Massive Gold Bar Unearthed in Mexico Was Looted Aztec Treasure

Massive Gold Bar Unearthed in Mexico Was Looted Aztec Treasure

New research on a large gold bar that was discovered in central Mexico City decades ago reveals it was part of the plunder Spanish conquerors tried to carry away as they fled the Aztec capital after native warriors forced a hasty retreat.

In a statement on Thursday, a few months before the 500th anniversary of the battles that forced Hernan Cortes and his soldiers to flee the city temporarily on 30 June 1520 Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) announced the results of the new tests of the bar.

A day earlier, Aztec Emperor Moctezuma was killed or possibly assassinated, according to the native informants of one Spanish chronicler, which promoted a frenzied battle that forced Cortes, his fellow Spaniards as well as their native allies to flee for their lives.

A new scientific analysis of a large gold bar found decades ago in downtown Mexico City reveals it was part of the plunder Spanish conquerors tried to carry away as they fled the Aztec capital after native warriors forced a hasty retreat.

A year later, Cortes would return and lay siege to the city, which was already weakened with supply lines cut and diseases introduced by the Spanish invaders taking a toll.

The bar was originally discovered in 1981 during a construction project some 16 feet (5 meters) underground in downtown Mexico City – which was built on the ruins of the Aztec capital Tenochtitlan – where a canal that would have been used by the fleeing Spaniards was once located.

The bar weighs about 2 kg (4.4 lb) and is 26.2 cm (10.3 inches) long, 5.4 cm (2.1 inches) wide and 1.4 cm (half an inch) thick.

A fluorescent X-ray chemical analysis was able to pinpoint its creation to between 1519-1520, according to INAH, which coincides with the time Cortes ordered gold objects stolen from an Aztec treasury to be melted down into bars for easier transport to Europe.

Historical accounts describe Cortes and his men as heavily weighed down by the gold they hoped to take with them as they fled the imperial capital during what is known today as the “Sad Night,” or “Noche Triste,” in Spanish.

“The golden bar is a unique historical testimony to a transcendent moment in world history,” said archeologist Leonardo Lopez Lujan, who leads excavations at a nearby dig where the Aztecs’ holiest shrine once stood.

Until the recent tests, scholars of the last gasps of the Aztec empire only had historical documents to rely on as confirmed sources, added Lopez Lujan.

A more in-depth and technical description of the tests performed on the bar is published in the January issue of the magazine Arqueologia Mexicana.

Remains of missing World War II pilot from Benson identified in France

Remains of missing World War II pilot from Benson identified in France

The traces of a Western Minnesota pilot of World War II who was killed 75 years ago during the D-Day have been identified.

On Wednesday, the Defense POW / MIA Accounting Agency announced the remains of U.S. Army Air Forces 2nd Lt. William J. McGowan, 23, of Benson, was identified on May 13.

Remains of missing World War II pilot from Benson identified in France
U.S. Army Air Forces 2nd Lt. William J. McGowan is shown in an undated photo from the World War II era. Killed in a plane crash in France during the D-Day invasion on June 6, 1944, his remains have been identified.

McGowan will be buried July 26 at the Normandy American Cemetery in France.

McGowan was a 391st Fighter Squadron member, 366th Fighter Group, 9th United States Air Force. Air force. On the day of the D day, when the P47 Thunderbolt crashed on a mission near the city of Saint-Lô, France, he was killed June 6, 1944.

In 1947, based on information from a French citizen, the American Graves Registration Command investigated a crash site near the village of Moon-sur-Elle that was possibly associated with McGowan’s loss.

An investigator traveled to the site and learned from witnesses that the aircraft burned for more than a full day after impact and it had been embedded deeply into the ground.

A Defense Department team removed wreckage from the impact crater but failed to locate McGowan’s remains. As a result, on Dec. 23, 1947, his remains were declared nonrecoverable.

In 2010, a team from the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Agency traveled to Moon-sur-Elle to interview witnesses and survey the crash site. During the survey, the team found numerous pieces of aircraft debris and recommended the site for excavation.

In July and August 2018, excavation of the site led to possible remains, which were sent to the DPAA laboratory for analysis.

Dental and anthropological analysis, as well as circumstantial and material evidence, were used to identify McGowan’s remains.

McGowan’s name is recorded on the Tablets of the Missing at the Normandy American Cemetery, an American Battle Monuments Commission site in Colleville-Sur-Mer, France.

A rosette will be placed next to his name to indicate he has been accounted for.

Of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II, more than 400,000 died during the war. Currently, there are 72,639 service members still unaccounted for from World War II with approximately 30,000 assessed as possibly recoverable.

Massive Roman Villa Found in British Backyard

Massive Roman Villa Found in British Backyard

This began out as a bit of basic home improvement, which ended up with the finding of one of the biggest Roman Villas ever to be found in the UK. While laying an electricity cable beneath the grounds of his home, near the village of Tisbury, in Wiltshire, Luke Irwin found the remains of what appeared to be an ornate Roman Mosaic.

Yet it was even more shocking that there was an excavation by archeologists from Historic Great Britain and the Salisbury Museum. They found the mosaic was part of the floor of a much larger Roman property, similar in size and structure to the great Roman villa at Chedworth.

But in a move that will surprise many, the remains – some of the most important to be found in decades – have now been re-buried, as Historic England cannot afford to fully excavate and preserve such an extensive site.

Dr David Roberts, the archaeologist for Historic England, said:  “This site has not been touched since its collapse 1400 years ago and, as such, is of enormous importance. Without question, this is a hugely valuable site in terms of research, with incredible potential.

“The discovery of such an elaborate and extraordinarily well-preserved villa, undamaged by agriculture for over 1500 years, is unparalleled in recent years. Overall, the excellent preservation, large scale and complexity of this site present a unique opportunity to understand Roman and post-Roman Britain.”

Excavations at the site revealed a large Roman property, similar in size and structure to Chedworth

He added: “Unfortunately, it would cost hundreds of thousands of pounds to fully excavate and the preserve the site, which cannot be done with the current pressures.

“We would very much like to go back and carry out more digs to further our understanding of the site. But it’s a question of raising the money and taking our time, because as with all archaeological work there is the risk of destroying the very thing you seek to uncover.” 

Mr Irwin, a Dublin-born designer who makes hand-made silk, wool and cashmere rugs, made the fortunate find last summer while laying electricity cables beneath a stretch of ground to the rear of his property, so that his children could play table tennis under lighting in an old barn.

An artist’s impression of how the site would have looked

His builders had barely begun to dig a trench for the cables when they hit something solid, just 18 inches below the surface. On closer inspection it appeared to be a section of a Roman mosaic in remarkably good condition. Intrigued, Mr Irwin called in experts from the Wiltshire Archaeology Service, Historic England (formerly English Heritage) and nearby Salisbury Museum. 

Further exploratory excavation of the site – now known as the Deverill Villa after the name of Mr Irwin’s 17th-century house – revealed surviving sections of walls, one and a half metres in height, confirming that the mosaic formed part of a grand villa, thought to have been three storeys in height, its grounds extending over 100 metres in width and length.

It is thought the villa, which had around 20 to 25 rooms on the ground floor alone, was built sometime between 175 AD and 220 AD, and was repeatedly re-modelled right up until the mid – 4th century. The remains at Deverill are similar to those found at Chedworth, in Gloucestershire, suggesting that the building belonged to a family of significant wealth and importance. 

A Roman coin found at the site

Chedworth was built as a dwelling around three sides of a courtyard, with a fine mosaic floor, as well as two separate bathing suites – one for damp-heat and one for dry-heat. The villa was discovered in 1864, and it was excavated and put on display soon afterwards. It was acquired by the National Trust in 1924.

The discovery at Mr Irwin’s home also revealed a number of fascinating objects from the Roman period. Among the artefacts discovered during the excavations were a perfectly preserved Roman well, underfloor heating pipes and the stone coffin of a Roman child. Another was the stone coffin of a Roman child, which had long been used by the inhabitants of the adjoining house as a flower pot, most recently for geraniums.

Also found were discarded oyster shells, which would have had to be transported over 45 miles from the coast– further evidence of the villa would have been the home of a wealthy and important family. Archaeologists believe that during the post-Roman period timber structures were erected within the ruins of the once-ornate villa.

One of the discarded oyster shells

They say further research of what was found at Deverill would  throw light on what remains one of the least understood periods of British history – between fall of the Roman Empire and the completion of Saxon domination in the 7th century.

Simon Sebag Montefiore, one of Britain’s leading historians said: “This remarkable Roman villa, with its baths and mosaics uncovered by chance, is a large, important and very exciting discovery that reveals so much about the luxurious lifestyle of a rich Romano British family at the height of the empire.

“It is an amazing thought that so much has survived almost two millennia.”  Mr Irwin was inspired by his discovery to create a series of rugs based around the theme of the Roman mosaic he unearthed. His collection will be put on display at his showroom in central London.

A child’s coffin found at the site

He said: “When I held some of the tessaras, the mosaic tiles that were found, in the palm of my hand, the history of the place felt tangible, like an electric shock. The brilliance of their colours was just extraordinary, especially as they have been buried for so long.

“To think that someone lived on this site 1,500 years ago is almost overwhelming. You look out at an empty field from your front door, and yet centuries ago one of the biggest homes in all of Britain at the time was standing there.”

But while the artefacts have been removed and are now in the care of Salisbury Museum, the remains of the villa and its mosaics have been re-buried and grassed over to protect them from the elements. To expose and preserve the mosaics and fragments of walls would be prohibitively expensive and beyond the budget of Salisbury Museum. Even if it was financially possible, Mr Irwin does not want his garden turned into an open-air museum.

Farmer Digging a well find the Terracotta Army of Emperor Qin Shi Huang in China

Farmer Digging a well find the Terracotta Army of Emperor Qin Shi Huang in China

When farmers Yang Zhifa found a piece of an old terracotta as he dug a well, he thought he’d stumbled on a disused kiln that could supply him with free jars. How wrong he was: it turned out to be the first warrior of the famous Chinese terracotta army.

It was in the Chinese New Year in March 1974 and was especially dry in that time, Yang’s production unit decided to dig a well to water the crops of the cooperative farm.

“At first the digging went well. The second day we hit hard red earth. The third day, my hoe dug out the neck of a terracotta statue without a head, but the opening at the bottom was about the size of a bowl,” he recalled.

Farmer Digging a well find the Terracotta Army of Emperor Qin Shi Huang in China
When archaeologist Zhao Kangmin picked up the phone in April 1974, all he was told was that a group of farmers digging a well nearby had found some relics.

“I commented to my workmate that it was probably the site of an old kiln. He advised me to dig carefully so that we’d be able to dig out any old jars and take them home for our own use.”

As they went on digging, the peasants came across the shoulders and torso of a statue. So it evidently wasn’t a kiln, they thought, but a temple. Then they realised that it was a complete body, apart from one leg that had been cut off, and the missing head. As they went on digging, they turned up bronze items. One of Yang’s colleagues teased him: “You like a nice pipe, and these things will be worth quite a bit of money. You’ll be able to swap them for tobacco.”

Suspicious villagers

“It was the middle of the Cultural Revolution at the time, and everything was topsy-turvy in the villages. People had gathered round and were watching us. When the older ones saw these ‘statues of gods’ and the bronze objects we had dug up, they weren’t at all pleased. They said they were part of the local feng shui, and that digging them up would do no good either to the village or to us.” But Yang had spent six years in the army and knew something about ancient objects.

“People had always said that the tomb of the Qin emperor covered an area of just over 9 hectares and that our village was about two kilometres from the mausoleum. These objects could be of historic interest. So I called some women and harnessed up three two-wheeled carts to transport them […] to the Lintong district museum several kilometres away.“

Yang wasn’t too sure what the museum would say about his find. “If they aren’t of any historic interest, I’ll throw them into the river, have a wash and go home,” he thought as he and his colleagues transported their unusual load. The experts at the museum recognised the fragments and the “statue of the god” as dating from the Qin dynasty – the third century B.C. – and that they were therefore extremely valuable.

“They paid us CNY10 (yuan) per cart, so a total of CNY30. We were really happy to get so much for having brought three carts of terracotta,” said Yang. At the time CNY10 was the equivalent of an annual salary in poor rural areas.

When they got back to the village they handed the money to their production unit, as was required under the collective system. Each one of them was awarded five points – the equivalent of half a day’s work – or 13 fen (a fen being a hundredth of a yuan) that they could use to buy food or other goods. At first, that was their entire reward.

Hour of glory

Yang Zhifa is one of the discoverers of the Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor
Archaeologists at the site in 1979 – Zhao is not pictured

The authorities then decided to build a museum on the site of the mausoleum. The villagers – including Yang – were displaced. He received 5,000 yuan in compensation for his 167 square metres of land.

He moved to a new village, called Qinyong (meaning “Qin warriors”), six kilometres from the museum. He was given a three-room flat, similar to the ones allocated to other relocated villagers. But they were angry with him: if they had to leave their homes it was “because of him”, he explained. To get away from their hostile looks and remarks, he moved about a kilometre away.

When he thinks about it now, it didn’t really make much difference to his life. But he says that the discovery of the site and the reforms introduced by the authorities led to a rise in the standard of living and some of the villagers have been able to make money by setting up businesses.

But Yang doesn’t have a head for that sort of thing. The museum gave him job signing autographs for visitors. “At first I was earning CNY300 a month. By the time I retired it was 1,000.” Yang had his hour of glory when Bill Clinton visited the museum and asked for his autograph. The former US president isn’t the only world leader Yang met. He can’t remember all the names, but he has their photos on his wall. At the end of March 1990, Swiss photographer Daniel Schwartz, together with an assistant and a technician from Hong Kong, travelled to Lintong to.

Philosophical

When he stopped working at the museum, Yang found himself with practically no income. But he is philosophical about it.

“Whether it’s fair or not, I can’t do anything about it. I’m only a simple peasant,” he commented, but he is not unhappy either. “There were too many people at the museum. Sometimes I didn’t feel too well after working all day.” The museum now draws millions of visitors a year and earns some CNY480 million from them (about CHF72 million).

But few people still remember Yang. His name does not even appear on the explanatory board at the entrance to the display, which says simply that the terracotta army was discovered by local peasants. The People’s Daily wrote that “peasants don’t know anything about science. It’s impossible that they should have discovered anything,” said Yang.

“That’s life. Even if there is a lot of injustice in society, there’s no point in getting angry about it.” And as he pointed out, the discovery of the “eighth wonder of the world” may not have made him rich, but it still makes him proud.

Greek Sponge Divers find the Worlds Oldest Analog Computer

Greek Sponge Divers find the Worlds Oldest Analog Computer

When you ask someone who invented the computer they might say, Bill Gates or Steve Jobs. They would, of course, be wrong. Perhaps they might mention Alan Turing (who proposed a “Universal Computing Museum”) or the US Navy’s WWII era Torpedo Data Computer. But computers, which were initially conceived of as calculating devices, are much older than that and older than the modern world.

An analog computer, an old Greek device designed for the calculation of astronomical position, is the oldest Antikythera mechanism computer in the world. And now media outlets are reporting that a lost piece, which somehow survived looters, has been discovered on the Aegean Seabed.

The Antikythera Mechanism was lost over 2,200 years ago when the cargo ship carrying it was shipwrecked off the coast of the small Greek island of Antikythera (which is located between Kythera and Crete).

The rear face of the Antikythera mechanism.
The rear face of the Antikythera mechanism.

The Mechanism was initially discovered in 1901 when Greek sponge divers found an encrusted greenish lump. They brought the mechanism, which they believed to be a rock, to archaeologist Valerios Stais at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens.

Over the ensuing decades the site was looted, trampled on by explorers, and, in 1976, the famous French explorer Jean-Jacques Cousteau inadvertently destroyed much of what remained of the ship’s hull.

Initially, no one knew to want the lump was. Two millennia had eaten away at the ship and its cargo. Stais’ cousin, Spyridon Stais, a former mathematician, was the first to identify the gears in the mechanism.

It was only with the development of advanced x-ray technology and the collaboration of numerous individuals (from Cousteau to modern historians of science like Alexander Jones) that the heavily corroded rock was revealed to be a technologically advanced calculator.

How advanced? The second century BCE Mechanism could do basic math, calculate the movements of the sun and moon, track the movements of the constellations and planets, and predict eclipses and equinoxes.

It contains over thirty hand-worked cogs, dozens more than the average luxury Swiss watch. It may not have the faculties of an iPhone but it is more than a simple calculator.

In 2012, almost 50 years after Cousteau’s excavations, a new team of underwater archaeologists returned to re-examine the site.

They discovered hundreds of previously unnoted artifacts, including bronze and marble statues, furniture, coins, and a sarcophagus lid. But last year, on the seabed, they discovered something else: an encrusted corroded disk about 8cm in diameter.

X-ray analysis has revealed that the disk bears an engraving of the zodiac sign Taurus, the bull.

The discovery of a piece of the world’s oldest analog computer would be a huge and remarkable discovery on its own terms. But it has additional significance in what it can tell us about the development of the field of archaeology itself.

As Sarah Bond, an associate professor of Classics at the University of Iowa, told The Daily Beast “The Antikythera Mechanism is an important object in the historical record of ancient technology, but is also a prism for tracking the development of archaeology as a professional field … It reveals the advanced astrological instruments created and used by ancient engineers, but the protracted nature of the undersea dig reveals archaeological advances in scanning, 3D modeling, and many other sophisticated approaches in reconstructing and analyzing ‘the computer’.” Elsewhere Bond has written about the unseen labor of the divers who engaged in the risky work that discovered the original Mechanism.

Other scholars have exhibited concern that the discovery of the new disk is being sensationalized. On social media, David Meadows and Michael Press have rightly pointed out that the year-old discovery is only making news because of the sensational claim that it belongs to the Antikythera Mechanism.

It is difficult to say precisely what this new piece is; it might be part of the original Antikythera Mechanism or part of a second similar device.

The presence of the bull engraving suggests that it may have predicted the position of the constellation of Taurus but it is difficult to say.

While scientific study continues,  the discovery has drawn attention to both the existence of this ancient ‘calculator’ and its amazing history