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Homepage Archives Open in new window Index (08/2006) Headlines (05/2006) Headlines (09/2006)   Vol. 40 August 2006 
Treasure In The Headlines
As seen in the August 2006 edition of W&ET Magazine


It cost a lot more than a nickel to buy this half dime.

A 1792 half dime, believed to be one of the first coins minted by the United States, was sold at auction for more than $1.3 million recently at the Central States Numismatic Society convention, officials said.

The winning bidder was a private collector who wants to remain anonymous, said James Halperin, co-chairman of Heritage Auction Galleries of Dallas, which was selling the coin.

The bidding began at $750,000 and advanced to $1.15 million. With a 15 percent buyer's premium added on, the coin sold for $1,322,500.

The coin, mottled blue, gray and gold with time but still considered to be in excellent condition, was thought to have been struck on silver provided by George Washington, officials said.

It depicts a female Liberty figure with flowing hair on the front and an eagle on the back.

The Professional Coin Grading Service designated it a "specimen strike," meaning it likely was made as a presentation piece.

From The Courier, submitted by Jeff Hauenstein, Findlay, OH.


A small, three-week-old mining company found a rare 235-carat diamond in a South African mine that had been shut down after its previous owners went bankrupt.

The company, Nare Diamonds, discovered the diamond recently in the Schmidtsdrift mine, near Kimberley, South Africa's diamond center. The stone is larger than a golf ball.

"The large-sized gemstone is octahedron in shape and of very good quality, according to a third party assessor," said Lonrho Africa, an investor in Nare, in a statement to the London stock exchange. Lonrho, which is based in Britain, purchased 17 percent of Nare on April 11.

"This is a substantial find as diamonds of this size are a very rare occurrence," Charles Mostert, Nare's chief executive, said in the statement. Previously, diamonds at the mine averaged 1.14 carats, Lonrho said.

Later this year, Nare plans to list its shares on the London Stock Exchange's small cap market. It has three other diamond projects. The Schmidtsdrift mine's previous owners shut it three years ago, Nare said.

The value of the stone is still being determined.

De Beers discovered the largest diamond ever found in 1905. That diamond, the Cullinan, weighs more than 3,000 carats and is now part of the British crown jewels, which are kept in the Tower of London.

From The New York Times, submitted by David. M. Wolan, Charlotte, NC.


Before a gold, silver and zinc mining ghost town in Colorado becomes nothing more than memories, two photographers have preserved its images.

Gilman, founded in 1879, is an abandoned town four miles south of Minturn on U.S. Highway 24, where up to 350 gold miners and their families once lived.

Though the town has been deserted for 20years, Scott Gerdes and Greg Dahlgren got permission from its private owners to spend a year walking the roads and going inside the buildings to photograph them.

Their results, "The Gilman Project: Lost Town, Lost Dreams," opened recently at the Colorado Mountain College Gallery.

Wendy Naugle, Superfund project manager for the Eagle Mine with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, said Gilman's houses and buildings would likely be demolished within five years.

"It's really sad," Gerdes said. "One of these days, the buildings will be totally gone."

A Florida firm purchased the town and surrounding property with plans for a luxury development.

Gerdes, a 1995 graduate of CMC's professional photography program, has been the program's photo technician for seven years. He met Dahlgren, who was a student in the program, and they've since teamed on several photographic projects.

Both photographers have long been interested in capturing images of aging buildings, so documenting what remains of Gilman was an attractive project.

"There is so much stuff remaining in the town and the mine, you're overwhelmed," Dahlgren said. "Weather has taken its toll on the buildings, walls and mine shaft. Anything of value has been either ripped off, removed or torn away."

Around 90 structures still stand in Gilman today. Many of the abandoned houses were built in the 1940s and 1950s, but most buildings have been vandalized and are falling down.

"We could spend more time there," Gerdes said. "Each time we went back, we saw something different."

Gerdes and Dahlgren began taking photos in 2003. The CMC exhibit combines their results. Gerdes provides his images in color, while Dahlgren shot photographs in black and white.

Gilman and the Eagle Mine were abandoned in 1985, when the state of Colorado filed notice and claim against the former mine owners for environmental damages under the federal Superfund law. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency placed the mine on its Superfund sites list in 1986.

Naugle cautioned people to avoid Gilman, since the area and buildings are considered unsafe and the owner has increased surveillance and trespass prosecutions.

From The Daily Sentinel, submitted by Thomas Buescher, Grand Junction, CO.


The remaining shroud of mystery surrounding Sgt. Alvin C. York, a Tennessee native credited with capturing an entire company of German soldiers during World War I, was lifted recently, thanks to the expertise and efforts of a crack research team led by MTSU's Thomas Nolan.

Nolan, who serves as director of the R.O. Fullerton Laboratory for Spatial Technology at MTSU, led the inter-disciplinary team whose members have located the battlefield site near Chatel-Chehery, France, where a then-30-year-old unwittingly became one of the most highly decorated American soldiers of World War I.

The locale discovered by Nolan and his team- complete with unearthed cartridge casings- is believed to be the site where the late World War I hero carried out what has been called "an astonishing feat of marksmanship" some 87 years ago that culminated in the death of 25 enemy troops and the surrender of another 132.

"We have used geographic information systems (GIS), GPS (global positioning systems), and historic maps and primary documents to uncover the actual location of York's engagement," said Nolan, a native of Louisville, KY, who has long held an interest in both history and geography.

Although York- whose backwoods raccoon-hunting skills played a vital role in the now-historic event- was presented with the Congressional Medal of Honor for his bravery that day near the close of World War I, the precise location of the now-heralded event has been disputed since October 1918.

An instructor with MTSU's geosciences faculty since 1994, Nolan has planned the trip more than a year and funded the research expedition on his own, as well as a preliminary trip that he made to become more familiar with the area and meet French government officials and historians.

In addition to Nolan, the expedition's lone geographer, other members of the research team included Michael Birdwell, associate professor of history at Tennessee Technology University, in Cookeville; MTSU history graduate David Currey, executive director of Travellers Rest Plantation and Museum and a documentary filmmaker in Nashville; Michael Kelly, an historian for Bartlett's Battlefield Journeys in Horncastle, Lincolnshire; and Frederic Castier, a French liaison officer and historian specializing in U.S. actions in France during WWI.

Regarding his interest in York, Nolan said, "I've always been interested in application of geographic information systems with historical interpretation.

I think it's interesting to use GIS as a way to tie the written historical records to surface archaeology, and that's what we did here."

In January, Nolan went to the National Archives to retrieve copies of the original site maps drawn by York's commanding officer and French and German trench maps, then superimposed them on a modern map to help discern where to begin the team's search.

Once a physical starting point was located, Nolan and the team began their search at what they felt was "the most probable area." Subsequently, he continued, they found "dropped ammo and a German machine-gun position marked by cartridges on the ground" as well as German grenades, all of which "sits very closely with what was reported."

As a result of the find, French officials in the area would like to place a monument on the discovery site and there is talk of creating a park there, Nolan said. Aside from the historical significance of the find, "that region is kind of depressed, with a lot of population outflow since World War I," he added, "so they're interested in economic development and stimulating tourism."

As for the on-site artifacts, including the rifle cartridges thought to be York's, "We recovered them and are going to try and match them to (York's) rifle that's now housed in the Tennessee State museum. Nolan explained, "We didn't recover any .45-caliber pistol cartridge cases, and that's what we wanted to do... but there's room for more research there."

Currently a doctoral candidate at Texas State University in San Marcos, where he's pursuing a Ph.D. in geography, Nolan said he and the research team plan to make a return trip to France in the next year to further their current study, but funding is an issue at this time.

"We do plan to return, but we funded this ourselves so we are looking for additional money that will allow us to continue our work," Nolan noted.

For more information regarding the project, visit the researchers' website at For a detailed account of the World War I action surrounding York, access

From The Daily News Journal, submitted by Thom Horvath, Bridgewater, NJ.


U.S. researchers have found the missing evolutionary link between fish and land animals- fossils of a strange creature that first crawled onto the shore about 375 million years ago.

The fossils, found on Ellesmere Island in Arctic Canada, have the skull, neck, ribs and limb bones of four-limbed animals, but also the primitive jaw, fin and scales of fish, according to a report to be published in the journal Nature.

"This really is what our ancestors looked like when they began to leave the water," according to an editorial accompanying the report.

The newly discovered species, called Tiktaalik roseae, "blurs the boundary between fish and land-living animal both in terms of its anatomy and its way of life," said biologist Neil Shubin of the University of Chicago, one of the co-leaders of the expedition.

The creature lived in shallow waterways, where it hunted for prey with its mammal-like snout and sharp teeth, but it was able to pull itself out of the water for short periods of time and move around on its limb-like fins.

The fossils, ranging in length from 4 feet to 9 feet, were remarkably well preserved, allowing the team to examine the joints carefully and to conclude that the shoulder, elbow and wrist joints were sufficiently strong to support the animal's body on land.

"Human comprehension of the history of life on earth is taking a major leap forward," said H. Richard Lane of the National Science Foundation, which financed the research along with the National Geographic Society and others.

In the Late Devonian period nearly 400 million years ago, the landmass where the fossils were found straddled the Equator and had a climate much like that now in the Amazonian Basin. It was a flat coastal plain with shallow, slow-moving rivers that meandered to the sea.

But as the earth's continental plates shifted, the mass was carried far north, to Canada's Nunavut Territory, more than 600 miles north of the Arctic Circle. Finding and extracting the fossils presented major challenges, starting with the need to helicopter into the region.

The team found three nearly complete specimens, but they weren't totally sure of what they had until they returned to the lab and started studying the bones.

The creature had a very flat skull, like that of a crocodile, but it had armor like a fish. While crocodiles are reptiles, Tiktaalik also has features of a fish.

Moreover, it had a neck, making it the only fish known to have one.

"This animal is both fish and tetrapod," Shubin said. Rather than follow the convention of using Latin for a new species name, the research team asked the Nunavut Council of Elders for suggestions. They recommended Tiktaalik, which means "a large, shallow-water fish" in the Inuktitut language. Roseae honors an anonymous donor.

From the Los Angeles Times, submitted by Bill Ladd, Providence, RI.

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