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Homepage Archives Open in new window Index (08/2012) Headlines (06/2012) Headlines (10/2012)   Vol. 46 August 2012 
Treasure In The Headlines
As seen in the August 2012 edition of W&ET Magazine


An auction gallery in Georgia is selling what’s believed to be one of the rarest coins ever made in the United States— a $3 gold coin estimated to be worth up to $4 million.

The coin is believed to be an 1870-S $3 piece from the San Francisco Mint that was found embedded into a souvenir book in a bookstore in San Francisco, according to Steve White, owner of the Four Seasons Auction Gallery in Alpharetta, GA.

“It’s one of two, maybe three, known to have ever been minted by the San Francisco Mint,” White said. “It’s almost folklore to have this kind of rare coin to be around.”

White said the only other 1870-S $3 gold coin known to exist was sold at auction in 1982 for $687,500.

“It’s a big piece of American history,” he said. “We expect the coin to bring in between $2 [million] and $4 million.”

From FN, submitted by Marty Maher, Langlois, OR.


Israeli archaeologists have discovered a rare trove of 3,000-year-old jewelry, including a ring and earrings, hidden in a ceramic jug near the ancient city of Megiddo, where the New Testament predicts the final battle of Armageddon.

Archaeologists who unearthed the jug during excavations at the site in 2010 left it in a laboratory while they waited for a molecular analysis of what was inside. When they were finally able to clean it, pieces of gold jewelry— a ring, earrings, and beads—dating to around 1100 B.C. poured out.

Israel Finkelstein of Tel Aviv University, who co-directed the dig, said that the find offers a rare glimpse into ancient Canaanite high society. He said the fact that the jewelry was found inside the jug suggested that the owner hid them there.

From the Napa Valley Register, submitted by Jerry R. Hallett, Napa, CA.

In a hot concrete hut in Bonuur, Mongolia, filled with acetylene fumes, an elderly Mongolian miner struggles to contain her excitement as she plucks a sizzling inchlong nugget of gold from a grubby cooling pot and raises it to the light.

Khorloo, 65, and her sons spent the day scrutinizing half a dozen closed-circuit TV screens as workers at the Bornuur gold processing plant whittled 1.2 tons of ore down to 123 grams of pure gold that could earn the family as much as $6,000.

Khorloo is a member of a group of at least 60,000 herders, farmers and urban unemployed trying to extract the riches buried in the vast steppe with metal detectors, shovels and homemade smelters.

In the past five years, dwindling legal gold supplies and a spike in black market demand from China have made work much more lucrative for Mongolia’s “ninja miners”— named because of the large green pans carried on their backs that look like turtle shells.

For thousands of dirtpoor herders, the soaring prices alone are enough to justify years of harassment, abuse and hard labor.

“It took us a week to dig this out,” Khorloo said, holding the nugget. “But we dug for three years to reach the vein.”

Amid growing demand, spot international gold prices hit a record high of $1,920.30 an ounce in September as investors bought the metal as a haven amid uncertainties surrounding the eurozone and its debt. The price has fallen back to about $1,650, but gold remains at historically high levels after a decade-long rally.

China has driven the gold rush in Mongolia— from the giant, $6 billion Oyu Tolgoi copper-gold project being developed by Ivanhoe Mines and Rio Tinto to the makeshift holes that honeycomb the hills and valleys of Bornuur.

Although the government in Mongolia’s capital, Ulan Bator, hopes to use growing mineral output to drag its largely pastoral economy into the 21st century, many lawmakers are wary about turning Mongolia into “Minegolia”— a choking, resource-dependent nation tearing itself apart to deliver raw materials to China.

But policies aimed at cutting output to more sustainable levels have played into the hands of the ninjas and a network of blackmarket traders.

Two decades of ninja activity already have nurtured scores of middlemen linking the underpopulated steppe with the Chinese market. And it hasn’t been difficult to encourage Mongolia’s struggling crop farmers and once-nomadic herders to supply them.

Although all producers are legally obliged to sell their gold to the central bank, the black market is often a better option. Changers can offer prices above the official rate, and they also can avoid the 10 percent tax on sales.

Workers at Bornuur admitted that some of the gold it processes is not sold through official channels.

“They are requested to sell everything to the bank but they are not really ordered to do so,” said Erdenechimeg Belhkuu, an accountant at Bornuur. “Some of the supply that goes through our plant is bought officially, but some goes on to the black market, which sometimes just offers higher prices.”

Mongolia’s overall trading volume with China has soared in recent years, primarily in bulk shipments like coal and copper. Mining company officials in Ulan Bator said it was easy— and virtually untraceable— to smuggle a few ounces of gold in one of the thousands of coal trucks heading south.

“For buyers, gold is gold,” said Patience Singo of the Sustainable Artisanal Mining Project run by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, which is trying to help the ninjas clean up their production methods.

Since Mongolia abandoned Soviet-style economic planning in 1990, gold miners large and small have scoured the countryside in search of profit, damaging water supplies with untreated mercury and leaving dunes of toxic tailings in their wake.

Mining firms and ninjas forged an uneasy but often symbiotic relationship.

The companies had to defend themselves against raids from ninja crews, sometimes using brute force, but they also would track ninja activity for new discoveries.

Ninjas, for their part, would gather in the thousands around established mining sites like Zaamar, home at its peak to more than 40 large-scale mining companies.

It has proved nearly impossible to eliminate the ninjas, and some experts say it would make more sense for the government to “formalize” them and bring their supplies back onto the official market.

For the ninjas themselves, official recognition would at least earn them a measure of respect.

“Ninja isn’t a good name,” said Boldbaatar, a veteran miner. “And the Ninja Turtles have an advantage over us. At least they can fly.”

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


For years, kopek-pinching Soviets sat down in a cheap restaurant in a former mansion of the nobility for plain meals, unaware of the treasure secreted nearby.

Workers restoring the building recently finally found it, unexpectedly, in a storage space hidden between two floors— more than 1,000 pieces of jewelry, silver service sets stamped with the name of one of Russia’s most prominent noble families, mirrors and brushes in silver frames. Many of them were wrapped in newspapers dated from the early months of 1917, as Russia careened toward the Bolshevik Revolution that ended life as the nobles had known it.

The announcement of the find by the Intarsia company, which is performing the restoration work, excited the news media and sparked arguments over who can claim the valuables. The find is so new that experts haven’t had time to inspect the goods and estimate their value.

The treasure tale touches on two of Russia’s most renowned and romantic figures: Peter the Great and Alexander Pushkin.

From the Napa Valley Register, submitted by Jerry R. Hallett, Napa, CA.


An 11-year-old trawling the waters of Lake Merritt for garbage as part of a class cleanup project recovered two bags of treasure instead.

The bags filled with antique jewelry, gold and silver chains, pocket and wrist watches, and other valuables weighed about 15 lbs. each and were submerged in a few feet of water, said Richard Bailey, executive director of the Lake Merritt Institute, which runs cleanup programs at the 140-acre lake.

Bailey waded out to retrieve the sacks after the student was unable to lift them out of the water with a net. One of the bags had “Wells Fargo” stamped on it.

“We’ve had some unusual things, but this is really pretty unusual,” Bailey told the Oakland Tribune.

Students have previously found clothes, cellphones, tennis balls and wallets, according to school officials.

The jewelry and other valuables found were turned over to police, who will hold the items for 90 days while attempting to locate the owners, said Oakland police spokeswoman Johnna Watson.

If the property is not claimed and there are no additional investigative leads, the property will then be returned to the finder according to state law, Watson said.

The student who found the valuables was among a class of sixth-graders from St. Paul’s Episcopal School that goes out to the lake every week as part of a cleaning and community service project.

From the AP, submitted by many readers.


An oil company exploration crew’s chance discovery of a 200-year-old shipwreck in a little-charted stretch of the Gulf of Mexico is yielding a trove of new information to scientists who say it’s one of the most well-preserved old wrecks ever found in the Gulf.

“When we saw it we were all just astonished because it was beautifully preserved, and by that I mean for a 200-year-old shipwreck,” said Jack Irion, maritime archaeologist with the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management in New Orleans.

Video shows muskets and gin bottles littering the Gulf bottom, along with sea life mingling in the wreck.

Scientists say the ship is about 200 miles off the northern Gulf coast and about 4,000 feet deep. The depth has kept it largely undisturbed during two centuries of storms and hurricanes. And although most of the ship’s wood dissolved long ago, the copper hull and its contents remain in place.

“The wood is deteriorated. It’s largely been eaten away by marine organisms, but what is left is a copper shell which would have been the lower part of the hull which was sheathed in copper to protect it,” Irion said.

Among the wreckage were “a rather astonishing number of bottles,” particularly square gin bottles known as case bottles, as well as wine bottles, Irion said.

There were many ceramic cups, plates and bowls that didn’t appear to be cargo. Some were greenshell-edged pearl ware, a British import popular in the United States between 1800 and 1830.

The ship’s kitchen stove was found intact.

“Very few shipwrecks have been found that still have the stove intact,” Irion said. “You can very clearly see the features of the stove. It’s in rather good shape.”

Also discovered were an anchor, cannons and muskets. Irion said researchers have not yet determined whether it was a merchant, military or pirate ship.

There was plenty of pirate and military activity in the Gulf at the time, surrounding the War of 1812, the Texas revolution and the Mexican-American War. The buccaneer Jean Lafitte and other pirates sailed the Gulf to smuggle goods into New Orleans, Galveston, Texas, and elsewhere.

“It was actually a fairly hazardous place to be if you were a merchant ship, so it was not unlikely that you would be carrying a cannon on board to protect yourself,” Irion said.

Researchers believe the ship likely sank during a storm.

“We haven’t seen any evidence of burning, or explosions or cannon shot. That’s obvious, so we strongly suspect that it was likely a hurricane or another strong storm and it simply foundered at sea and vanished without a trace and was never reported missing,” Irion said.

The shipwreck site was noticed as an “unknown sonar contact” during an oil and gas survey last year by Shell Oil Co. Shell reported it to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, which teamed with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to survey the site.

The federal agencies used robots and high-definition cameras during a 56-day expedition by the NOAA ship Okeanos Explorer that ended mid-spring.

The underwater video was transmitted live via satellite to maritime archaeologists, scientists and resource managers from Texas to Rhode Island.

BOEM is protecting and preserving the site until it’s determined what country the vessel is from.

So far, none of the wreckage or cargo has been brought up— and it might never be. The authorities want to explore as much as they can before making that decision.

Frank Cantelas, a maritime archaeologist for NOAA, said the site was one of four explored in the Gulf recently. He said the agency also intends to study the sea life at the site, because deep sea shipwrecks often serve as habitats for marine life.

Researchers wouldn’t disclose the precise location of the wreck, citing concerns over possible plundering or disturbing the site.

“One thing that we want to stress is ships have a monetary value, but they also have to us a historical value that goes way beyond that,” Irion said. “What this can tell us is a very interesting story about our past, about the history of the Gulf of Mexico, about how important the Gulf of Mexico was to the beginnings of the United States.”

The wreckage can also give insight to the lives of the crew, where they had been, where they were going and their role in the economy and world history.

“It’s as if we get a glimpse into what their lives were like, like a time capsule,” Irion said.

From the Houston Chronicle, submitted by Edith Bruck, Houston, TX, and Marty Maher, Langlois, OR.

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