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Homepage Archives Open in new window Index (02/2010) Headlines (12/2009) Headlines (04/2010)   Vol. 44 February 2010 
Treasure In The Headlines
As seen in the February 2010 edition of W&ET Magazine


Five days after he took delivery of a metal detector and seven steps into his first treasure hunt, a novice archaeologist has helped to rewrite Scottish history and may be a millionaire after he unearthed four 2,300-year-old torcs made of pure gold a few feet from his parked car.

David Booth, a game warden at Blair Drummond Safari Park, in Stirlingshire, bought his metal detector from a website that claimed "treasure need not be an idle dream". What then seemed an absurd sales puff has proved strangely prophetic. The hoard he discovered at the edge of a field was described as "prime Iron Age bling" by one leading archaeologist and is conservatively valued at 500,000 pounds, rising to 1.5 million pounds.

Mr. Booth, 35, said there was a "sense of disbelief" about his discovery. "I saw a glimpse of one of them, then uncovered the rest of the hoard. They were in a wee group. Half of me was saying, 'that does look important', but I was thinking I couldn't be that lucky on my first go.

"I took them home, gave them a wee clean up and went online. I looked at some torcs and kind of guessed this was iron age history."

He guessed correctly. Mr. Booth's find, made on September 29, is the most significant discovery of Iron Age metalwork in Scotland and is said to be of international significance.

The collection consists of two ribbon torcs- a local style of jewelry made from a twisted ribbon of gold- half an ornate torc of southern French origin, probably from the Toulouse area and the only one of its kind found in Britain, and finest of all, a unique braided gold wire torc, a remarkable hybrid of Mediterranean craftsmanship and more traditional Iron Age motifs. This might have been made by a craftsman for a local chieftain, according to Dr. Fraser Hunter, of the National Museum of Scotland. If so, it would suggest unexpectedly strong links between Scotland and Southern Europe, three centuries before the Roman invasion.

Dr. Hunter said that the torcs had originally been buried beneath a circular building, which may have had religious significance. Finds of this type are usually either votive offerings to the gods, or items that had been hidden in time of war.

After taking delivery of his detector, Mr. Booth practiced for an hour in the kitchen and garden at his home on the Blair Drummond estate. Then he identified a promising local field from his knowledge of history and sought the landowner's permission for a treasure hunt. The rest was a matter of driving up in his Ford Focus, on his day off, and testing his equipment before embarking on his first search.

His brand of metal detector, a basic model, is able to distinguish between iron, silver and gold, but a signal registering gold does not necessarily mean that its owner has struck it rich. More often than not, the find will be a spent shotgun cartridge.

"I parked up and got the metal detector out," he recalled. "There was an area of flat ground behind the car, and I thought, I'll just scan this first, before I head out into the field. Literally about seven steps behind where I had parked, I found them."

Mr. Booth dug down six inches and claimed his prize. His next move was to e-mail a picture of his find to the Treasure Trove Unit, at the National Museums of Scotland, an independent body that acts for the Queen and the Lord Treasurer's Remembrancer.

Within three hours of opening the e-mail, a team of archaeologists had arrived on site, and the field had been closed down to potential souvenir hunters. Even now, after a five-week sweep of the area, security-conscious staff at the museum refer only to a site "in Stirlingshire."

Dr. David Caldwell, of the Scottish Treasure Trove Unit, praised the "exemplary" actions of Mr. Booth following his discovery. "Invariably the reward would be equal to the market value and it goes to the finder," Dr. Caldwell said. "The landowner has no right at all, but in practice most metal detectorists make a deal with landowners before they start searching that they will go 50/50."

One million pounds would be lovely, Mr. Booth says, but he already feels "honored" to have made the discovery. He hopes to have paid off his Ford Focus by spring.

David Booth's find came five days after Terry Herbert had found 1,500 gold and silver pieces from the 7th century with his metal detector in a Staffordshire field.

Father and son metal detectorists David and Andrew Whelan unearthed a gold and silver Viking cup near Harrogate, Yorkshire, in 2007. The cup contained 617 silver coins and jewelry, valued at more than 1.2 million pounds.

From The Herald Scotland, submitted by Dan Knuth, Thiensville, WI, Barry Wainwright, Forked River, NJ, and many other readers.


An Illinois woman who set out on a treasure hunt for buried gold coins after finding a cryptic note in an antique rocking chair may have been the victim of a prolific prankster who died more than 30 years ago.

With help of a donated backhoe, Patty Henken recently tore up a vacant lot in Springfield, IL, where a typewritten note signed by "Chauncey Wolcott"- found in an old chair she bought at auction last November- suggested she would find a chest containing more than $250 in U.S. gold coins.

The dig turned up nothing but bricks and old bottles. Henken planned to return with the donated services of a man with ground-penetrating radar meant to detect any buried items, but the treasure note's promise may already be debunked.

An Iowa woman who read news accounts of the hunt said she knows Wolcott's true identity: John "Jay" Slaven, a notorious practical joker and coin collector who often used a typewriter in his pranks.

Slaven used the pen name "Chauncey Wolcott" and lived for decades at the location where the dig took place, until his 1976 death, according to Betty Atkinson Ryan of Mason City, Iowa. She emailed a columnist for the State Journal-Register of Springfield to set the record straight.

Atkinson Ryan told the newspaper that Slaven was her boss in the Journal-Register's classified advertising department decades ago. She said Slaven often used a typewriter to compose some of his jokes and signed them "Chauncey Wolcott." The newspaper said archived news articles described Slaven as an actor with a "booming voice" that he used in television appearances, about 50 radio shows and to narrate the annual Illinois State Fair film.

Ryan does not have a listed home phone number and could not be reached by The Associated Press for comment.

Henken's life got interesting in May when, while prying off the seat of a rickety rocking chair she bought at auction five months earlier, she discovered a small envelope with "Finders Keepers" typewritten on it. Inside, a key was taped to a typed note.

"The DEXTER key (number sign) 50644T will unlock a lead chest," the note began, before spelling out a location in Springfield, where a chest containing more than $250 in U.S. gold coins supposedly was buried 12 feet below ground.

The stash, the note claimed, included eight $20 gold pieces, six $10 gold pieces, five $5 gold pieces, three $2-1/2 dollar gold pieces and two $1 gold pieces.

The undated note, signed by a "Chauncey Wolcott," included a request to contact the Springfield newspaper if the chest was ever found.

It wasn't.

Henken, of Mount Sterling, IL, said that she was disappointed there's no closure but still was hopeful Slaven may have left something to unearth.

"My friends feel like I was cheated out of finalizing this," said the 48-year-old Henken, a window clerk at the post office in Mount Sterling. "There's something down there. He wouldn't play a practical joke without leaving me something."

That property's current owners gave Henken permission to tear up the site in search of the supposed booty if they got an equal share of any find. But they pulled the plug on any more digging now that Slaven may have pulled one over on everyone.

"It's done, other than me fixing up their (torn-up) yard," Henken said. "It's been fun, though. I'd do it again tomorrow. I just hope my life isn't so boring from now on.

She's not averse to a copycat caper.

"I fully expect to do something like this before I die," she said. "But I would leave them something to find, a clue to who I was and not leave them wondering what kind of sick person would make them do this."

From The Napa Valley Register, submitted by Jerry R. Hallett, Napa, CA, Cheryl Fealy and Bob Bolek.


A beverage company has asked a team to drill through Antarctica's ice for a lost cache of some vintage Scotch whisky that has been on the rocks since a century ago.

The drillers will be trying to reach two crates of McKinlay and Co. whisky that were shipped to the Antarctic by British polar explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton as part of his abandoned 1909 expedition.

Whyte & Mackay, the group that now owns McKinlay and Co., has asked for a sample of the 100-year-old Scotch to decide whether to resume making it.

Al Fastier, who will lead the expedition the first of the year, said workers found the crates of whisky under an old hut's floorboards in 2006. But the crates and bottles were too embedded in ice to be dislodged.

From The Associated Press, submitted by Cheryl Fealy, Las Vegas, NV.


After 40,000 years in the cold and isolation of Siberia, Lyuba the baby mammoth has emerged for a dazzling second act- a spread in National Geographic magazine, and a starring role in a documentary.

And soon, she's coming to Chicago.

The almost perfectly preserved woolly mammoth will make its U.S. debut this spring at the Field Museum as part of a "Mammoths and Mastodons" exhibit, officials announced. In an exhibit scheduled to run from March to September, she'll be encased in glass that will afford viewers a 360-degree look, said museum spokeswoman Emily Waldren.

"We had hoped to be able to present the best of the best," said Daniel Fisher, lead curator of the exhibit. He paused for a breath, clapped gently and then continued, "And we've got the best of the best."

Lyuba died when just a month old and has returned "98 percent" preserved through 40 millennia buried in permafrost, Fisher said. Since her accidental discovery in May 2007 by reindeer herders, her body has been studied exhaustively in Russia and Japan, a process followed by National Geographic cameras.

She has provided researchers new windows into Ice Age life.

Fisher pointed out her nostrils and the fingerlike tip of her trunk, useful for grabbing vegetation. And she has a round mass of fatty tissue on her neck, something researchers never knew about mammoths and never also a clue to how the beasts survived in the Arctic. He called the mass a heat-generating "furnace" that gave the calf a "running start" to an extremely cold life.

Researchers have deduced she died accidentally in the peak of health, another reason her discovery is so important, he said. Other young mammoths have been discovered, he said, but none in such a pristine state and none in such robust health.

The one thing Lyuba lacks: hair. The once thickly carpeted creature is now not so woolly, with scattered tufts of hair on her underbelly and near her toes.

Fisher explained that hair flakes off first as a result of skin shrinking back, even when the rest of the body fossilizes well.

Lyuba- "love" in Russian- could have become just another black-market commodity when discovered on a mudflat beside a northern Siberian river by two brothers, Kostia and Edik Khudi. Members of the Nenets reindeer herding people, they thought at first she was a dead reindeer.

Researchers speculate that spring flooding from a nearby river finally loosed the chunk of permafrost Lyuba had been stuck in, floating her downstream and then depositing her on the bank when the waters subsided, Fisher said. It's not clear the extent that climate change contributed, he said, noting that rivers tend to carve out new paths over time.

Plugs of mud and sand found in Lyuba's trunk and digestive tract suggest she suffocated after a fall into a mud slurry, Fisher said, encasing her completely and beginning the preservation process.

"Her burial was her death."

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


British archaeologists have found the remains of a massive stone henge, or ceremonial circle, that was part of the celebrated Stonehenge complex, a find that is shedding light on how the monument was built and its religious uses.

The new henge, called Bluestonehenge because it was built with blue Preseli dolerite, was sited on the banks of the Avon River, where ancient pilgrims carrying the ashes of their dead relatives began their journey from the river to Stonehenge, nearly two miles away. Some are calling it the "little sister" of Stonehenge.

The approximately 25 massive bluestones were erected in a circle 5,000 years ago and eventually were encircled by a ditch and an earthen embankment. About 500 years later, however, the stones were moved and incorporated into Stonehenge.

All that is left of the circle are the holes where the stones sat in the ground and a few chips of dolerite.

The fact that the monument was found at the beginning of the avenue near the river "solidifies the view that Stonehenge covers the entire landscape, but also the sacred importance of the river itself," said archaeologist Christine Hastorf of the University of California, Berkeley, who was not involved in the research.

Stonehenge itself, composed of concentric circles of huge stones, is aligned with sunrise at the summer solstice. Researchers have long viewed it as an astronomical observatory and a cemetery.

A team led by archaeologist Michael parker Pearson of the University of Sheffield made the new discovery while excavating in the area of Stonehenge during the past several years. Their findings have suggested that the entire site, which stretched from the river to the Stonehenge monument itself, was a religious complex.

The stone circle at Bluestonehenge eventually was replaced by a henge, a circular ditch nearly 74 feet across with an external bank. Little trace of the bank remains except at one place where it was pushed back into the ditch. Elsewhere, the ditch filled up with silt and sediment.

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

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