Hiker Finds Over $300,000 Worth Of Buried Treasure In The Alps

Mont Blanc Alps
Tom Fahy, Flickr

It sounds like something out of a movie, but a mountaineer scaling the Alps has come across a valuable stash of jewels including emeralds, sapphires, and rubies, buried in the snow — a treasure trove estimated to be worth $332,000.

The French climber stumbled across a metal box while scaling Mont Blanc, Europe’s highest peak, earlier this month. Upon opening it, the hiker discovered colorful gemstones, some of which were wrapped in pouches marked “Made In India.”It’s believed the jewelry ended up in the Alps following one of two Indian plane crashes in the region — one which took place in 1950 and another that occurred 16 years later. Other cargo and belongings from those plane crashes have previously been discovered in the area, but this latest discovery could be one of the most valuable stashes to be uncovered.

The mountaineer handed the loot over to French authorities who are working to track down the owners of the lost treasure. However, a local police officer told the AFP that under French law, the valuables could be handed over to the hiker if the owners or heirs of the jewelry are not found.

Viking hoard highlights the value of responsible metal detectoring

Viking, Silverdale horde
When I used to work as an archaeologist, I heard a lot of bad-mouthing about metal detectorists. These guys scan the ground for coins and other metal objects. Most of the time they only find a few old pennies. It’s when they discover something of historic value that some archaeologists get grumpy. Many archaeologists don’t trust metal detectorists, saying they disturb ancient sites and pocket their findings.

This week’s discovery of a Viking hoard of silver in England shows how responsible metal detectorists, far from being nosy snoopers into the sacred soil of archaeology, can actually help us learn more about the past.

The hoard, found near the appropriately named village of Silverdale, Lancashire, includes silver brooches, coins, arm-rings, and ingots. There are 201 pieces in all, weighing more than two pounds, and they were buried around 900 AD. While artistic value of the jewelry is priceless, it’s one of the coins that tells us something really significant. It’s of a type never before seen and bears the inscription AIRDECONUT which may represent the Scandinavian name Harthacnut. There’s a famous Viking king by that name, but he lived a century later and his coins look different, so this appears to be a previously unknown Viking king.

Interestingly, the other side reads DNS (Dominus) REX, with the letters arranged in the form of a cross. This was a period when Vikings were beginning to abandoned the old gods like Thor and Odin and turn to Christianity. Also in the horde was a fake silver coin made from copper with a thin silver wash, and Islamic coins from the Middle East.

This isn’t the first time a metal detectorist has found evidence for an unknown ruler. Back in 2004, a man using a metal detector uncovered a Roman silver coin in Oxfordshire dating to 271 AD and bearing the face of Emperor Domitianus II. This military officer had been garrisoned in Britain and took advantage of the chaotic political situation to proclaim himself emperor. He minted some coins to celebrate the occasion but his rule only lasted at most for a few weeks. The coin was part of a hoard of about 5,000 coins. This coin is now on display at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford.

In both cases, the lucky guys did the right (and legal) thing–they reported their finds to the proper authorities. Laws governing such finds differ from country to country, but it’s always important to report anything you find that may be of historical significance. You never know, you might have discovered a new king.

Photo courtesy Portable Antiquities Scheme.

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Archaeologists to raise 17th century shipwreck

shipwreck, Mary Rose
The shipwreck of a 17th century merchant vessel off the coast of England is going to be raised from the sea, the BBC reports.

An armed merchant vessel that plied the high seas sank in the Swash Channel off the coast of Dorset more than 300 years ago. Underwater archaeology teams have been studying the wreck and have found cannon, pottery, and an intriguing face of a man carved into the rudder. Their work has had to speed up as sediment is eroding away, leaving the old wood exposed to decay and attack by shipworms, which cut holes into the wood.

Researchers have decided the only thing to do is to raise the ship out of the water and conserve the wood for future study. Sadly, some of the ship is so decayed that it will have to be left on the sea bottom. It will be reburied in sediment to prevent further decay.

The salvage operation planned for this summer is going to be a tricky one. A ship hasn’t been raised from UK waters since the Mary Rose was brought to the surface in 1982. This 16th century warship, shown here in a Wikimedia Commons image, is now the subject of its own museum in Portsmouth, England.

While historic shipwrecks are often taken to the surface to be studied and conserved, or their locations kept secret to avoid looting, the shipwreck of Captain Kidd’s pirate ship will become an underwater museum.

Captain Kidd’s pirate ship to become underwater museum

Captain Kidd, pirate, pirates, pirate ship
The submerged wreck of Captain Kidd’s pirate ship will become a “Living Museum of the Sea” reports Science Daily.

The Quedagh Merchant was found a couple of years ago just off the coast of the Dominican Republic. It’s only 70 feet from the shore of Catalina Island and rests in ten feet of water, so it’s a perfect destination for scuba divers or even snorkelers.

Underwater signs will guide divers around the wreck, and like in above-ground museums, there’s a strict “don’t touch the artifacts” policy. Often when shipwrecks are found the discoverers keep the location secret to protect them from looting. Hopefully this bold step of allowing visitors to swim around such an important wreck will help inform the public without any harm being done. One can only hope!

Captain Kidd is one of the most famous and most controversial of pirates. For much of his career he was a privateer, a legal pirate with permission from the King of England to loot enemy ships and hunt down other pirates. Privateers were one of the ways the big empires of the day harassed one another.

Lots of stories of his evil nature have come down to us. He was supposed to have been brutal to his crew and was even reported to have buried his Bible, as is shown in this public domain image courtesy Wikimedia Commons. He’s also supposed to have buried treasure all over the world. How much of this is true and how much is legend is still hotly debated by historians.

The Quedagh Merchant was an Armenian vessel carrying a rich treasure of gold, silver, and fine cloth that Kidd captured in 1698 off the coast of India. Although the ship was Armenian and was under the protection of the French Crown, it was captained by an Englishman. This got Kidd’s status changed from privateer to pirate and from then on he was wanted by the English authorities.

Kidd left the Quedagh Merchant in the Caribbean with a trusted crew as he sailed off on another ship to New York to clear his name, but his “trusted crew” looted the vessel and sunk it. His loss was posterity’s gain.

Kidd shouldn’t have gone to New York. He was lured to Boston by a supposed friend and then arrested and shipped to England to be put on trial for piracy. The judge found him guilty and sentenced him to hang. His body was left hanging over the River Thames in an iron cage called a gibbet as a warning to others. The museum will be dedicated on May 23, the 310th anniversary of Kidd’s execution.

[Image of Captain Kidd rotting in the gibbet courtesy of Wikimedia Commons]

Museum Junkie: Anglo-Saxon treasure goes on display

Prize pieces from a huge horde of Anglo-Saxon gold are on display at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.

The horde, found in Staffordshire by a metal detector enthusiast, is believed to be the largest such find ever in the UK, rivaling even the famous horde of the Sutton Hoo burial ship, pictured here. The Staffordshire Horde contains 1,500 pieces of gold and silver and appears to be the treasure of a leading warrior or chief. The collection includes large amounts of male jewelry and decorated armor and experts believe it dates to the 7th century A.D., a time when England was a patchwork of warring kingdoms.

The exhibit is on until October 13, but if you can’t make it check out these amazing pictures on the horde’s official website. Many of the pieces are still undergoing conservation and study, but once that’s all done, you can expect a worldwide tour in a year or so. Watch this space.