‘Unprecedented’ 3,000-Year-Old, 20-Karat Gold Torc Unearthed in England

A metal-detector enthusiast in Cambridgeshire, England, has unearthed a spectacular 3,000-year-old torc made from 1.6 pounds of twisted and burnished 20-karat gold. Measuring nearly 50 inches around, the beautifully preserved golden torc is the largest ever found in the UK.

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Historically, a torc was worn as a neck-ring with the opening in the front, but the massive Bronze Age specimen pulled from a site 60 miles north of London was likely worn a different way, according to the British Museum’s Bronze Age curator, Neil Wilkin.

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Wilkin said the torc displayed “unprecedented” craftsmanship and may have been worn around the waist by a pregnant woman during a fertility ritual. Others believe it was worn as a sash, over thick winter clothing or by a prized goat or sheep in the course of a sacrifice.

The golden torc was found by an anonymous treasure hunter walking with his metal detector over a freshly plowed field.

The extraordinary torc was revealed at London’s British Museum on the day the Portable Antiquities Scheme and Treasure (PAS) delivered its annual report about the number of finds made by the public. PAS, which is managed by the museum, cataloged 82,272 discoveries made in the UK during 2015. Of that number, more than 1,000 were considered “treasure” because they were gold, silver or prehistoric metalwork. Since 1997, the number of artifacts recorded by the PAS has grown to more than 1.2 million.

The UK’s Treasure Act 1996 states that finders have a legal obligation to report all potential treasure to the local coroner in the district where the find was made. The Act allows a national or local museum to acquire the treasure for the public’s benefit and pay a reward, which is usually shared equally between the finder and landowner. The value of the golden torc has yet to be determined.

The area in which the torc was discovered is famous for being a hotbed of archaeological finds from the Stone Age, Bronze Age and Iron Age. Cambridgeshire is one of the earliest-known Neolithic permanent settlements in the United Kingdom. The Neolithic period began in 10,200 BC and ended between 4,500 BC and 2,000 BC.

While the 3,000-year-old torc has a priceless historical value, its metal content alone is worth $25,585 at today’s gold price.

Credits: Images courtesy of the British Museum.

GIA Museum Acquires 63 ‘Mineral Marvels’ From the Hauser Collection

For more than 60 years, Californian Joel Hauser passionately pursued nature’s “mineral marvels” — ornamental specimens of exceptional size and beauty.

The Gemological Institute of America Museum in Carlsbad, Calif., recently acquired a cache of Hauser’s finest agates, geodes, minerals and petrified wood through a generous donation by the Hauser family.

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Many of the 63 standouts from the Joel and Barbara Hauser Mineral Collection represent pieces from places with restricted access or that are no longer producing, according to the GIA.

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GIA noted that on one of Hauser’s California expeditions, he discovered agate geodes in Riverside County’s Little Chuckwalla Mountains. Today, the area is known as the Hauser Geode Beds.

Hauser, who passed away in 1993, was a skilled lapidary and innovator. Not only did he master the art of contour polishing, but he also designed and modified saws and grinding equipment that could handle the cutting and polishing of almost any specimen, including large pieces of petrified wood.

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“His freeform, undulating polishing style adds interest and texture while removing blemishes, without having to grind away more material than necessary,” said Terri Ottaway, GIA’s museum curator. “Joel’s expertise, guided by an artistic eye and perspective, revealed the lovely patterns, markings and colors in the minerals.”

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Nearly 50 of Hauser’s most celebrated pieces are now on display at the GIA Museum. They will serve as as prime learning tools for students and visitors to GIA about mineral formation and lapidary artistry.

Credits: Azurite (Bisbee, AZ); Variscite (Utah); Laguna Iris Agate (Mexico); Petrified pinecone and wood (Argentina and Utah). All photos by Orasa Weldon; ©GIA.

Alchemy in the Modern Age: Russian Scientists Extract Gold From Coal

Scientists in the far eastern Amur River region of Russia are building a facility that can extract gold from ordinary coal. The announcement brings to mind the alchemists of ancient times, who sought to turn lead into gold.

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While the alchemists never found a way to transform base metals into precious metals, Russian scientists are reporting that after 15 years of research they finally have a commercially viable method for pulling trace amounts of gold from coal.

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Scientists capture minute particles of gold during the burning process. To secure the precious metal, smoke generated during combustion passes through a 100-fold purifying filter. The contaminants are washed out with water and the gold is captured by the filter.

For every ton of coal burned, one-half gram of gold can be recovered. At today’s gold price, the gold extracted from one ton of coal would be worth about $19. As the process is perfected, the researchers believe they can get 1 gram of gold from a ton of coal.

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The proof-of-concept experiments will continue this coming year as the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Far East branch will be adding the purifying system to one of the Amur region’s boiler houses. If the tests are successful, the team hopes to receive a grant to develop and implement an industrial-grade device, according to RT.com.

“We plan to use municipal boiler houses to implement our filtering system because they burn about eight to 10 thousand tons in a season, and that’s potentially 10 kilos of gold,” Oleg Ageev, CEO of Complex Innovative Technologies of the Amur Scientific Center, said in a press statement.

The Amur installation, which is near the Chinese border, will get into full gear once the temperatures warm up in the remote far eastern region of Russia. Because the filtering system uses water and part of the process takes place outdoors, it only works when the temperature is above freezing.

Coal is one of the most important sources of energy in Russia. The country produced 323 million tons of coal in 2009 and is estimated to have the second-largest coal reserves in the world at 173 billion tons. The U.S. has the largest coal reserves at 263 billion tons.

Credits: Coal mining photo by Peabody Energy, Inc. (Provided by Peabody Energy) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons. Gold bars by istara [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons. Map by GoogleMaps.com.