It’s International Talk Like a Pirate Day!

  Tuesday, September 19, 2023
  Community, Faculty Focus

By Marisol Villarreal

RIO GRANDE VALLEY, TEXAS – SEPT. 19, 2023 – Amidst tales of pirates, can archaeological records confirm their existence?

Dr. Russell K. Skowronek, a history and anthropology professor at The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, co-edited his third pirate book titled “Dead Man’s Chest: Exploring the Archaeology of Piracy,” which digs into the history and culture of pirates through archaeology.

After two decades of rigorous research, Skowronek and fellow archaeologists are edging closer to uncovering the truth about these enigmatic figures.

“By visiting different places like the Virgin Islands and even doing underwater excavation, we’ve discovered new ideas of their deviant behavior and terrorism, if you will,” said Skowronek.

His book reevaluates piracy through an archaeological lens, challenging readers to rethink their perceptions of this romanticized historical activity.

“When you look at documents that were before the American Civil War, pirates were not treated nicely, they were extremely bad people,” said Skowronek, “Lots of people died at the hands of pirates.”

According to Skowronek, during the golden age of piracy (1690-1720), pirates are documented to have taken up to 3,000 ships in the Atlantic and Indian oceans. However, it’s likely that more vessels were lost than officially reported.

“After all, the best pirates never get caught,” said Skowronek.

During that time, it is estimated that 400 pirates were hanged for their acts of piracy.

“We also know that between 1990 and 2020, exactly 300 years later, there are 6,000 attacks recorded by pirates in the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific oceans near the horn of Africa, Somalia, and also between Somatra and Malaysia,” said Skowronek.

He also brought this dynamic history into the classroom during the spring of 2023 to interested students.


Skowronek taught “Shipwrecks, Pirates and the Sea” on both the Edinburg and Brownsville campuses at UTRGV.

“The class looked at the position and place of the sea in a larger and economic history of the world,” said Skowronek, “And since most of the United States’ common goods come from the sea, it’s good to know the history of why protecting our oceans is important.”

Skowronek noted the class’s popularity among students, with a notable increase in enrollment from those aspiring to pursue military or navy careers, as well as majors in political science and criminal justice. Additionally, it has attracted those that are simply curious about maritime history.

As anticipation builds for the next offering of the class in spring 2025, those eager to delve further into the world of maritime history can also obtain a copy of Skowronek’s book.

“Upon all of this research, I learned very quickly that it is extremely difficult to know if pirates did in fact exist, because dead men tell no tales, but within the world and its’ archaeological history, we know that pirates existed and are still out there today in the modern world,” said Skowronek.

Dead Man's Chest: Exploring the Archaeology of Piracy is available online for purchase through the University Press of Florida.


The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) was created by the Texas Legislature in 2013 as the first major public university of the 21st century in Texas. This transformative initiative provided the opportunity to expand educational opportunities in the Rio Grande Valley, including a new School of Medicine, and made it possible for residents of the region to benefit from the Permanent University Fund – a public endowment contributing support to the University of Texas System and other institutions.

UTRGV has campuses and off-campus research and teaching sites throughout the Rio Grande Valley including in Boca Chica Beach, Brownsville (formerly The University of Texas at Brownsville campus), Edinburg (formerly The University of Texas-Pan American campus), Harlingen, McAllen, Port Isabel, Rio Grande City, and South Padre Island. UTRGV, a comprehensive academic institution, enrolled its first class in the fall of 2015, and the School of Medicine welcomed its first class in the summer of 2016.