Gold Worth Millions, Salvaged From a 19th-Century Shipwreck, Is Going on Display in California

Phil Arnold/Professional Coin Grading Service
Phil Arnold/Professional Coin Grading Service

In 1857, on the heels of the Gold Rush, the S.S. Central America left Panama and sailed for New York with 30,000 pounds of California gold. A hurricane sent that treasure (and hundreds of the ship's passengers) to the bottom of the ocean off the coast of South Carolina, lost until the wreck's discovery in 1988. After 30 years, we finally have the chance to see the riches in southern California, according to the AP.

After years of controversial legal battles to determine who could claim the treasure, in 2000, Tommy Thompson—who made the discovery—sold his share of the gold to the California Gold Marketing Group for $50 million. The haul included 532 gold bars and thousands of gold coins. Thompson was arrested in 2015 after stiffing dozens of investors who backed his treasure hunting, none of whom saw a dime.

A model of the S.S. Central America sits in front of an illustration of a giant wave
A model of the S.S. South America on display at the National Museum of American History in 2009.
Mr.TinDC, Flickr//CC BY-ND 2.0

Those investors finally got some of their money back when the California Gold Marketing Group paid $30 million for more of the loot brought up from the wreckage in 2014. Now, that gold up for sale, and even those who can't afford to buy 19th-century gold can take a peek at it. The 3100 gold coins, 45 gold bars, and 80 pounds of gold dust on display at the Long Beach Convention Center in February will give the public a rare glimpse of treasure that spent more than 130 years sitting 7000 feet beneath the ocean's surface.

Gloved hands hold a 19th-century coin
Christina Good/Professional Coin Grading Service

Before that can happen, geologist Bob Evans, who took part in the original 1988 mission that located the shipwreck, has to clean off the rust and other sediment that encrusted the gold while it sat underwater. The gold on display was recovered during a 2014 dive to the wreck. According to the California Gold Marketing Group, a single coin could sell for as much as $1 million, thanks to its rare and historic nature.

You can see the gold in Long Beach between February 22 and 24, and if you dare, bid on some of it.

[h/t CNBC]

Homo Erectus Might Have Been Really Lazy

Shipton et. al,
Shipton et. al, PLOS ONE (2018)

Of all the human species that once roamed the world, only one remains—us. Why did our primitive cousins go extinct? For Homo erectus, something like laziness may have played a role, Cosmos reports.

A new study in the journal PLOS ONE explores the role that H. erectus's lack of drive may have contributed to its extinction. The international team of researchers based their analysis on an excavation of a paleolithic site in central Saudi Arabia, finding that the tools H. erectus made were of consistently lower quality than what tool makers in later periods used. Their tools were constructed with whatever material was easiest to get, rather than what would make the best tools.

And it wasn’t because better materials weren’t available. "At the site we looked at, there was a big rocky outcrop of quality stone just a short distance away up a small hill,” study co-author Ceri Shipton of the Australian National University said in a press release. “But rather than walk up the hill, they would just use whatever bits had rolled down and were lying at the bottom.” He added, “They knew it was there, but because they had enough adequate resources, they seem to have thought, ‘why bother?’”

A row of stone tools excavated from Saffaqah
Some of the stone tools
Shipton et. al, PLOS ONE, (2018)

Meanwhile, other hominin species, like our own Homo sapiens, were happily clambering up mountains to seek out better materials for their tools. Shipton suggests that H. erectus lacked the tendency toward exploration and curiosity that has helped our species thrive.

This “laziness,” combined with changes to their environment, was likely what did in H. erectus. As the humid environment around them became drier, H. erectus seemingly didn’t adapt: They didn't invent new kinds of tools to deal with the changing landscape, nor did they relocate or travel farther afield. The research team found the tools largely near dry river beds, suggesting that H. erectus neither progressed technologically nor modified their behavior for their altered habitat.

H. erectus did manage to walk upright as we do—a first in human evolution—and it was likely the first hominin to expand their habitat beyond Africa. But the combination of these two newly identified shortcomings may have contributed to H. erectus's demise.

[h/t Cosmos]

Intriguing New Theory Might Explain the Fate of Easter Island's Civilization

iStock
iStock

Standing up to 33 feet high and weighing 81 tons, the huge moai statues of Easter Island (Rapa Nui) are the most recognizable artifacts of a thriving civilization that peaked at the middle of the last millennium. For hundreds of years, Polynesian peoples lived on the small island 2300 miles west of Chile and developed a complex culture. By the 1700s, when Europeans first arrived, much of the society was decimated.

For years, scientists thought they knew why—but fresh archaeological evidence has provided an alternative theory.

The Journal of Pacific Archaeology published a paper [PDF] this week contradicting the commonly held belief that, in the 1600s, Rapa Nui's inhabitants descended into a Lord of the Flies–like era of infighting and violence as a result of dwindling resources. According to new research, the island’s population may not have devolved into barbarism. Instead, they were collaborating on toolmaking.

University of Queensland archaeologist Dale Simpson, Jr. theorized that the raw materials used in the carving tools would reveal clues about the dynamics of the community. He and his colleagues collected 17 tools found near the moai, including axe-like toki. Using a mass spectrometer to analyze the chemical composition of the tools and samples from stone quarries on the island, Simpson and his colleagues found that most of the toki came from a single quarry.

Simpson believes this is evidence that Rapa Nui's people had not fallen into violent conflict, but were instead sharing resources—or at least allowing one another access to a favorite quarry for tool production. If the islanders were split into factions, it’s unlikely that whoever was controlling the quarry would permit rivals to make use of it.

If accurate, it would join other recent theories that are drawing a revised picture of Rapa Nui's civilization. Explorers once described a surplus of spear-like objects presumably used for combat, but modern researchers examining the tools (called mata’a) in 2015 found that their surfaces were too blunt to pierce skin and were probably used for tilling soil.

While Simpson's take on the newly discovered carving tools is an intriguing theory, researchers aren't ready to rewrite history just yet. Other scholars, including study co-author Jo Anne Van Tilburg, point out that raw materials for the tools could have been seized by force or some form of coercion.

More research will be needed to see if Simpson’s new theory holds up. If it does, it would present a new wrinkle in the storied history of Rapa Nui.

[h/t Gizmodo]

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