Just over 2000 years ago, ancient Egyptians carved a map of the sky onto two enormous sandstone blocks and set them into the ceiling of a temple at Dendera, on the west bank of the Nile.
This "Zodiac of Dendera" was blasted from its surrounds by a French treasure hunter in 1821, and is now on display in the Louvre museum in Paris, France. The circular design contains many intricate hieroglyphs, as well as human and animal figures, including several that represent the signs of the zodiac. As Jed Buchwald and Diane Greco Josefowicz discuss in their book The Zodiac of Paris (which I have reviewed, here), it arrived in France to a stormy debate over its meaning and origins.
The book deals with a fascinating period in French history, but it left me wanting to know more about the Zodiac of Dendera itself. Why did the Egyptians create it, and what was it intended to represent?
I called the latest scholar to tackle these questions, Sylvie Cauville of the Centre for Computer-aided Egyptological Research at Utrecht University, the Netherlands. She told me that as well as star constellations, the Zodiac of Dendera shows the five planets known to the Egyptians. The configuration of planets depicted occurs only once every thousand years, so working with astrophysicist Eric Aubourg, she has been able to date the map to between 15 June and 15 August in the year 50 BC - just after the death of Cleopatra's father, Ptolemy Auletes, in 51 BC.
Two eclipses are shown too, which Aubourg has identified as the solar eclipse of 7 March 51 BC and a lunar eclipse that occurred on 25 September 52 BC.
Why did the Egyptians go to so much trouble to create this sky map? Cauville reckons the solar eclipse must have occurred in Alexandria at around the same time that Ptolemy Auletes died. So Cleopatra had the Zodiac created to "inscribe for eternity" the moment of his death, or to be more precise, her own rise to power.
"It's a shame that so many fanciful things have been written about the zodiac," she says. "The astronomical reality is so much more beautiful."
Name: Philip Ocasio
Job title: Tresure hunter
Time on the job: 34 years
Sizzling temperatures are sparking a gold rush this summer. Sunbathers escaping to city beaches to beat the heat drop coins, watches and jewelry every day. This free-for-all draws treasure hunters, like Philip Ocasio, who comb the sands with state-of-the-art metal detectors as well as sand shovels to scoop up the loot that gets left behind.
What got you into treasure hunting?
I started in 1976 when my brother introduced me, and there were no permits back then — you could dig anywhere! Now I hunt with the Bronx Explorer’s Treasure Hunting Club [with a Parks Department permit] in parks and beaches in Queens, in Manhattan, the Bronx, Brooklyn and Staten Island. I go out whenever I can [when not at his day job as a computer operator].
What equipment do you use?
This is a Minelab Explorer II metal detector. We call it “The Beast” because it’s one of the deepest-seeking machines. It has 28 frequencies that can discriminate between different materials. The whole set [with headphones and shovel] costs about $1,350 brand-new.
How do you know when you’ve found something?
It gives off different tones that you hear with the headphones, like the different rings on your cell phone. I have memorized the sounds for copper, pewter, glass, silver, gold. It keeps you ahead of the game — although you can be out here six hours and you will still dig up at least a thousand pull-tops [from aluminum cans].
Do you ever find anything that’s actually valuable?
I find change, bracelets, medallions, charms. I found a gold coin in Pelham Bay Park on Good Friday that was worth $480. And engagement rings ... it happens all the time on the beach: A girl will start fighting with her fiancé, and she takes off the wedding band or the engagement band and throws it in the water!
Do you find a lot of engagement rings?
I’ve found four, and I’ve returned all of them! The most expensive one was worth over $16,000. [The woman who lost it] asked me to find that for her. It was here all right, at Coney Island, in the shallow water. People wear their jewelry in the water, and they forget that their fingers shrink and rings slide off, or they dive, and the gold chains slip right off their necks.
Why did you return the engagement rings?
You’re tempted to keep it sometimes, but it’s better to give it back. We post some things that we find with identifying marks and inscriptions on the forum online. And every time I returned them, that same day I would find coins, or 12 to 15 rings with a lot of different stones. It’s a spiritual reward. And then to see their faces, the happiness to be reunited with their lost things, is priceless.
What have you kept?
Chains and jewelry. My wife, she has about 80 rings to herself that I’ve gotten over the years. And the coins. The old coins are my favorite. One day, I’m hoping to find that Morgan Liberty silver dollar ...
Are people on the beach supportive of your hobby, or do they consider you a scavenger?
It’s better to keep a low profile and go early in the morning when nobody is there. Some inconsiderate treasure hunters have given everybody a bad name. It’s very important to follow metal-detecting etiquette: Never dig on private property without permission. Be courteous, and always fill in your holes! We’re not losers or scavengers. It’s a hobby and a passion. I’m not looking to make a quick buck. What I love is the mystery. What am I gonna find today?
(CNN) -- Treasure hunters armed with shovels and metal detectors have descended on a sleepy Austrian town in search of up to €5 million ($6.18 million) said to have been buried there by a fraudulent German financial advisor, says ORF, the Austrian broadcasting corporation.
The fortune is believed to have been buried in aluminium cases by Augustine G. in wooded mountainous areas surrounding the small town of Ebbs near the German border, say police.
Augustine, a 52-year-old whose full name has not been officially released by Austrian or German police, was arrested when an amateur archaeologist found a suitcase containing €150,000 ($185,000) and Augustine's passport buried near Innsbruck, the capital of the Tyrol region in the west of Austria.
At his 2002 trial Augustine said the €5 million fortune he had embezzled from investors while working for the BDA bank had been taken by the Italian mafia.
During his trial, German police said they suspected he had hidden the rest of the money because they had determined that he had bought several aluminium cases which they believed he might have used to bury the cash.
Augustine was jailed for the maximum six-years and is now living in Bavaria in Germany.
Investigators have now publicized the case in the hope that Augustine will tell them where the money is buried.
The ploy has failed but it has tempted treasure hunters to travel to Ebbs, population 5,000, and dig in the hope of finding their fortune.
Austrian law allows treasure hunters to keep 10 percent of any banknotes they find.
The DBA Bank has also said that anyone who finds the €5 million will be rewarded €660,000 ($815,000).
Jurgen Pettinger, an ORF correspondent based in Innsbruck, told CNN: "When (Augustine) was released from prison BDA hired private detectives who followed him into the woods... it sounds a little crazy, but that's what happened. No one knows the exact amount of money buried."
Augustine told police after his release in 2008 that he had managed to convince Mafia bosses to pay him back €100,000.
The banknotes he handed over to investigators were moldy and wet, according to investigators, Pettinger said.
The treasure hunters at the site include locals, and more people are expected to converge on the area as the story spreads.
"They need to have a lot of luck to find the money, the police told me. There are many locals going there to look and I think in the next days more people will come to look for money. I think some will come from Germany also," Pettinger said.
While treasure hunters will be keeping their fingers crossed, Ebbs may benefit from an influx of visitors. The local tourist office is already planning an official tourist trail, Pettinger said.