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Homepage Archives Open in new window Index (09/2004) Headlines (08/2004) Headlines (10/2004)   Vol. 38 September 2004 
Treasure In The Headlines
As seen in the September 2004 edition of W&ET Magazine


More than 2,000 years ago, while Rome was laying waste to Carthage and the Hopewell people were building mounds in Ohio, a grand civilization flourished at a now little-known site in Guatemala called Cival.

"It's very interesting when we reverse some existing ideas. We thought the preclassic Maya were a relatively simple society... and they were not," Francisco Estrada-Belli, who led the excavation work at the site, said recently. "There was a whole civilization during the preclassic time we are just beginning to recover."

Cival was one of the largest cities of the Preclassic Maya, perhaps housing as many as 10,000 people at its peak, said Estrada-Belli.

Two monumental carved masks and elaborate jade ritual objects have been found in recent excavations of the city's central plaza, according to the Vanderbilt University archaeologist.

Estrada-Belli reported his finds in a news conference arranged by the National Geographic Society, which supported his work and plans to feature the finds in a television broadcast.

He believes Cival could have surpassed nearby Holmul, which rose to prominence nearly a thousand years later in the Classic Maya period.

Classic Maya civilization stems from around A.D. 300, while Cival flourished from about 500 B.C. to A.D. 100, he said. It was then "abandoned under mysterious circumstances, never to be occupied again."

According to Estrada-Belli, the central axis of the main buildings and plaza at Cival is oriented to sunrise at the equinox.

He said the most important find so far turned up in a dank tunnel dug by looters some time in the past.

While he was inspecting the tunnel he reached into a crack in the wall and felt a curved piece of stucco. Digging to it from the other side, he found a well-preserved, giant face of a Maya deity.

The 15- by 9-foot stucco mask had one eye visible and the mouth squared, with snake's fangs in its center.

"The mask's preservation is astounding," Estrada-Belli said. "It's almost as if someone made this yesterday."

Further diggings last month disclosed a second, apparently identical, mask on the other side of a set of stairs. Its eyes appear to be adorned with corn husks, suggesting the Maya maize deity. Ceramics associated with the mask date it to about 150 B.C.

After several seasons of digging, the researchers believe Cival was one of the largest Maya cities of the time.

It has pyramids and a large complex surrounding a central plaza. In front of a long building on the complex's eastern edge, the archaeologists discovered a stela, or inscribed stone slab, dating to 300 B.C., perhaps the earliest such carving ever found in the Maya lowlands.

In a recess in the plaza the team found a red bowl, shells, a jade tube and a hematite fragment. Behind the recess was a cross-shaped depression containing five smashed jars, one on each arm of the cross and one in the center. Under the center jar were 120 pieces of jade, most of them round, polished green and blue jade pebbles. Five jade axes, placed with their blades pointing upward, lay nearby.

Looters had missed the artifacts by inches, he said.

According to Estrada-Belli, this type of offering was part of the ritual when a new king took power.

He said there were remains of a hastily built defensive wall around the city.

"Cival probably was abandoned after a violent attack, probably by a larger power such as Tikal," he said.

From the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, submitted by Ron Paul Smith, Honolulu, HI.


nusual restoration technique- baking- may be the answer to the expensive and time-consuming process of cleaning chunks of oxidized corrosion from artifacts hauled from the ocean.

This week, corrosion was chipped off a cannon that had cooked for two weeks in a 1,400-degree kiln at Dan Finch's pottery shop in Bailey, North Carolina.

Finch, who has a background in metallurgy, said when the iron is heated to a high temperature and turns cherry-red, the chlorides that corroded the cannon are driven out of the metal through a process called sublimation.

"Ohhhh yeah, that looks good," said Nathan Henry, conservator for the Office of State Archaeology's underwater division, as the carbon-encrusted cannon was revealed to him for the first time since it went into Finch's custom-made kiln.

Henry said Finch and the spectators may not think the cannon looked good, but he told them they didn't see it when it was first hauled out of the sea.

"Underneath is a conserved cannon and that's what we want," Henry said.

Before loading the cannon onto a flatbed and taking it to a conservation lab at the coast, Henry tapped on the cannon with a claw hammer, brushed off the crust and revealed the shiny metal surface underneath.

"That's like new metal underneath," Finch said as he stroked the cannon.

The cannon had been lying on the bottom of Beaufort Inlet for centuries before it was brought to the surface in June 2002, along with six other cannons, by Intersal Inc., a private salvage company.

The company was searching for the 1750 wreck of El Salvador, a treasure-laden Spanish merchant ship.

In an agreement with the state, Intersal recovered the cluster of cannons and turned them over to the Office of State Archaeology in hope that the ship's identity might be known.

Henry said the restoration method of baking impurities out of metal could revolutionize preservation techniques. Baking is much faster than the traditional electrolysis technique and is less expensive and more effective.

After years of electrolysis, it is difficult to know when the artifact is ready, he said, plus five years of electrolysis would cost nearly $10,000. The baking method cost about $1,500 and took two weeks.

The cannon that Finch baked was chosen because it came from an unknown wreck and was in the worst condition of the other six cannons in the group.

From The Post and Courier, submitted by Stephen A. Buckler, Walterboro, SC.


The surprise lay tucked behind a large ceramic sink in the attic.

Behind a wooden stand near the floor was $20,000 in six bundles, mostly in 20s and 50s.

Notes attached to the bundles said "H.W. Wilson," and listed the year each had been stashed away, most from the 1980s.

Caress Penelton bought the Victorian Village house only two weeks ago and was amazingly calm when she found the money in her new home.

She said she simply put the cash aside and continued her rehab work.

"I had lots to do," she said.

The next day, she returned all of the money to the previous owner of the house, Brenda W. Marshall, whose father, Huriam Wilson, apparently had hidden it when he lived there.

He didn't trust banks, Penelton, 39, said she had heard.

She said she didn't get a reward for turning over the money and never thought twice about returning it.

"As luck would have it, they sold the house to a Christian. The reward is returning the money," she said.

In fact, she found the money while taking a break between two church services one recent Sunday.

Brenda Marshall, of the northeast Side, couldn't be reached last night, but her son Keith said that finding the huge sum of money came as no surprise.

"It wasn't the first time," said Keith, 22. "When I was really young, we found lots in the floor boards."

Keith Marshall said his grandfather died eight years ago and his mother moved into the house. At that time, the family found money squirreled away in shoeboxes all over. He's not sure how much it was but remembers the family saying it was a lot.

Still, the Marshall family was surprised that the recent find was returned.

"I guess we were shocked that someone could be so honest," Keith Marshall said.

Huriam Wilson had lived in the house for decades with his wife, Elizabeth, and their children.

Wilson died in 1996 at the age of 80. His obituary says he served in the Army during World War II and was an employee of Columbus Public Schools and Children's Hospital.

The money that was found this week has been divided among Wilson's five children- Brenda Marshall, a sister and three brothers.

Brandon Johnson was working yesterday at Penelton's house, creating a bedroom out of the attic space.

During 12 years of rehabbing homes, Johnson, 30, said he's never encountered hidden cash- old newspaper, maybe.

As for whether there is any more cash kept in the innards of the house, Penelton said she doesn't think so.

But if there is, she knows what she'll do.

"I told them I'd call them... It's not my money."

From the Columbus Dispatch, submitted by Mario Scaramellino, Hilliard, OH, and Daryl Salek, Muscatine, IA.


The burial of the H.L. Hunley crew isn't the only Civil War news in South Carolina this week. Archaeologists are drooling over the discovery of what may be the single largest collection of Confederate cannon found since the war ended.

The Long Bay Salvage Co. of Murrells Inlet has been granted ownership of a shipwreck containing at least 24 large-bore cannons, recording their find in waters off Cape Romain.

At least four of the heavy guns have been recovered and cleaned. Officials say they likely played a role in the defense of Charleston.

In June 2001, searchers located a sunken barge containing railroad rails, railcar wheels, a locomotive cow-catcher, and at least 24 guns. The barge is believed to have been lost at sea in the 1890s, and was moving outbound from Charleston carrying materials, which at the time was considered post-war scrap, said Marc Marling, an attorney for the company.

Long Bay Salvage filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Georgia to gain ownership of the barge and its contents. It was granted ownership in September 2003. So far the company has recovered four cannons.

One of the guns is a 10-inch Columbiad cast in 1863 at the Belona Foundry, a small foundry outside Richmond, VA, with a serial number of 22.

An identical Columbiad cannon, serial number 20, is at Magnolia Cemetery in Charleston where the remains of the final eight Hunley crew were buried recently.

Until the discovery of the wreck, 18 10-inch Columbiads were known to exist.

According to historical records, there were possibly 70 10-inch Columbiads shipped directly from Richmond to Charleston where they were likely put to use keeping Union ships at bay.

"This is undoubtedly the largest single collection of Confederate cannon to be discovered since shortly after the Civil War, and its eventual disclosure will create great interest among Civil War historians and aficionados," said Wayne E. Stark, a Civil War artillery historian.

Long Bay Salvage is developing a plan to recover the remaining cannons, Marlins said.

From The Post and Courier, submitted by Stephen & Julie Buckler, Walterboro, SC.

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