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Homepage Archives Open in new window Index (10/2004) Headlines (09/2004) Headlines (11/2004)   Vol. 38 October 2004 
Treasure In The Headlines
As seen in the October 2004 edition of W&ET Magazine


There was no stash of gold bullion, precious jewelry or stacks of currency, U.S. or Confederate.

While Geraldo Rivera might have been let down, local restaurateur Brett McKee and architect Dan Sweeney think their recent discovery of a massive, walk-in safe in a 19th century downtown Charleston building is pretty cool.

The vault, which likely dates to 1871, contains only some rusted-out typewriters, outdated office equipment, a stack of window blinds and an old washtub.

"We didn't find Al Capone back there," McKee says.

McKee and Sweeny are renovating the former BJ's Broad Street Café at Broad St., and the demolition work is well under way. A few days ago, workers ripped down a wall that had blocked off about 200 square feet in the rear of the building. They uncovered a massive metal door with a combination lock and were able to pull it open.

Sweeney had been told that this area originally contained a cistern, with thick brick walls to hold rainwater, and he also heard that a vault might have been build inside it.

"But we didn't know we were going to find a door in such good shape, with the frame and the hardware," Sweeney says. "It's beautiful... We will use it for another showpiece door within the restaurant or might mount it to a wall."

The vault contained a heavy metal door built by Herring & Co., and two wrought iron gates that sealed off interior portions.

Beyond the second iron gate is a large metal safe, which still had drawers labeled "collateral" and another label reading, "South Carolina Loan and Trust Co." The safe's label reads, "Herring Farrel & Sherman (and underneath) Makers, N.Y."

A lawyer originally built 17 Broad St. around 1850, and the S.C. Loan and Trust Co. renovated the building for its use about 20 years later. The bank remained at the address through the 1920s. Later occupants included an office equipment dealer, a barbershop, the U.S. Maritime Service, Simons and Lapham architects and several attorneys until the 1960s, when BJ's opened up.

While the cistern likely was not used by the late 19th century, Sweeney says efforts to seal off the space from the rain weren't successful: The safe and its contents are rather rusted.

McKee bought the building for $1 million and expects to spend about that amount to convert it into The Oak Steakhouse, which is expected to open this fall.

McKee says he is pleased with the find and eager to use the space as part of a new kitchen and to reuse parts of the vault and safe as decorations.

But part of him does wish that there was a bit more inside than rusty typewriters and other rubbish.

"I was hoping someone would fund this darn thing."

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


A Dallas archaeologist has discovered the tomb of a powerful queen who ruled an ancient Maya city 13 centuries ago.

David Lee, a graduate student at Southern Methodist University, unearthed the royal tomb in mid-February in northwestern Guatemala. It is the most dramatic finding yet at the site of El Peru, or Waka, as it was known in ancient times.

Guatemalan archaeologist Hector Escobedo, who codirects the excavations there, formally unveiled the discovery yesterday in Flores, Guatemala, at a meeting with government officials and other representatives.

The royal skeleton, minus the skull and femur bones, lay on a stone platform, surrounded by two dozen ceramic pots and thousands of artifacts made of jade, shell, pearls and obsidian. The find is one of only a handful of queens' tombs known from the ancient Maya, said David Freidel of SMU, the dig's other leader.

Archaeologists discovered the tomb beneath an ancient palace, on the edge of one of Waka's main plazas. When digging a trench, Lee broke through the roof of the chamber to reveal the queen's resting place below.

"It's a pretty amazing thing," he said as he excavated the tomb late last month.

Several signs point to the woman's status as a queen, Freidel said.

For one, she had an elaborately carved jade ornament, called "huunal" or "oneness" jewel, that may have been worn on a royal headdress. She also had a war helmet made of jade plaques, and fragments of stingray spines near her pelvis, an allusion to the Maya practice of bloodletting, which was considered a sign of royal stature.

To garner such tributes in death, the woman must have been as powerful as a king, Freidel said.

Decades or centuries after her death, she retained her mystique. Someone, or a group of people, reentered her tomb and reverentially disturbed it. They may have removed her skull and femur bones at that time, perhaps even smashing them on the plaza outside in a ritualized ceremony, Freidel said.

No one bothered her from that point until this February, when Lee, a former private investigator from Toronto, stumbled onto her chamber.

The excavation's leaders immediately called the Guatemalan authorities, who dispatched a military guard to protect the dig. For two weeks, four archaeologists worked long hours to remove the queen's bones and as many of her belongings as possible.

"It was incredible, like nothing you'd ever imagine," graduate student Mary Jane Acuna said of the experience.

Skeletal studies suggest that the queen would have been between 30 and 45 years old when she died. Her bones had been laid out on a platform of some impermanent material, perhaps wood, atop the slightly smaller, rectangular stone platform, Lee said. Over time, the topmost platform disintegrated, dropping her foot bones to the chamber's floor.

From The Providence Journal, submitted by Bill Ladd, W. Warwick, R.I. DIGS SHED NEW LIGHT ON MAYA CULTURE

For archaeologists the digging this season has been especially good at remote Maya ruins in the jungles of Guatemala.

Beneath a royal palace in the ancient city of Waka, they made a rare discovery: the tomb of a Maya queen who reigned more than 1,200 years ago. The royal skeleton rested on a stone platform, surrounded by fineries of wealth and power like pearls, obsidian, crown jewels of carved jade and the remains of what appeared to be the queen's war helmet.

At the eight-century city of Cancuen, archaeologists uncovered a stone panel decorated with beautiful images and inscriptions carved in high relief. Experts described the panel, portraying ceremonies at the royal ball court, as a masterpiece of Maya art.

In the ruins of another ancient city, archaeologists found new evidence showing that the Maya civilization began reaching levels of grandeur and cultural complexity hundreds of years earlier than had been thought. Before 150 B.C., the city of Cival had many attributes of the later classic period: kings, elaborate iconography, writing and imposing ceremonial architecture.

The new discoveries, scholars say, promise to deliver new insights into the last glory years of the classic Maya period, which ended around 900 A.D., and should push back its beginnings well before the usual date of 250 A.D. The last centuries of the pre-classic period can no longer be characterized as almost entirely a culture of simple farming villages.

One of the most resplendent pre-Columbian civilizations, the Maya flourished through much of Central America, with cities of towering pyramids and broad plazas centered mostly in Guatemala and southern Mexico. Nearly all of them lay in jungle-covered ruin by the time the Spanish arrived in the early 16th century.

Guatemalan officials announced last week the findings at Waka and Cival by excavation teams from Southern Methodist University and Vanderbilt University, respectively. Another Vanderbilt group reported the new research at Cancuen last month.

Digging at the royal ball court, archaeologists discovered an altar stone depicting the great eight-century king, Taj Chan Ahk, engaged in a ceremonial game with visiting rulers. The royal ball games and monuments that portray them were really photo opportunities celebrating the creation of alliances between the lord of Cancuen and vassal kings and nobles," said Arthur Demarest of Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee.

From The New York Times, submitted by Ron Paul Smith, Honolulu, HI.


Washington, Fees to hold mining claims on public land will jump 25 percent in September 2004 under a new schedule announced this week by the Bureau of Land Management.

The changes will propel the annual cost of a mining claim from $100 to $125. A one-time location fee on each claim will cost $30 instead of $25.

Federal law requires the fees to be increased every five years to correspond with inflation. But the last time they were increased was in August 1993, explaining the sizable jump, said Roger Haskins, a BLM senior specialist in mining legal affairs.

"This is a statutory exercise; it's not something the BLM is doing because we want to be nasty," Haskins said.

Mining groups are offering little protest, knowing the increase is fixed by law, said Carol Raulston, spokeswoman for the National Mining Association.

But the industry believes it should be getting more for its money, Raulston said.

Mining companies have been lobbying Congress to speed up a process that has taken some applicants up to 10 years to secure a permit to explore for minerals on government land.

"If we're going to pay more for fees, they should be trying to have greater efficiencies in the process," Raulston said.

Last year, the BLM collected $28 million in mining claim fees. Haskins was unsure whether the fee increase will bring in much more revenue because some companies might choose to give up unprofitable claims.

Newmont Mining Corp., which has four operations in Nevada, expects the increase will cost an additional $450,000 next year.

"It's the law," company spokesman Doug Hock said. "I think it was something we were aware of and anticipated."

Haskins predicted larger companies will absorb the extra fee but smaller ones that don't qualify for waivers will become angry.

"They'll come unglued," he said. "They'll rant, rave, holler and what have you. It's going to be a mixed bag."

Those who have already paid next year's fees must submit the difference by Sept. 1 or they will be billed, Haskins said.

From the Stephens Washington Bureau, submitted by Larry Armstrong, So. Hutchinson, KS.


Texas A&M University researchers have found the wreckage of a fleet of Japanese submarines that terrorized U.S. ships throughout World War II.

The Navy used explosives to sink the 24 subs in 1946 to prevent the Soviet Union from taking advantage of their technology. The location of the wreckage was classified for nearly six decades.

Using now-declassified Navy documents and underwater technology, Texas A&M oceanography professor William Bryant and graduate student Brett Phaneuf found the subs 60 miles off the coast of Nagasaki.

About three weeks ago they used a robotic vehicle to take pictures of the wreckage, 675 feet underwater. It is among the largest collection of sunken subs in the world, Bryant said.

The pair's efforts have been funded by the Discovery Channel, which plans to air a special on the project in the fall.

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

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