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]

Archaeologists Uncover World's Oldest Known Brewery in Israel

People have been knocking back beers for 13,000 years, according to new archaeological findings out of the Middle East. As Science magazine reports, evidence of wheat and barley-based beer was found inside stone mortars carved into the floor of a cave near Haifa, Israel.

The Raqefet Cave was used as a burial site by the Natufians, a group of semi-nomadic hunter-gatherers who were also responsible for the world’s oldest known bread, which was discovered in Jordan in July. These findings challenge previous evidence that traced the origin of beer back just 5000 years.

Beer was also previously believed to be merely a by-product of bread-making, but archaeologists say that isn’t necessarily the case. Instead, researchers believe beer may been served during ritual feasts “to venerate the dead and/or to enhance group cohesion among the living,” researchers wrote in their paper, published in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports.

Remarkably, the Stanford University researchers who made this discovery weren't even looking for evidence of alcohol. “We did not set out to find alcohol in the stone mortars, but just wanted to investigate what plant foods people may have consumed because very little data was available in the archaeological record,” Li Liu, a professor of Chinese archaeology at Stanford, said in a statement.

Researchers theorize that beer brewing may have inspired the Natufians to cultivate cereals in the region, but it’s not currently known whether beer or bread came first. The mortars dug into the cave floor were reportedly used for storing and pounding wheat and barley, as well as brewing beer.

The beverage wasn’t exactly what we know as beer today, though. According to the BBC, the prehistoric beer was “gruel-like” and similar to porridge. It was likely weaker than modern beer, too.

[h/t Science]

Fossilized Fat Shows 550-Million-Year-Old Sea Creature May Have Been the World's First Animal

Ilya Bobrovskiy, the Australian National University
Ilya Bobrovskiy, the Australian National University

A bizarre sea creature whose fossils look like a cross between a leaf and a fingerprint may be Earth's oldest known animal, dating back 558 million years.

As New Scientist reports, researchers from the Australian National University (ANU) made a fortunate find in a remote region of Russia: a Dickinsonia fossil with fat molecules still attached. These odd, oval-shaped creatures were soft-bodied, had rib structures running down their sides, and grew about 4.5 feet long. They were as “strange as life on another planet,” researchers wrote in the abstract of a new paper published in the journal Science.

Another variety of fossil
Ilya Bobrovskiy, the Australian National University

Although Dickinsonia fossils were first discovered in South Australia in 1946, researchers lacked the organic matter needed to classify this creature. "Scientists have been fighting for more than 75 years over what Dickinsonia and other bizarre fossils of the Edicaran biota were: giant single-celled amoeba, lichen, failed experiments of evolution, or the earliest animals on Earth,” senior author Jochen Brocks, an associate professor at ANU, said in a statement.

With the discovery of cholesterol molecules—which are found in almost all animals, but not in other organisms like bacteria and amoebas—scientists can say that Dickinsonia were animals. The creatures swam the seas during the Ediacaran Period, 635 million to 542 million years ago. More complex organisms like mollusks, worms, and sponges didn’t emerge until 20 million years later.

The fossil with fat molecules was found on cliffs near the White Sea in an area of northwest Russia that was so remote that researchers had to take a helicopter to get there. Collecting the samples was a death-defying feat, too.

“I had to hang over the edge of a cliff on ropes and dig out huge blocks of sandstone, throw them down, wash the sandstone, and repeat this process until I found the fossils I was after,” lead author Ilya Bobrovskiy of ANU said. Considering that this find could change our understanding of Earth’s earliest life forms, it seems the risk was worth it.

[h/t New Scientist]

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