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Here’s an exclusive new photo of Ian McShane as the fearsome Blackbeard in “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides,” the fourth voyage of the Disney mega-franchise that stars Johnny Depp as the swashbuckler Jack Sparrow. The movie and its tale of the elusive Fountain of Youth and carnivorous mermaids hits theaters May 20, so it seemed a bit spooky — or suspect — that there’s all of this scuttlebutt going around the Internet right now about the real Blackbeard’s sword being recovered off the coast of Beaufort, N.C. Was this just Disney trying to gin up some headlines or an archeological moment of mad timing?

I contacted the team who has been studying the infamous English pirate’s sunken flagship, the Queen Anne’s Revenge, and they say that the recently secured artifact could be a weapon that old Edward Teach gripped in his hand, but it just as well might have belonged to any of more than 150 pirates who were on board when the vessel ran aground, according to David Moore, curator of the North Carolina Maritime Museum and a researcher who dedicated much of his career to studying Blackbeard and his ships.

The 350-ton ship has been on the floor of the Beaufort Inlet for more than 300 years but was not located until 1996 and its discovery has stirred imaginations around the world — and plenty of rumors, too. When word of the recent sword recovery pinged around the globe, the tales grew taller with every forwarded e-mail. When one of Moore’s peers heard the breathless reports, he called to inquire about how they were able to make such a confirmation: “Did it have his initials and the last four digits of his social security number on the hilt?”

Still, there’s a chance the sword did belong to Blackbeard and history has a pirate’s flair for timing. Consider, for example, that the Queen Anne’s Revenge was hidden in murky coastal waters until Nov. 21, 1996 — and the next day, as reports of the find circulated, just happened to be the anniversary of Blackbeard’s death in 1718.

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