeologist Geoffrey Conrad have been exploring the era when the New and Old Worlds first met, focusing on the area of La Isabela Bay, the site of the first permanent Spanish settlement established by Columbus in 1494.

Capt. Kidd Cannon

The cannon begins its journey to Indiana.

Beeker and his colleagues lifted one cannon from the shipwreck site last summer and in the process discovered wood from a ship's frame beneath the sand upon which the cannons rested. To learn more about the discoveries, visit

Recently, Beeker and his team confirmed rare rabbet seams in the teak wood hull of the ship, matching the 1701 testimony of Captain Kidd during his trial that was given just days prior to his being hanged.

"This type of 17th century ship construction is unique to West India, and no European ships are built in this manner, which proves this is Captain Kidd's shipwreck, the Cara Merchant," Beeker said.

The Cara Merchant is just one of three pirate ships discovered in the Americas. During the cannon's five-year stay in Indiana, it will undergo extensive research:

  • Claudia Johnson, IU Geological Sciences, will conduct initial investigations of the coral encrusted on the cannon so scientists can better understand the dynamics of the 1699 Cara Merchant wrecking process, and subsequent coral recruitments, emphasizing IU's designation of the site as a "Living Museum in the Sea." It is believed that the ship, once abandoned by Kidd, was looted and then set adrift and ablaze down the Rio Dulce.
  • The cannon was encrusted with corals when it arrived at the lab. Now that they have been removed, Beeker will look for diagnostic markings, determine caliper and fully document the cannon in an effort to provide clues to its origin.
  • His underwater science lab will conduct the electrolytic conservation treatment to remove salts from the years of emersion in the ocean. This involves running low-voltage currents of electricity through the cannon to slowly remove destructive chlorides bonded with the wrought iron used for its construction.
  • IU will construct a mold of the cannon and make museum-quality, exact reproductions which will be sent back to the Dominican Republic for development of a land-based exhibit on shore by the shipwreck.

The U.S. Agency for International Development awarded IU $200,000 to turn the Captain Kidd shipwreck site and three other underwater preserves in the Dominican Republic into no-take, no-anchor "Living Museums in the Sea," where cultural discoveries will protect precious corals and other threatened biology in the surrounding reef systems under the supervision and support of the Dominican Republic's Oficina Nacional de Patrimonio Cultural Subacuatico (ONPCS).

The Captain Kidd underwater site opened to the public last summer, marking the 310th anniversary of the ship's loss. It is the hope that the cannon will be displayed at The Children's Museum in the near future.

For more information, contact Tracy James or Chad Mertz

About The Children's Museum. The Children's Museum of Indianapolis is a nonprofit institution committed to creating extraordinary family learning experiences that have the power to transform the lives of children and families. The 472,900 square-foot facility houses 11 major galleries. Visitors can explore the physical and natural sciences, history, world cultures, the arts, see how dinosaurs lived 65 million years ago in Dinosphere: Now You're in Their World®, experience Dale Chihuly's Fireworks of Glass and examine children's impact in shaping history in The Power of Children: Making a Difference. The Children's Museum, situated on 19 acres of land in Indianapolis, presents hundreds of programs and activities each year. For more information about The Children's Museum, visit

About the School of HPER. Indiana University's School of Health, Physical Education, and Recreation (HPER) encompasses a broad spectrum of academic interests and professional fields. HPER offers nearly 50 undergraduate and advanced degree programs through our departments of Applied Health Science, Kinesiology, and Recreation, Park, and Tourism Studies. To further its health and wellness initiative, Campus Recreational Sports provides sport and fitness services for the IU community and the public. More information can be found at