BURIED, SUNKEN, HIDDEN AND LOST
It happens all the time, but no one can predict when it will. The “past” yields its secrets at its own pace; still it never stops giving. The “stuff” it reveals was once buried, sunken, hidden away or lost. But then it surfaces and mostly we welcome it, benefit when it adds to our stock of knowledge. Not always, of course. Consider the unexploded bombs from World War II that occasionally are unearthed (and then often defused). Also the thousands of hidden land mines that maim and kill those who unwittingly detonate them. And let’s not forget the mass graves of murder victims that we stumble upon. By and large, though, we value what comes to light. For example, at numerous locations within the United States, it’s no great challenge to “discover” Native American artifacts (often arrowheads) lying about.
There are people dedicated to this task, whose life work it is to discover and uncover what they suspect may lie beneath the earth’s surface (not including the legions of geologists and other scientists who seek out “new” deposits of precious metals, coal, oil and gas). One could spend considerable time discussing the quixotic quests of “fortune hunters”, amateurs usually, often beguiled by the prospect of hidden treasure. Many are those who’ve accepted widely circulated tales of pirates (or bandits) burying their loot and mapping the locations of these treasures. Then there are the “professionals” who, after diligent and painstaking research attempt to locate sunken ships either because of the valuables assumed to be on board or because of significant historical interest in these vessels. Few are unaware of Mel Fisher’s sixteen-year quest for the Spanish Galleon which sank off Key West Florida in 1622. The payoff came in 1985 when the ship (Atocha) was located and contained some $450 million in gold, silver, jewelry, etc. Millions of other vessels are believed strewn along ocean floors all over the world. Many have been brought to the surface, fortunes found and valuable information obtained. Of course, the most famous of all wrecks, that of the Titanic, which sank in 1912, was later discovered in 1985. Since then artifacts of all sorts have been recovered and an entire “industry” formed around this “celebrated” sinking including the aftermath of this disaster. The epic Civil War naval battle between the Monitor and The Merrimack, the first clash of iron-clad ships, ended inconclusively, but sometime afterwards, the Monitor sank. The wreck was discovered in 1973 and parts of it recovered in 2002. Hundreds of other historically significant ships remain under the waters of America and the surrounding ocean depths. Many of them will eventually be retrieved once funds become available to underwrite these operations.
Archeologists are the most avid and insistent of diggers. They usually have an idea of what they’re looking for but are never sure where it will be found. Lost civilizations, early humans, buried cities, extinct animals, primitive technologies – all of these are of great interest, help fill in (when properly analyzed and interpreted) major gaps in the historical record.
In 2009 an amateur treasure hunter unearthed over a thousand artifacts originating in Anglo-Saxon times, that is the period before the Norman Conquest of England (1066). Then in 2012 we learned about the discovery of a stash of jewels in London, hidden away, it is believed, back in the mid-17th Century. Much more significantly a skeleton found (2012) in Leicester, England, under a parking lot was confirmed to be the remains of King John III of England.
Television’s Antique Roadshow reminds us how many valuable and historically significant objects have been uncovered in the most unlikely places – at garage sales, flea markets, dumps, beneath beds, in old barns and forgotten trunks. In 1978 more than 500 movies produced between 1903 and 1929 were removed from a hole in Dawson City, Yukon. In 1990 a librarian opened a trunk long in storage, belonging to her grandfather, and discovered an original handwritten manuscript of the first half of Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn. The next year, a Philadelphia resident sold (for $3.5million) one of the very few surviving original copies of the Declaration of Independence. He had found it lodged behind a wooden frame that cost him four dollars at a flea market. What about all the personal papers and correspondence associated with famous figures, once thought not to exist, that have been discovered and have provided the basis for new interpretations of these celebrated figures?:
And so, in conclusion – Keep digging, keep looking. You never know!