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Homepage Archives Open in new window Index (10/2007) Headlines (06/2007) Headlines (01/2008)   Vol. 41 October 2007 
Treasure In The Headlines
As seen in the October 2007 edition of W&ET Magazine


One of the biggest Viking treasures ever found has been discovered on an English farm by a father-son team of treasure hunters, the British Museum announced recently.

The trove of coins and jewelry was buried more than 1,000 years ago - a collection of items from Ireland, France, Russia and Scandinavia that testified to the raiders' international reach.

"It's a fascinating find, it's the largest find of its type of over 150 years," said Gareth Williams, an expert at the British Museum who examined the items. He said it was the largest such find in British history since the 1840 discovery of the Cuerdale Hoard - a mass of 8,500 silver coins, chains, and amulets.

David Whelan, 60, and his 35-year-old son Andrew were trawling through a farmer's field near Harrogate, in northern England, when their metal detector squealed. The pair began digging, finding a silver bowl more than a foot beneath the soil. Under British law, such finds must be reported to authorities.

The pair turned the bowl over to archaeological experts, who discovered it was packed with coins and jewelry. The bowl, a 9th century gilt silver container probably seized by Vikings from a monastery, had been used as an improved treasure chest before being buried.

"We thought it was marvelous," David Whelan to The Associated Press. "But we didn't know for nearly a month what was in it." In all, more than 600 coins and dozens of other objects, including a gold arm band, silver ingots and fragments of silver were found in and around the container.

Some of the coins mixed Christian and pagan imagery, shedding light on the beliefs of newly Christianized Vikings, said Gareth Williams, a curator of early medieval coins at the British Museum.

The booty was likely accumulated through a combination of commerce and warfare, Williams said. Its quantity indicated that at least some of it was taken by force, perhaps in raids of northern Europe or Scandinavia, he added.

The items were manufactured as far afield as Afghanistan, Russia and Scandinavia.

The Vikings raids were chronicled as early as the eighth century by Christian monks on the coasts of northern Europe. The raids spread throughout Europe, from modern day Spain to Turkey.

In some places, the raids grew into full-fledged invasions, and Viking kingdoms were established in Britain, Ireland, and Normandy, France, among other places.

The British Museum said the loot was hidden sometime after the fall of the Viking Kingdom of Northumbria in 927. Vikings often buried their wealth in times of trouble.

The museum said it hoped to buy at least some of the hoard from the Whelan family once its value was determined.

Whelan, for his part, said he and his son enjoyed their walks through the countryside and would keep hunting together on the weekends.

"If we hadn't found it we would've still been going," he said. "We just keep going, we enjoy it."

From The Associated Press, submitted by Cheryl Fealy, David M. Wolan, Leonard Katanich, and Jeff Hauenstein.


Hammered silver masks, rare Incan counting devices and a clay vessel more than 3,000 years old, intricately carved with a feline deity.

They were among stolen artifacts worth millions of dollars that U.S. officials returned to Peru's government recently. The more than 400 pieces represent Peru's largest recovery from the United States since the two nations signed a 1997 accord to combat theft of pre-Columbian objects from the South American country.

The recovery began after an informant tipped off Broward County officials in 2005 about the collection of 412 metalwork, textile and pottery artifacts.

Professor Carol Damian of the Florida International University School of Art History recalled arriving at a U.S. Customs office to identify the pieces. The first item that gave her pause was a royal cape covered in inch-long fire-red, yellow, sea blue and green macaw and parrot feathers.

"I said 'call the consul,'" Damian said. "We opened up box after box. It was like Christmas."

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and other investigators arrested 66-year-old Ugo Bagnato of Italy, who brought the artifacts into the United States in 2004 using fake documents.

Bagnato pleaded guilty to sale and receipt of stolen goods and served 17 months in federal prison. He is in federal custody in Louisiana, awaiting deportation.

Among other items recovered in the investigation were gold jewelry, burial shrouds and a clay vessel in the shape of an old woman in a kerchief, crafted more than 1,300 years ago.

From the Tampa Tribune, submitted by Kenneth W. Reckart, Seffner, FL.


Archaeologists diving into a lake in the crater of a snowcapped volcano found wooden scepters in the shape of lightning bolts that match the description by Spanish priests and conquerors writing 500 years ago about offerings to the Aztec rain god.

The lightning bolts, along with cones of copal incense and obsidian knives, were found during scuba-diving expeditions in one of the twin lakes of the extinct Nevado de Toluca volcano, at more than 13,800 feet above sea level.

Scientists must still conduct tests to determine the age of the findings, but the writings after the Spanish conquest in 1521 have led them to believe the offerings were left in the frigid lake west of Mexico City more than 500 years ago.

Lightning bolt scepters "were used by Aztec priests when they were doing rites associated with the god Tlaloc," said Johan Reinhard, an anthropologist and explorer-in-residence for National Geographic Society who took part in more dives recently at the Lake of the Moon. "We think it is pretty clear that the Aztecs considered this one of the more important places of Tlaloc."

The research, which also involves the volcano's Lake of the Sun, is being led by Mexico's National Institute of Anthropology and History. Stanislaw Iwaniszewski, an archaeology professor at the institute, said Aztec iconography often associates Tlaloc with lightning bolts.

"They were left in the lake to bring rainstorm," Iwaniszewski said. Copal incense was burned to form "clouds," and sharp spines from the maguey cactus, which does not grow at that altitude, indicated worshippers brought them there to draw blood from themselves as part of the sacrifice.

Luis Alberto Martos, the institute's director of archaeological studies, said other artifacts found in the clear 32-degree waters of the lake indicate the ritual may have started about 100 B.C. - long before the Aztecs settled in the area in 1325.

From The Charlotte Observer, submitted by David M. Wolan, Charlotte, NC.


After spending more than two decades combing the ocean floor off Cape Cod, examining the wreck of the pirate ship Whydah, underwater explorer Barry Clifford couldn't shake the feeling that he had missed a spot.

About two years ago, relying on a hunch and a map of the seabed drawn in 1982 by John F. Kennedy Jr. and other divers looking for the wreck, Clifford returned to the spot where his dive team had first discovered artifacts from the Whydah in 1984. Although he didn't exactly strike gold - not yet, at least - he did find about 30 cannons buried 10 feet beneath the ocean floor. In recent days, three of the newly discovered cannons were hauled out of the ocean, spurring excitement that a long-hidden portion of the ship's treasure might be revealed.

Clifford believes the weaponry could be covering artifacts, including a trove of silver and gold coins, the ship's navigational equipment, and the personal belongings of the roughly 140 pirates who were on board when the Whydah capsized and sank during a northeaster just off Marconi Beach in Wellfleet on April 26, 1717.

"This area was eliminated by archaeologists as an area that had been completely excavated, and there was no reason to go back except for a hunch I had," Clifford, 63, said by telephone recently, just after two cannons were trucked to his Brewster laboratory. "For the last 25 years, we'd been looking all over the place for where the center of the ship would be, and it wound up being right where we started, except 10 feet deeper.

Clifford, a Cape Cod native, has had plenty to keep him busy in the years between his discovery of the wreck and his unearthing of the additional cannons. The Whydah, considered the world's only verified pirate shipwreck and lying in pieces in about 50 feet of water already has yielded 200,000 artifacts, including coins, jewelry, pistols, and swords. Also found were the fibula, silk stocking, and shoe of John King, who, at no more than 11 years old, was the youngest member of the ship's crew.

More than 200 artifacts from the Whydah are included in "Real Pirates," a traveling exhibit currently on display at the Cincinnati Museum Center. Other artifacts are stored at the Expedition Whydah Sea-Lab and Learning Center in Provincetown. The newly recovered cannons, found just 2,000 feet from the shore, range from 4 feet long and 500 pounds to 8 feet long and 1,500 pounds. They probably will join the traveling exhibit after being examined at the Brewster laboratory, Clifford said.

Kennedy, who Clifford said was the first person to dive in search of the Whydah, in November 1982, may have glimpsed some of the cannons that Clifford is now beginning to retrieve and examine. The map drawn by Kennedy and other divers, long disregarded by the wreck's explorers, show three cannons lying in a row on the ocean floor, probably before they were buried by shifting sand, Clifford said.

Still, the discovery of the cannons - all of which were taken from ships captured by the Whydah - surprised Cifford, who had already recovered most of the Whydah's 22 to 28 original cannons.

"We had no idea that there were 30 extra cannons on board this ship," Clifford said. "Every time we go down there, we find another tip of another iceberg."

Because the extra cannons were stored in the hold at the very bottom of the ship, they crashed through the decks when the Whydah capsized, presumably trapping much of the ship's contents - including loot stolen from at least 54 other ships - beneath them, said Ken Kinkor, the Whydah museum's historian.

Removal of the cannons could take years to complete. But even if the work reveals the bulk of the Whydah's stolen treasure, Kinkor says, the artifacts will be used for education, not profit.

"We don't sell treasure," Kinkor said. "Our goal is education through exhibits."

From the Boston Globe, submitted by Jim Meaney, West Roxbury, MA.


A mummy discovered in Egypt's Valley of Kings burial ground in 1903 but long regarded as an unimportant find has been identified as Queen Hatshepsut, Egypt's most powerful female pharaoh.

A tooth found in a relic box bearing Hatshepsut's insignia was only recently determined to be a tooth missing from the mummy and DNA tests confirmed the match. Recently, Egyptian antiquities chief Zahi Hawass unveiled the mummy, regarded as the most significant find since King Tutankhamen's tomb was uncovered in 1922.

Queen Hatshepsut ruled for 20 years in Egypt's "golden age" in the 15th Century B.C. She is said to have amassed enormous wealth, channeling it into building projects and launching far-flung military campaigns.

From The Chicago Tribune, submitted by Bob Bolek, Hometown, IL.


The Italian Culture Ministry and the J. Paul Getty Museum have reached an agreement for the return of 40 artifacts to Italy - including a prized statue of the goddess Aphrodite.

It was the latest victory in Italy's efforts to recover antiquities it says were looted from the country and sold to museums worldwide.

Italy and the Getty also agreed on widespread cultural cooperation, which will include loans of other treasures to the Los Angeles museum, the two sides said recently in a joint statement.

"Both parties declare themselves satisfied with the fact that, after long and complicated negotiations, an agreement has been reached and now they move ahead with a relationship of renewed cooperation," the satement said.

The Getty has denied knowingly buying illegally obtained objects.

Most of the artifacts will be returned within the next few months, according to a calendar drawn up by experts from both sides.

The agreement includes one of the most disputed works, a fifth-century B.C. statue of the goddess Aphrodite, which will remain on display at the Getty until 2010, the minstry said. Italian authorities believe the 7-foot statue, bought by the Getty for $18 million in 1988, was looted from an ancient Greek settlement in Sicily.

The Culture Ministry said it would release further details on the agreement at a news conference.

The ministry had threatened to suspend all collaboration with the Getty if a deal was not reached by the end of July. Despite the agreement, the fate of some treasures was left hanging.

The two sides agreed to postpone further discussion of at least one key piece that had held up negotiations for months: the "Statue of a Victorious Athlete," a Greek bronze believed to date from around 300 B.C. The museum believes the bronze was found in international waters in 1964 off Italy's eastern coast and that Rome has no claim on it. The Italians say the statue was pulled up by fishermen off the east-coast town of Fano and that even if the find occurred in international waters, the statue was still brought into the country and then exported illegally.

Italian authorities have launched a worldwide campaign to recover looted treaures and had been at odds with the Getty over dozens of antiquities they say were illegally dug up and smuggled out of the country despite laws making all antiquities found in Italy state property.

Authorities have signed separate deals with New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art and Boston's Museum of Fine Arts for the return of a total of 34 artifacts - including Hellenistic silverware, Etruscan vases and Roman statues - in exchange for loans of other treasures.

Italy has also placed former Getty curator Marion True and art dealer Robert Hecht on trial in Rome, charging them with knowingly receiving dozens of archaeological treasures that had been stolen from private collections or dug up illicitly.

The two Americans deny wrongdoing. It was not immediately clear if the political agreement would affect the trial.

From The Associated Press, submitted by many readers.

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