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.

Tonga Shipwreck Discovered, Believed To Be Pirate Treasure Ship

scuba diving A recent discovery made by divers in Tonga could hold a missing puzzle piece to an age-old mystery. A local diver in the Ha’apai group of islands last month found wreckage believed to be a pirate vessel containing treasure that sank in 1806.

The Port-au-Prince, a British privateer, was attacked by local warriors after arriving in Tonga, with King Finau ‘Ulukalala II ordering the crew to be massacred. However, the Tongans saved most of the iron and cannon on board before the king ordered the ship to be scuttled.

“It is believed that a considerable amount of copper, silver and gold is resting with the wreck, along with a number of silver candlesticks, incense pans, crucifixes and chalices,” tourism ministry spokeswoman Sandra Fifita told news.com.au.

As of now, divers are thoroughly mapping out the underwater location. According to diver Darren Rice, who has visited the site, if it is the Port-au-Prince then it’s the most important shipwreck in Tonga’s history. Moreover, while the treasure will be buried now and difficult to get to, divers are positive it is there.

[image via Jessica Festa]

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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Billions of dollars worth of treasure discovered in ancient temple in India

$22 billion in treasure discovered at a temple in India.More than $22 billion in gold, gems, statues, and other treasure has been discovered in an ancient temple in southern India, prompting heated debate over what to do with the trove. Meanwhile, authorities scramble to secure the items in the short term, even as more riches are uncovered.

The artifacts were found inside the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple, a popular Hindu shrine that was built in the 16th century and is maintained by the Travancore Royal Family. For hundreds of years pilgrims donated valuable items to the temple, most of which were secured away in vaults beneath the structure. Over the centuries, those vaults remained sealed, and an inventory of the items within was lost or forgotten. It is estimated that it has been more than 150 years since the vaults were last opened.

Recently, allegations of lax security at the temple prompted India’s Supreme Court to order an inspection of the vaults, resulting in the massive find. So far, five of the six vaults have been opened and inventoried, revealing chests of rare gold coins, statues of Hindu gods and goddesses, many encrusted in jewels, and other art work dating back as much as 500 years.

The discovery has made the temple one of the wealthiest in the world but has sparked a public debate over what to do with the treasure. The Travancore family insists that the treasure trove remain in their vaults, but there are many who think that the items should be shared with the world by putting them on permanent display in museums.

As tales of the incredible wealth located inside the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple spread, authorities were forced to increase the security detail at the site. Most believe that the $22 billion estimate is on the conservative end of the spectrum, and with one more vault yet to be opened, they don’t want to take any chances with thieves. The temple even installed metal detectors in the past few days to prevent anyone from slipping out with any of the riches.

No matter what is decided, it is likely to be some time before any of the treasures go on display. It will likely take weeks, or even months, to catalog and categorize all the items found in the vault and prepare them for display. Still, it sounds as if this is one very impressive find.

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.