Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Treasures lost and found

Looks like Lost Treasures: The World's Great Riches Rediscovered will have some shiny new items for its next edition. As reported in National Geographic, the team of archaeologist Julia Mayo (of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama City) has been repeatedly hitting the jackpot in a 1200-year-old cemetery of the Sitio Conte peoples. In 2010 there was the gleaming, gold-filled burial site of a chieftain. Then last spring another fabulous royal cache dating from A.D. 900 came to light, with gold breastplates, arm cuffs, emerald jewelry, and more. The group really had to hustle before the rainy season flooded the tombs. Secrecy was paramount, understandably, because of the magnitude of the treasures. The artifacts display consummate artistry, as you can see from the photos. They prove that the metal was worked in the region by sophisticated goldsmiths—not obtained from the Mayans, as had previously been thought. The culture endured until the conquistadores discovered the Sitio Conte and their gold in the 1500s. You know the end of that story.

In sadder  news, portions of one Spain's best-preserved and largest (710 sq ft) Roman mosaics has been hacked off by thieves. The three missing images depict Bacchus in his chariot being pulled by a pair of panthers, a hunting scene of a dog chasing a deer labeled “Notus” (the Greek name for the south wind), and one of a dog chasing a doe called “Boreas” (the north wind). The flimsy security that enabled this desecration at the villa of Santa Cruz is symptomatic of the dire peril antiquities are in because of lack of funds in both Spain and Italy.

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