Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Five Amazing Discoveries from 2008

Ever thought of doing some treasure hunting or rockhounding? If you haven't then these stories might change your mind. Being a big rockhound myself I can say over the last few years I have collected gold and rhodochrosite in Colorado, fish fossils in Wyoming as well as opal and agate. Here are 5 great finds from around the world in 2008.

1. You probably saw this one on the news or in your papers. The Israel Antiquities Authority reported the discovery of 264 ancient gold coins in Jerusalem National Park. The coins were minted during the early 7th century.

“This is one of the largest and most impressive coin hoards ever discovered in Jerusalem, certainly the largest and most important of its period,” said Doron Ben-Ami and Yana Tchekhanovets, who are directing the excavation on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

Nadine Ross, a British archaeological volunteer, happened onto the coins during the dig just below the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem. The 1,400 year old coins were found in the Giv’ati car park in the City of David in the walls around Jerusalem National Park, a site that has yielded other finds, including a gold earring with pearls and precious stones.

2. Nearly 6,000 copper alloy coins were found buried in two pots in a field at Sully, Vale of Glamorgan by a local metal detector enthusiast in April. It is one of the largest coin discoveries ever made in Wales. It is hoped the coins will be donated to National Museum Wales, which has called the find “exceptional”.

The 1,700 year old coins dated from the reigns of numerous emperors, notably Constantine I, during whose time Christianity was first recognised as a state religion. Two separate hoards were found by the metal detectorist on successive days, one involving 2,366 coins and the other 3,547 coins. The stashes were only 10 yards apart.

3. John Stevens, 42, couldn’t believe his eyes when he rubbed off the soil and saw lettering indicating the ring was from the early medieval period, possibly the 11th century. He had found a beautiful gold ring with a rare black diamond set inside it in a muddy field. It is believed the ring would have belonged to a wealthy person either from the Church, or possibly even royalty.

Black diamonds are rare today and would have been even rarer nearly 1,000 years ago, having come from Africa. The ring has not yet been valued but is thought it could be worth tens of thousands of dollars.

4. Hundreds of ancient coins unearthed close to Sweden’s international airport suggests the Vikings were bringing home foreign currency earlier than previously thought, archaeologists say. Buried almost 1,200 years ago, the treasure is made up mainly of Arabic coins and represents the largest early Viking hoard ever discovered in Sweden.

Archaeologists from the Swedish National Heritage Board unexpectedly found the stash of 472 silver coins while excavating a Bronze Age tomb near Stockholm’s Arlanda airport.

5. A hobbyist with a metal detector struck both gold and silver when he uncovered a cache of 109 ancient Celtic coins in a cornfield in southernern Holland. Experts say the 39 gold and 70 silver coins were minted in the middle of the first century BC as Julius Caesar led a campaign against Celtic tribes in the area. Curfs said he was walking with his detector this spring and was about to go home when he suddenly got a strong signal on his earphones and uncovered the first coin.

“It was golden and had a little horse on it — I had no idea what I had found,” he said.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

The Mars Rovers Still Going After 5 Years

It has been five years after the NASA rover Spirit landed on Mars and the robotic geologist and its twin Opportunity are still on the job. Expectations were far lower when Spirit made a bouncing landing in a cocoon of air bags on January 3, 2004. The Opportunity followed 3 weeks later. The goal was to try to operate each solar-powered rover for at least three months.

"That's an extraordinary return of investment in these challenging budgetary times," Ed Weiler, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, said in a December statement.

Combined, the rovers have made more than 13 miles of tracks on Mars and sent 700,000 images back to Earth. Their instruments have uncovered evidence that Mars was once a far wetter and warmer place than the frigid, dusty world it is now.

An accumulation of dust on the rovers' electricity-generating solar panels was expected to be one of the most likely causes of their eventual deaths, but wind has occasionally cleaned the panels. Spirit, however, has an 18-month buildup of dust and its panels were barely able to provide sufficient power during Mars' just ended southern hemisphere winter. At one point it failed to receive commands, and its status fell to "serious but stable" condition.

The winter was a "squeaker" for Spirit, John Callas, the rover project manager at Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, said in the NASA statement. "We just made it through."

Mission managers are pressing ahead with plans for more exploration even though NASA says either rover could fail without warning. Spirit has begun stirring after sitting immobile for most of the autumn and winter, JPL spokesman Guy Webster said Saturday. Plans are being made to drive it about 200 yards to a pair of sites that have drawn interest.

Opportunity, which is closer to the equator and has cleaner solar panels, has been driving toward a 14 mile wide crater, stopping on the way to examine interesting rocks.