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February, 2014

  1. The Atocha

    February 27, 2014 by Melissa Shallcross


    Pirates. Hurricanes. Treasure. Royal fleets. Sounds like a telling of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic, Treasure Island. Although I

    would absolutely love to talk about my love of the old world novel, this story requires us to jump forward a few centuries from the time of Jim Hawkins to the more recent period of Mel Fisher. Have you heard his name before? Maybe you have. He’s a world famous treasure hunter. But unlike most treasure hunters these days, he definitely hit the mother lode.

    Off the coast of the Florida Keys, about 55 feet under water, lies the wreck of the Nuestra Senora de Atocha. If Mel Fisher doesn’t ring any bells, does that? The Atocha was a Spanish Galleon, a huge ship that transported gold, silver, and other pricey royal goods from the new colonies of the Americas back to Spain. Way back in the year 1622, this galleon met with the rest of it 28-vessel Spanish fleet in Havan, Cuba, carrying goods with a total worth of about two million pesos. With several unexpected delays and a report of an enemy Dutch fleet nearby, the Marquis of the fleet was forced to split his fleet into two groups and begin sailing back to Spain with a heightened fear of pirate raids and in the heart of hurricane season.

    Well, you can imagine what happened next. The fleet took a beating by a hurricane soon after leaving port. Twenty of the fleet’s twenty-eight vessels pushed past the hurricane and were thrown out into clear, calm water, where they continued on their way home. The other eight weren’t so lucky, among which was the Atocha. Being thrust into the dangerous reefs of the Florida Keys, the Atocha was ripped apart.

    Over $700 million of treasure was laid to rest in the hull of the Atocha alone. That is, until about 363 years later, when the location of the wreck was found. This brings us to our famous treasure hunter, Mel Fisher. In 1985, after over fifteen years of searching, starting each day with his famous optimistic motto “today’s the day”, Mel’s “Golden Crew” hit the mother lode. His website paints a picture of the discovery: “Thousands of artifacts, silver coins, gold coins, many in near mint condition, period and earlier amazing Spanish objects and wares, exquisite jewelry set with precious stones, gold chains, disks, a variety of armaments and even seeds (which later sprouted!) were recovered.”

    Mel Fisher’s determination and lifelong dreams inspired by Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island had finally paid off. With the work he contributed, up to his unfortunate passing in 1998, and the continuing work of his crew and business mainly run by his children, over $400 million of the $700 million has been salvaged and preserved from the Atocha.

    1715 Fleet 8 Reales Silver Coin, Grade 2 with 14K Mount $2,025.00

    1715 Fleet 8 Reales Silver Coin, Grade 2 with 14K Mount

    With that said, over $300 million of the gold awaits to be discovered at the bottom of the sea off the coast of the Florida Keys.

    Spread out over a 50-mile stretch, the treasure can still be salvaged today. If you are an experienced diver and want to take a shot at finding sunken treasure, the Mel Fisher crew offers to take people out on the wreck to help find the treasure yourself! Or, if you’re a little less sea-going, but still love the history, there’s a variety of coins from the wreck for you to purchase online through their website.

    Someday, maybe I’ll get my dad to teach me how to scuba dive. I’m sure the thrill of finding sunken treasure is something to experience!


    Works Cited:

  2. The Museum of America

    February 21, 2014 by Melissa Shallcross

    Where do you think is the best place to view and explore the different cultures that make up a country, group, religion, or even town? For me, one of the best places to go is an art museum.

    Where else can you see French culture hanging on the wall next to African style, British fashion, and Italian masterpieces? I’ve been to my fair share of art museums, among which include the Guggenheim and the Museum of Modern Art (affectionately called MoMA) in New York, the Louvre in Paris, the Musei Vaticani (the museum of the Vatican which is filled to the brim with art), and a plethora of others in Philadelphia, Alexandria VA, Italy, London, and just about every place I’ve traveled to. All around the world, there are art museums and galleries everywhere. In America, there’s a gallery on just about every corner, at least in small towns like mine.

    To me, an art museum or gallery is a fitting metaphor for America. In these places, there are displays of tons of different cultures, and each is celebrated in their own exhibits. Walking through a museum, you can find classic oil paintings from the French Revolution in one room, Pollocks covering the entire walls of a huge open room adjacent to it, and modern art hanging from the ceilings of the hallway leading to the  Van Goghs and Da Vincis in the exhibition next door.

    America is like this. Different cultures can be seen everywhere. The U.S. can be like the museum, housing every culture, or piece of art, you can imagine. And each of these cultures, just like a masterpiece in a museum, is celebrated. I don’t believe people in America need to lose their cultures in the midst of the growing “American” culture they are surrounded by in their every day lives. There are plenty of organizations, like art preservation staff in museums, whose main purpose is the preservation of culture, from

    Art of America

    Art of America

    groups on college campuses to societies in local towns. Each work of art identifies largely with a museum, like the Mona Lisa at the Louvre, yet it also closely identifies with the specific exhibit it inhabits, the Italian paintings section of the Denon Wing. Many Americans are the same way. They identify as Americans, but also work to preserve their heritage, whether that’s by joining organizations like the National Italian American Foundation or just cooking authentic foods and teaching their grandchildren some Polish.

    America is definitely a multicultural country, built on the coming of immigrants over the past several centuries. Over this time, the museum of America has gained a wide range of exhibits hailing from all around the world. But most Americans today can’t be sorted into just one exhibit. Many Americans identify with multiple cultures. I’m American, but I’m also Italian, Polish, English, and a little German and Scottish. Where would I be placed in the museum of America? Well, there are works of art that are in similar predicaments. Do you put the bold, colorful new piece by an Italian artist in the Italian paintings exhibit or the modern art collection?

    Should there be a specific exhibit for “Americans” in our metaphorical museum? Sure, why not? Personally, I choose to identify with all of my cultural heritages, and I’m sure others do, too. So, why not have a traveling exhibit while we’re at it? This way, as pieces of art, Americans can identify with several different exhibits, not just one “American” one. Maybe some people will choose to stick with one exhibit, perhaps like those who they themselves or their parents came directly from another country. But then again, they may embrace the new American culture around them and become a traveling exhibit because isn’t that what America essentially is? An intermingling of cultures for us to see and explore?

    When it comes to describing America’s multiculturalism, I think of an art museum. Maybe it’s because of my love for art, but the metaphor works well. So the next time you go on a tour of America, or maybe just of your town or school, try to make a mental floor plan of what you see. Can you spot the different cultures that make up the “American” culture? Can you tell when you’ve walked from the German exhibit to the Irish one? Map it out, it could be pretty interesting.

  3. Forrest Fenn’s Treasure

    February 19, 2014 by Melissa Shallcross

    If you knew for sure that there was a chest full of ancient valuables worth upwards of three million dollars just lying around the mountains of Santa Fe, New Mexico, and there were nine clues given in a poem to lead you directly to it, would you go look for it?

    Forrest Fenn's Treasure

    Forrest Fenn’s Treasure

    What if it looked like this? —————————————————————–>

    Yep, that’s the treasure a man named Forrest Fenn left in the mountains, tempting everyone and anyone to go out a find. Why, do you ask? Well, it’s a pretty great story.

    It all started when he was 9 years old, walking a newly plowed field, and coming upon an arrowhead lying in the dirt. Thrilled to think that the arrowhead had awaited thousands of years for him to pick it up right at that moment, his passion for hunting for treasure was ignited. Over the next few decades, Mr. Fenn traveled the world and collected as many treasures he could find, from relics in Pompeii to rare gold coins, jewelry to gold nuggets. He and his wife even opened an art gallery in Sante Fe, which came to be a huge success.

    His good fortune took a turn for the worse, however, when in 1988, Mr. Fenn was diagnosed with cancer and about to lose a kidney. His doctors told him he only had a 20% chance of living another three years.

    Deciding to continue his reputation of being anything but ordinary, Mr. Fenn  collected all of his most prized possessions, reported by the Huffington Post to be “265 gold coins, hundreds of gold nuggets, some weighting more than a troy pound each, prehistoric gold fetishes, a 2000 year old necklace made of carved quartz crystals and other semi-precious stones, hundreds of rubies, diamonds, emeralds, two Ceylon sapphires, and two ancient Chinese carved jade figures.” Having packed all these relics into an old, ornate, bronze chest (pictured above), he drove out into the mountains above Santa Fe to a spot he claims is extremely special to him, and left the 42 lb chest lying there for anyone to find.

    It’s not even buried treasure. It’s just lying there!

    Now, Mr. Fenn didn’t expect everyone to just go searching blindly for his treasure. He published a book aptly titled “The Thrill of the Chase” which included a poem, found on the right of Mr. Fenn’s webpage here, with nine clues that are supposed to lead you straight to the prized chest.

    So, has anybody found the chest yet?

    Nobody knows! It could still be there, or maybe somebody found it and hasn’t made the discovery public. The only way to find out, is to go looking for it yourself!

    Having overpowered the odds and beaten his cancer into remission, Forrest Fenn has no regret for hiding away his treasure and continues to hold his silence about the exact location. Currently spending his time happily and peacefully excavating the site of an old pueblo residence in Santa Fe, Mr. Fenn is still searching for treasure, and enjoys watching everyone else hunt for his! In a short documentary (here), Mr. Fenn says he wishes that whoever finds the chest, even if that’s 2000 years from now, that they will donate it to the Smithsonian for everyone to see. What a great story that would make.

    With new clues hidden in his brand new book “Too Far to Walk,” will somebody finally find the treasure?

    Will it be you?




    This Youtube documentary

  4. Qin Shi Huang – The Secret Tomb

    February 7, 2014 by Melissa Shallcross

    Everybody knows the terracotta warriors. The clay statues found in an ancient tomb in China, protecting their emperor in death. The statues seem like common knowledge to most people. But did you know that the emperor’s tomb itself has never been opened?

    Found in 1974 by a group of farmers digging wells into a hillside near Xi’an, China, archaeologists, scientists, and the general public were all intrigued to see what was inside the famed mausoleum of the first emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang. Reportedly “city-size”, the underground groupings of caverns have only been partially excavated since the burial site’s discovery in 1974. Besides the famed rows upon rows of estimated 8,000 terracotta soldiers and horse-drawn carriages, terracotta dancers and musicians have been found in experimentally-dug pits around the burial mound. With recent technologies, archaeologists and scientists have used a type of radar sensing device that is able to analyze the ground below. A cavern with “stair-like” walls has been analyzed with this device, and it is speculated that this chamber was built for the emperor’s soul.

    The expectations of everything about the tomb are largely based off of the writings of the court historian Siam Qian during the dynasty following Qin, the Han Dynasty. Descriptions of the first emperor of China’s burial chamber speak of a huge space that was highly decorated. A portion of a translation of his text states, “The tomb was filled with models of palaces, pavilions, and offices as well as fine vessels.” Further descriptions include ceilings that depict the night sky with pearls as stars lining the ceiling.

    So why hasn’t this burial chamber been excavated yet? What are they waiting for? Well, for one, another description of the tomb describes a river of the toxic mercury flowing around his tomb. The ancient Chinese believed that mercury to helped bestow immortality on the dead. Emperor Qin Shi Huang even used to take mercury pills in order to lengthen his life, but people speculate that his consuming mercury could have been the reason for his fairly early death at the age of 39.

    As you can imagine, opening the tomb for excavation could have a very adverse effect on both the people directly working with the tomb and the environment around it. Soil testing shows a relatively high amount of mercury content in the area around the burial site, giving a level of credibility to Siam Qian’s writings.

    Another big reason the Chinese government hasn’t given the “ok” for excavating the burial chamber is the prospects of future improved excavation and preservation methods. What if they open the chamber now, and in 30 years they look back and wish the government had waited for another few years for some spectacular new device or system that wasn’t out until then. This is like King Tut’s tomb; we have so much more technology that we could have analyzed so much more today than the original researchers.

    So how long will Qin Shi Huang’s burial chamber be a lost treasure of history to us? What do you think; should curiosity overcome potential science and quench our thirst for the mysteries of the emperor’s tomb, or is patience for future technologies a virtue that will prevail?


    You can read more on Qin Shi Huang’s tomb at the sources for the previous information here and here.

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