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Treasure hunter stumbles on deadly Dad's Army bomb cache Email

Friday, 09 July 2010 00:00

A treasure hunter escaped serious injury when he unearthed a cache of bombs that were buried by the Home Guard during the darkest days of World War 2.

The weapons - primed to go off when they made contact with the air - were secreted on a beach by a Captain Mainwaring of the day.

Loaded with dangerous benzene and phosphorus, the Dad's Army-style team would have used them in battle against Nazi troops in the event of invasion.

They were buried and forgotten about for 70 years until metal detectorist Ian Snook stumbled upon them as he swept Cogden Beach, near Burton Bradstock, Dorset.

He began to dig up the find but stopped in the nick of time when he saw a warning notice on top of the bombs.

Had Ian, 44, put his spade through one of the 24 glass bottles, it would have detonated, causing serious burns.

The metal notice read: 'PRECAUTION - bombs fire instantly on breaking in air. Stringent precautions must be taken to avoid cracking during handling - the caps must never be removed.'

Ian, from Shepton Mallet, Somerset, raised the alarm and a bomb disposal squad was scrambled to carry out a controlled explosion on the last-ditch weapons.

Sergeant Kay Howell, of the bomb disposal team, said the grenades were the type issued to the Home Guard and typically hidden near likely Nazi beachheads.

He said: 'They are particularly nasty with phosphorus which will instantly ignite on contact with the air and the benzene which is carcinogenic.'

'They are really just milk bottles with a metal top - no fuse, you just throw them.'

'If someone was digging by hand and a shovel went through it will immediately spontaneously ignite.'

'And you could certainly get badly burnt, although it is unlikely they would kill you.'

'It is not safe to transport them because the caps are so very badly corroded so we exploded them where they were.'

PC Nigel Case said: 'We went and assessed the situation and then kept them safe overnight. No-one was put at risk.'

The evidence of these weapons, meant to be used in a desperate last-ditch attempt to defend Britain against an expected German invasion in 1940, reveals the grim truth behind the operations of Home Guard units, now best remembered through the antics of bumbling Captain Mainwaring and his misfit squad of would-be soldiers in the classic sitcom Dad's Army.

The BBC produced 80 episodes and three specials of Dad's Army between 1968 and 1977, portraying an accident-prone, disorganised platoon protecting the fictional South East coastal town of Walmington-on-Sea. The show's nine year run lasted three years longer than World War 2.

At its peak, as many as 18.5million viewers tuned in to watch the latest mishaps of hapless Captain Mainwaring, louche lounge lizard Sergeant Wilson, dotty Lance-Corporal Jones and Privates Pike, Godfrey, Walker and Frazer.

Courtesy Mail Online

Treasure hunter strikes it lucky for second time Email

Friday, 09 July 2010 00:00

David Booth, a metal-detector fan who unearthed Iron Age treasure worth an estimated £1million on his first outing, has made another rare find.

He has discovered a medieval seal dating back 800 years that could be worth several thousand pounds.

The well-preserved silver antique, decorated with a stone carving from Roman times, was found in a field in Stirlingshire by the safari park worker.

The 35-year-old made the find less than a year after he came across four 2,000-year-old gold neckbands adjudged one of the most important hoards of Iron Age Britain.

Despite his success, he said his girlfriend still thought his pastime was 'a bit dorky'.

It comes as experts sift through one of the largest finds of Roman coins in the country.

Another enthusiast, Dave Crisp, uncovered about 52,000 coins dating from the third century buried in a field near Frome in Somerset.

The coins were in a large jar and equivalent to about four years' pay for a legionary.

The stash was probably a religious offering, said experts at the British Museum, which has some of the coins on display until mid-August.

Courtesy Metro.co.uk

Huge hoard of Roman coins found on Somerset farm Email

Thursday, 08 July 2010 00:00

The largest single hoard of Roman coins ever found in Britain has been unearthed on a farm near Frome in Somerset.

A total of 52,500 bronze and silver coins dating from the 3rd century AD – including the largest ever found set of coins minted by the self proclaimed emperor Carausius, who lasted seven years before he was murdered by his finance minister – were found by Dave Crisp, a hobby metal detectorist from Devizes, Wiltshire.

Crisp first dug up a fingernail-sized bronze coin only 30cm below the surface. Even though he had never found a hoard before, when he had turned up a dozen coins he stopped digging and called in the experts, who uncovered a pot bellied pottery jar stuffed with the extraordinary collection, all dating from 253 to 293 AD – the year of Carausius's death.

Just giving them a preliminary wash, to prevent them from sticking together in a corroded mass as the soil dried out, took conservation staff at the British Museum a month, and compiling the first rough catalogue took a further three months.

How they got into the field remains a mystery, but archaeologists believe they must represent the life savings of an entire community – possibly a votive offering to the gods. A Roman road runs nearby, but no trace of a villa, settlement or cemetery has been found.

Roger Bland, a coins expert at the British Museum, said: "The whole hoard weighs 160 kilos, more than two overweight people, and it wouldn't have been at all easy to recover the coins from the ground. The only way would have been the way the archaeologists had to get them out, by smashing the pot that held them and scooping them out.

"No one individual could possibly have carried them to the field in the pot, it must have been buried first and then filled up."

Bland, who heads the Portable Antiquities service which encourages metal detectorists to report all finds, said the hoard had already absorbed more than 1,000 hours of work. He admitted his first stunned reaction when he saw the coins in the ground in April, was "oh my god, how the hell are we going to deal with this? Now I think it will see me out, the research will keep me going until my retirement."

"This find is going to make us rethink the nature of such hoards," he said. "The traditional thinking was that they represent wealth hidden in times of trouble and invasion – the Saxons were coming, the Irish were invading as always – but that doesn't match these dates."

The archaeologists praised Crisp for calling them in immediately, allowing the context of the find to be recorded meticulously. When a coroner's inquest is held later this month in Somerset, the coins are likely to be declared treasure, which must by law be reported. Somerset county museum hopes to acquire the hoard, which could be worth up to £1m, with the blessing of the British Museum.

Courtesy guardian.co.uk

Treasure hunter unearths Iron Age grave in field near Weymouth Email

Thursday, 08 July 2010 00:00

A TREASURE hunter has unearthed the ‘find of his life’ – a grave containing a 2,300-year-old skeleton and his possessions.

Carl Walmsley, who has been using a metal detector for 25 years, came across the find in a farmer’s field just outside Weymouth.

Buried with the Iron Age man were glass beads, a mirror, a bronze amulet, a coin, tweezers and a thistle brooch.

The skeleton, believed to date back to the first century, was found in a foetal position around 1.5ft from the surface.

Carl, of Weymouth, said: “I wasn’t expecting to find anything like this.

“I’d been metal detecting in that field before, but this time I had walked just 60 yards into the field when I found it.

“I started off digging a small hole and dug down a little further.

“Then all of a sudden a bronze amulet came out, then out popped some glass beads with parts of a mirror. I then came across a bone and that’s when I knew I’d found a grave.”

Carl, a member of Weymouth Metal Detecting Club, called the police and reported the body.

It was painstakingly removed by specialist officers and members of Bournemouth University’s archaeology department.

‘Skully’, as Carl has nick-named him, is now in the process of being cleaned up and researched by university archaeologists.

A coin in the grave is believed to date back to the years 81 to 83 BC and the skeleton is thought to be that of a man.

The value of the Iron Age loot isn’t yet known and a treasure trove inquest will be held to establish its owner.

“The thought of money hasn’t even crossed my mind.

“For me, the excitement of finding old things means more to me than finding gold. It’s the find of my life,” Carl said.

Condor Ferries cabin manager Carl said he would like the skeleton and the items to go on display in Dorset County Museum.

“We’d like local people to be able to see it,” he added.

Carl took up metal detecting as a hobby after his dad Jim introduced him to it.

Jim said: “He was very lucky because in a few years it would have been destroyed because it was on a slope so close to the surface and would have been ploughed over. This is a once in a lifetime discovery and I’m very proud of him.”

Pictures of Carl’s recent find along with other artefacts discovered by the Weymouth Metal Detecting Club will be on display at Weymouth Museum in Brewer’s Quay until September.

Courtesy Dorset ECHO

Washington's cabin unearthed in Valley Forge Email

Tuesday, 06 July 2010 00:00

UPPER MERION — Archaeologists believe they've found evidence of a log cabin Martha Washington mentioned in a letter to a friend 232 years ago while she was visiting her husband in Valley Forge.

When National Park Service archaeologists began digging behind Washington's Headquarters this summer, they spotted soil discoloration indicating a log cabin Gen. George Washington had built behind the headquarters to use as a dining hall for himself and his top military advisers during the six-month Revolutionary War encampment, according to Joe Blondino, the park's field director for the public archaeology project.

On Thursday, Blondino pointed to a long, narrow patch of darkened earth in the area being excavated behind the headquarters.

"This discoloration actually represents the trench that was dug to lay in the first log, the sill log, of the log cabin that was here," he said.

During the Continental Army's stay at Valley Forge, Washington, his aides, servants and wife all lived and worked together in the small headquarters house. To ease the cramped conditions in what some historians have dubbed the "1778 Pentagon," the general had a cabin constructed.

During the encampment, from Dec. 19, 1777, to June 19, 1778, British troops occupied Philadelphia. The cabin served as both a dining hall and war room for Washington and his men.

"They were having some serious discussions during their meals," Blondino said.

Historians discovered a fleeting mention of the wood structure in a 1778 letter Martha Washington wrote to her friend Mercy Otis Warren, whom she told, "... the General's appartment is very small; he has had a log cabin built to dine in which has made our quarters much more tolarable than they were at first."

"Many of us have known about this letter for some time," Blondino said, but up until this year, the archaeologists didn't know where the structure had been erected.

Park Ranger Ajena Rogers, who interprets history at the park for visitors, said the general's wife lived with her husband at the camp.

"Martha Washington stayed at Valley Forge four months out of the six," she said.

Rogers said other wartime encampments during the American Revolution include Cambridge, Mass., Morristown, N.J., Middlebrook, N.J. and Newburgh, N.Y.

Blondino, Carin Boone and Katie Cavallo, all season park employees, are digging 5-foot-square grids to excavate centuries-old remnants of the structure estimated to be about 24 feet long and 20 feet wide.

"Actually, we got really lucky," Blondino said. "Normally, in archaeology you make your big, exciting discovery on the afternoon of your last day in the field. In this case, on our first day, we opened this 5-by-5-foot unit right here, and we started to see that soil discoloration, that soil stain, immediately."

Last summer, the group found broken pottery, animal bones and other artifacts buried in "trash pits." Their recent finds include a makeshift smoking pipe and shards of china.

"We got a very fancy Chinese export teapot," he said.

A fragment of the teapot and other excavated items are on display at the newly-renovated train station just up the hill from the headquarters.

On Thursday, volunteers helped to sift the unearthed soil. When items are dug up, they get cleaned in a makeshift lab at the site. Park visitors are invited to watch the excavation and talk to the workers.

Blondino, a Ph.D. student in anthropology at Temple University, considers himself a "dirt archaeologist" because he enjoys the fieldwork side of his profession.

Blondino and Ajena Rogers are both graduates of James Madison University in Virginia. Rogers' major was physics. She's worked at Valley Forge since 1997.

Rogers showed a copy of the bill for "100 pounds Pennsylvania currency" Washington paid Issac Potts for the use of his property during the historic winter.

In recent years, she has portrayed Hannah Till, a slave who cooked for Washington at Valley Forge, during historical presentations at the park. Rogers is pictured in period dress as Till in the train station's new display.

"Portraying the character has been very emotional for me because it has allowed me to help bring out a story of a person you don't usually hear about," she said.

Rogers learned through her research that Till earned her freedom working for the general on the campgrounds that eventually became the national park. The recent dining cabin discovery brings the park ranger even closer in spirit to the woman she's dramatized.

"So just having those (historical) finds is indescribable; to make the connection across all those years to a person who I feel I've gotten to know very well," she said.

The dig continues until July 17, Tuesdays through Saturdays, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. To learn more about archaeological excavation near Washington's Headquarters, go to www.nps.gov/archeology/sites/npSites/valleyForge.htm.

Courtesy The Phoenix

Researchers take aim at a forgotten battle Email

Monday, 05 July 2010 00:00

Vic Mastone, a state archeologist, is an excited bundle of animation as he scans the Revolutionary War battlefield. Like a general on high ground, he surveys a checkerboard of fuel tanks, mountains of road salt, rotted wharf pilings, and a jumble of shoehorned tenements.

Continue reading at Boston.com

Decoding the ancient Egyptians' stone sky map Email

Monday, 05 July 2010 00:00

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."

There's more about all this in Cauville's 1997 book, Le Zodiaque d'Osiris, and on my blog: see "Mystery of an ancient zodiac" and "Cleopatra and the eclipse".

Courtesy New Scientist

Sinking oil threatens historic Gulf shipwrecks Email

Sunday, 04 July 2010 00:00

TIMBALIER ISLANDS, La.—Not just flora and fauna are getting caked in oil. So is the Gulf of Mexico's barnacled history of pirates, sea battles and World War II shipwrecks.

Continue reading at Boston.com

Discovery of U-boat wrecks rewrites the history books Email

Sunday, 04 July 2010 00:00

The final resting places of six German U-boats sunk in the final months of the Second World War's greatest naval conflict have finally been identified. After years of research, maritime experts say their discoveries will force historians to re-evaluate the battle for control of the Atlantic.

Evidence from the wrecks suggests many U-boats were sunk by mines rather than attacks by Allied air and naval forces, as had previously been believed. The findings show coastal minefields were around three times more effective than British naval intelligence gave them credit for. Experts believe their view was distorted, unintentionally, by reports from over-enthusiastic airmen and escort ship commanders who sometimes claimed they had sunk U-boats with depth charges or anti-submarine mortars.

One submarine, the U-400, previously believed sunk by Royal Navy depth charges south of Cork in Ireland, has now been identified off the coast of north Cornwall. The German sub was on its very first patrol in December 1944 when it hit a mine, underwater photography suggests.

Read more: Discovery of U-boat wrecks rewrites the history books

Gold Digger: Beachcombing makes a rewarding passion Email

Saturday, 03 July 2010 00:00

Name: Philip Ocasio
Age: 58
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?

Courtesy NYDailyNews.com