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Homepage Archives Open in new window Index (12/2013) Headlines (10/2013) Headlines (02/2014)   Vol. 47 December 2013 
Treasure In The Headlines
As seen in the December 2013 edition of W&ET Magazine


For the Schmitt family, the pirate's life just might be for them.

This Florida clan unearthed over $300,000 in gold treasures while on a dive off of the coast of Fort Pierce, FL, recently. The loot consisting of seven gold chains, three gold coins, and a gold ring was unearthed just 150 yards offshore.

"I cried like a baby," describes Hillary Schmitt, 20, after her brother, Eric, showed her and the rest of the family the handful of gold on the boat. "His pocket was hanging (with gold) about down to the ground... It was an intense moment. We were all just screaming and crying."

Even for the Schmitt's, who hunt treasures professionally through their company Booty Salvage, this discovery was enough to send them reeling. Their biggest discovery in the past was a Spanish silver plate priced at $30,000 to $40,000. "It's a feeling of excitement, joy, feeling, blessed, shocked," gushes Schmitt. "I just kept saying, 'there's gold everywhere!'"

It is believed that the goods came from the wreckage of a hurricane in 1715 that sunk 11 Spanish ships. Queens Jewels, the company that owns the rights to dive in the area, boasts findings of statues, coins, and other historic items.

"Almost on a daily basis we find shipwreck artifacts, musketballs, pottery," explained co-founder Brent Brisben. "It's truly amazing." Last month 51 gold coins worth $250,000 were discovered.

Based off of the ships' manifests, Brisben estimates that only $175 million of the $600 million worth of treasures have been found. He has as many as 15 different subcontractors, including Booty Salvage, pining to strike gold during the summer months.

To discover artifacts, the Schmitt's use machines called Mailboxes, which hang off the back of their boat and create airjets to dig large holes in the sea floor. The Schmitts and divers hired by the Schmitts descend into these holes to pan for gold. The latest booty was 15 feet below the sea floor.

The Schmitt's loot will be split between their company and Queens Jewels, with 20 percent donated to the state of Florida. "It was a hobby but now it seems like a lifestyle," Schmitt beams.

From ABCNews, submitted by BR Grossman, Delta Junction, AK, and Marty Maher, Langlois, OR.


Hundreds of ancient coins, oil lamps and gold jewelry have been discovered in Israel, mysteriously thrown away centuries ago in a Byzantine garbage dump.

The excavation site is located on the outskirts of the ancient Israeli city of Arsuf, just north of Tel Aviv. This is not the first discovery made at the site; archaeologists previously uncovered a large winepress and a miniature model of a Byzantine church from 500 A.D.

However, Professors Oren Tal and Moshe Ajami say their latest find is the most fascinating so far.

"The most intriguing find in the area is a number of Byzantine refuse pits," Tal of Tel Aviv University and Ajami of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) said in a statement.

"One of them is especially large (more than 30 meters in diameter) and contained fragments of pottery vessels, fragments of glass vessels, industrial glass waste and animal bones."

What stood out to Tal and Ajami was the large number of "usable artifacts" found in the refuse pit. This discovery "raises questions," they said.

"This is very fascinating," Tal told the Jerusalem Post. "You don't expect [intact lamps] to be found in dumps and refuse, because they need to be used and they need to be sold. Our understanding is that there is some sort of probable cultic aspect of intentionally discarding usable and intact vessels among the Samaritan community that inhabited Apollonia in the late Byzantine period."

A noteworthy find includes an octagonal ring with excerpts of versus from the Samaritan Pentateuch, a version of the Old Testament, engraved on both sides.

One reads "Adonai is his name," and the other side reads, "One God, and so on."

"Approximately a dozen Samaritan rings have been published so far in scientific literature, and this ring constitutes an important addition given the assemblage in which it was discovered," the archaeologists explained. The ring may indicate that the community was more religious than previously thought.

The excavation also helped shed light on who was living in the Arsuf area during the fifth and sixth centuries.

"We didn't know that in this site we had so many Samaritan people in this period," Tal told the Jerusalem Post. "It's a huge community."

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


Fog was swallowing his ship's bow, the winds were picking up and undersea explorer Barry Clifford figured he needed to leave within an hour to beat the weather back to port.

It was time enough, he decided, for a final dive of the season over the wreck of the treasure-laden pirate ship, Whydah, off Cape Cod.

That Sept. 1 dive at a spot Clifford had never explored before uncovered proof that a staggering amount of undiscovered riches- as many as 400,000 coins- might be found there.

Instead of packing up for the year, Clifford is planning another trip to the Whydah, the only authenticated pirate ship wreck in U.S. waters.

"I can hardly wait," he said.

The Whydah was built as a slave ship in 1716 and captured in February 1717 by pirate captain "Black Sam" Bellamy. Just two months later, it sank in a ferocious storm a quarter mile off Wellfleet, Mass., killing Bellamy and all but two of the 145 other men on board and taking down the plunder from 50 vessels Bellamy raided.

Clifford located the Whydah site in 1984 and has since documented 200,000 artifacts, including gold, and guns. He only recently got indications there may be far more coins than the roughly 12,000 he's already documented.

Just before his death in April, the Whydah project's late historian, Ken Kinkor, uncovered a Colonial-era document indicating that in the weeks before the Whydah sank, Bellamy raided two vessels bound for Jamaica. "It is said that in those vessels were 400,000 pieces of 8/8," it read.

The 8/8 indicates one ounce, the weight of the largest coin made at that time, Clifford said.

"Now we know there's an additional 400,000 coins out there somewhere," he said.

The final dive may have provided a big hint at where. Diver Rocco Paccione said he had low expectations when Clifford excavated a pit about 35 feet below the surface and sent him down. But his metal detector immediately came alive with positive, or hot, readings.

"This pit was pretty much hot all the way through," he said.

The most significant artifact brought up by Paccione was an odd-shape concentration, sort of a rocky mass that forms when chemical reactions with seawater bind metals together.

X-rays this week revealed coin-shaped masses, including some that appear to be stacked as if they were kept in bags, which is how a surviving Whydah pirate testified that the crewmen stored their riches.

Clifford doesn't sell Whydah treasures and said he would never sell the coins individually because he sees them as historical artifacts, not commodities. But he has given coins away as mementos. Two have been sold at the Daniel Frank Sedwick LLC auction house in Florida, with the highest going for about $11,400. The price per Whydah coin would plummet if tens of thousands hit the market, but a retail price of $1,000 each is a reasonable guess, said Augi Garcia, manager at the auction.

Ed Rodley, who studied Whydah artifacts during graduate studies in archaeology at the University of Massachusetts Boston, said what Clifford has gradually gotten to, three centuries after the ship went down, is impressive.

"It's crazy the stuff that's come out of that site and keeps coming out of that site, year after year after year," he said.

From the AP, submitted by Zoueva Grossmann, Palm Coast, FL, Willard R. Smith III, Naperville, IL, and Martin Maher, Langlois, OR.


"Ophel Treasure" includes 36 coins, large gold medallion believed to date back to 614 CE.

The coins and medallion were unearthed 50 meters from the Temple Mount's southern wall, where Dr. Eilat Mazar- a third-generation archeologist at Hebrew University's Institute of Archeology- has directed the "Ophel Excavation" for the university since 2009.

Hanging from a gold chain, the remarkably well kept 10 cm. medallion was engraved with a seven-branched menorah, shofar and Torah scroll, which Mazar said she believes was used to adorn an ancient Torah scroll.

"It was buried in a small depression in the floor, along with a smaller gold medallion, two pendants, a gold coil and a silver clasp- all of which are believed to be Torah scroll ornaments," she said.

If the medallion was indeed an ornament for a Torah scroll, it is the earliest such archeological find in history.

Mazar, who has also lead excavations at the nearby City of David's summit, described the findings as "a breathtaking once in a lifetime opportunity."

"We have been making significant finds from the First Temple Period in this area- a much earlier time in Jerusalem's history- so discovering a golden seven-branched Menorah from the 7th century CE at the foot of the Temple Mount was a complete surprise," she said.

Given the date of the items, and the manner in which they were found, Mazar estimates they were abandoned during the Persian conquest of Jerusalem, in 614 CE.

"The position of the items as they were discovered indicates that one bundle was carefully hidden underground, while the second bundle was apparently abandoned in haste and scattered across the floor," Mazar said.

"It would appear that the most likely explanation is that the findings were earmarked as a contribution toward the building of a new synagogue at a location that is near the Temple Mount," said Mazar.

"What is certain is that their mission, whatever it was, was unsuccessful, and its owners couldn't return to collect it," she added.

According to Lior Dandberg, a numismatics specialist at the Institute of Archeology, the Ophel Treasure is only the third collection of gold coins to be found in archeological excavations in Jerusalem.

"The 36 gold coins can be dated to the reigns of different Byzantine emperors, ranging from the middle of the 4th century CE to the early 7th century CE," said Sandberg.

Also found with the coins were a pair of large gold earrings, a gold-plated silver hexagonal prism and a silver ingot. Sandbert said remnants of fabric indicated that the items were once packaged in a cloth purse.

The excavation site is situated within the Jerusalem National Park around the walls of the Jerusalem of Israel Nature and Parks Authority and is administered by the East Jerusalem Development Company.

Mazar's Ophel excavation made international headlines recently when she announced the 2012 discovery of a Hebrew Canaanite inscription, believed to be the earliest alphabetical written text ever found.

The Ophel project has been funded by Daniel Mintz and Meredith Berkman of New York since 2009. The project includes archeological excavations, the processing of the finds for publication, as well as the preservation and preparations of the site for its opening to the public.

The Israel Antiquities Authority is carrying out the preservation works and preparing the site for the public for an unspecified date.

From the AP, submitted by BR Grossman, Delta Junction, AK.

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