Thief of Ruby Slippers thought they were real rubies

The perpetrator of the daring 2005 smash-and-grab theft of a pair of Ruby Sippers from the Judy Garland Museum in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, turns out to be surprisingly clueless. Terry Martin managed to steal the iconic shoes, one of only four surviving pairs of the slippers worn by Judy Garland playing Dorothy in 1939 production of The Wizard of Oz, in less than a minute and keep them under wraps for 13 years, even as authorities and fans never stopped searching for them. Despite this appearance of competence, according to a filing made by his lawyer before his sentencing Monday, Terry Martin thought the Ruby Slippers were festooned with actual rubies rather than dyed glass beads and sequins.

It beggars belief, but apparently Mr. Martin, who was 57 years old at the time of the theft and was born nine years after the movie’s initial theatrical release, figured they had to be real rubies to justify the million dollars they were insured for. His cunning plan was to pry the rubies off and sell them piecemeal so nobody would be able to trace their origin. He only realized his mistake when a jewel fence he took one of the beads to broke the news that it was made of glass.

Martin had dealt in stolen jewels and had spent time in prison for burglary, his lawyer said. But he had been out of prison for 10 years at the time of the theft and was living quietly in Grand Rapids, a small city 80 miles northwest of Duluth, when an “old mob associate” contacted him about “a job,” his lawyer wrote.

Martin was initially reluctant to get involved, DeKrey wrote. But “old Terry” beat out “new Terry,” and he gave in to the temptation for “one last score,” his lawyer said. […]

Martin used a hammer to smash two window panes in a door of the Judy Garland Museum and broke open a plexiglass case holding the shoes, leaving behind a single red sequin and no fingerprints, court documents said.

But less than two days later, when the unnamed person who traded in stolen jewels told Martin that the gems were worthless replicas, “Terry angrily decided to simply cut his losses and move on,” DeKrey wrote. “He gave the slippers to the associate who had recruited him for the job and told the man that he never wanted to see them again.”

He was serious about that. Martin was only busted in 2018 when other parties tried to blackmail the insurance company for hundreds of thousands of dollars in return for the shoes. The FBI recovered the slippers in a sting operation, but the blackmailers, who were probably organized crime figures, and the mobster who originally recruited Martin back in 2005 were not arrested. Martin refused to implicate anyone else. He just pled guilty to the theft and is facing his fate alone.

His sentence was gentle. Martin has COPD and is in the last months of his life. He was sentenced to time served, a year of probation and to pay the museum $23,000 in restitution for the theft.

Roman silver toilet spoon found in Wales

A Roman silver toilet spoon discovered by a metal detectorist in Wales was officially declared Treasure by the regional coroner last Thursday. The silver ligula was found by detectorist Valentinas Avdejevas in the Vale of Glamorgan in June 2020. It consists of a small circular bowl with a long, tapering handle that comes to a rounded point. It is very petite, just 2.5 inches end-to-end with the bowl just .2 inches in diameter. Originally straight, the spoon is now bent in two places: the bowl is almost at a right angle, and the handle bends again about two-thirds of the way down.

The ligula was a small spoon with a slender handle used to scoop cosmetics, perfumes or unguents out of long-necked bottles. (So toilet in the sense of ablution rather than going to the lavatory.) They are usually plain and undecorated, although some examples have been found with molded bands or incised lines. They were created out of a single piece of metal crafted into a cylinder and then the end hammered into the bowl.

Most of the ligulae that have been found are made of copper alloy. The silver ones are more rare and based on some of the contexts where they have been found, archaeologists believe the silver examples may have been dedicated to medical purposes (eg, for pharmaceutical portioning, or as surgical curettes or sounds) rather than used for personal hygiene or adornment.

Because it is more than 300 years old and composed of more than 10% precious metal, the ligula meets the criteria for Treasure under the Treasure Act of 1996. It will now be assessed to determine a fair market value by the Treasure Valuation Committee. Local museums will then be given the opportunity to acquire the toilet spoon for the assessed value. The Cowbridge and District Museum has already expressed interest in acquiring the ligula for its collection.

Oldest sewn boat heads to France for reconstruction

The Zambratija wreck, the oldest sewn boat ever discovered in the Mediterranean region, is headed to France for additional specialized preservation work. Discovered in the shallow waters of Zambratija Bay on the Adriatic coast of Croatia’s Istrian peninsula, the wreck dates to between the last quarter of the 12th and the last quarter of the 10th century B.C., making it the oldest example of a fully hand-sewn boat and one built during the transition from the Bronze Age to the Iron Age.

The surviving boat is 22 feet long and and 5’3″ wide, but scholars estimate the vessel was 32 feet long and more than seven feet wide when it was intact. Five different types of wood were used in its construction: elm, alter, wild pear, poplar and fir, all but the last of them commonly found near the coast. The fir had to have been brought in from a mountainous region. It is also unique for its strake assembly technique (diagonal stitches in plain view) and the way it was waterproofed by inserting thin wood pieces coated with an adhesive (likely a mixture with pitch or resin) between the planks. These techniques have never been seen in any other Mediterranean wrecks.

The vessel was constructed by the local Histrian people who were known for their seamanship and piracy. It was a mastless rowboat designed for rapid and flexible navigation on coastal waterways. It would have been operated by seven to nine rowers.

In the context of ancient boat building, “sewn” refers to a continuous or individual ligatures stitched down wood planks lengthwise. This was done by threading plant fibers with a needle through holes in the wood like shoelaces are tied. There are about 65 known ancient Mediterranean shipwrecks bearing some evidence of stitching. The use of ligature in boat-building is known from ancient sources and in depictions of ships on pottery and votive boat models going back to the Bronze Age. The sewing technology was gradually superseded by the mortise and tenon joinery introduced by the Phoenicians, but the tradition of stitching in shipbuilding persisted into the Late Roman era, albeit in more limited applications like the connections of framework to planking while the rest of the hull employed mortise and tenon joins.

The Zambratija wreck was first spotted by a fisherman who finally reported it to the Archaeological Museum of Istria in 2008. Underwater archaeologists partially excavated the wreck in 2011 before complete a full excavation in 2013. Four samples of the planks were radiocarbon dated during the excavations, revealing it was far older than the Roman-era sewn boat archaeologists had initially believed it to be. The wreck was then reburied for its own protection.

In the summer of 2023, a team from the Archaeological Museum of Istria in Pula, Croatia, the Centre Camille Jullian (CNRS/AMU) in Aix-en-Provence, France, and the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Croatia returned to the site to painstakingly remove the boat piece by piece. It was thoroughly documented and photographed in situ to make a 3D digital model.

Before the scientists eventually decided to take it out of the water, a delicate operation that took place last July, the wreck was protected with a metal construction.

The Zambratija was eventually recovered in 15 separate fragments, which were transported to a museum hangar. There, they were cleaned, analysed and tagged before being put in a specially constructed pool to desalinate.

Restorer Monika Petrovic jokingly refers to the historic find as “our wooden planks”. At first, the water was changed every two or three weeks, now once a month, she told AFP.

“We are measuring the water salinity and within some two months Zambratija will be ready for the next conservation phase in Grenoble” France, she added.

The fragile remains will be transported to a pool in the Arc-Nucleart research laboratory, which specialises in the conservation and restoration of ancient archaeological objects.

Once the ship has been rebuilt, it will go on display in a new museum in Pula dedicated to the maritime history of Istria.

Jade mosaic mask found in royal Maya tomb

A magnificent jade face mask has been discovered in a Maya royal burial at the Chochkitam site near Petén, northeastern Guatemala. Dating to around 350 A.D., the mask is made of jade tesserae with spondylus shells for the mouth and eyes. Their translucent, flesh-toned qualities give the mask a vivid glow when backlit. It is believed to represent the Maya storm god.

The burial chamber was found inside a pyramid structure in 2021. Obscured by the heavy canopy of the Petén rainforest, the Chochkitam site had not been thoroughly explored by archaeologists, but it was the target of looters who dug tunnels into the mounds seeking treasure. Researchers mapping the site with LIDAR technology spotted a burial chamber in the pyramid that the looter’s tunnels had failed to reach. They had to dig more than 20 feet into the pyramid before they encountered human remains — a skull, teeth — and a coffin-shaped stone box. The box contained offerings: a ceramic pot, large oyster shells, pieces of bone and pieces of jade that proved to be tesserae from a mosaic mask.

That the burial chamber was contained inside a pyramid already indicated it belonged to a local king; the contents confirmed it. In addition to the mask, archaeologists found two large jade plaques, 13 spondylus shells and a stingray spine (a sharp reference to the king’s manhood).

The tesserae of the mask were transported to the Holmul Archaeological Project Laboratory in Antigua, Guatemala, where in June 2022, National Geographic Explorer, archaeologist and dig leader Francisco Estrada-Belli, puzzled it back together.

A sharp-eyed colleague noted that some of the bones the archaeologists had thought belonged to the crypt’s inhabitant were actually covered in fine carvings, likely made using volcanic obsidian glass. As it turned out, two of the bones weren’t those of the buried king at all—but their carvings revealed the identity of the royal ruler. Extraordinarily, one of the carvings depicted a ruler holding up the head of a Maya deity—the exact god represented in the mask Estrada-Belli had pieced together.

But who were they? University of Alabama archaeologist Alexandre Tokovinine, who specializes in Maya epigraphy, helped Estrada-Belli decode the glyphs, unlocking the secrets of the identities of both the ruler—Itzam Kokaj Bahlam (“sun god/bird/jaguar”)—and the god. Known to archaeologists as Yax Wayaab Chahk G1, the swirling deity represents a manifestation of the Maya storm god directly translated as “first sorcerer rain god.”

The find is “very, very unusual,” says Estrada-Belli—and has proven extraordinarily informative about a time and place that remain stubbornly obscure.

Radiocarbon dating of the bones in the burial chamber returned a result of around 350 A.D., the early part of the Maya Classic period. Itzam Kokaj Bahlam was likely the ruler of the city, but there is evidence in the depictions of royalty elsewhere at the site that he was a vassal king, beholden to much more powerful dynastic rulers in Tikal and Teotihuacán. Compared to them, Chochkitam was a small, remote city with very limited power and range.

There’s more to learn about the kings of Chochkitam and their connections to other powerful rulers in the still-murky early Classic period of the Maya. Estrada-Belli and his colleagues intend to pursue everything from ancient DNA studies of the bones found at the site to the possibility of finding more treasures buried within these abandoned pyramids.

HMS Erebus dives recover sailors’ belongings

The 2023 exploration of the wreck of HMS Erebus off the coast of King William Island has recovered and documented a fascinating array of personal belongings and naval tools from the ill-dated 1845 Franklin expedition for the Northwest Passage.

Parks Canada just released the report on the results of the 2023 dives to document and investigate the ship. In the two weeks between September 5th through the 19th, Parks Canada’s Underwater Archaeology team conducted 68 dives to the wreck of HMS Erebus, moving through the accessible spaces of the ship and debris field. The aim of these dives is to record details about the shipwreck and the objects it carried to shed new light on naval technology and the daily lives of sailors. To that end, the team explored an officer’s cabin, believed to have belonged to Second Lieutenant Henry Dundas Le Vesconte, and found a wealth of instruments pertaining to sailing and navigation, among them a thermometer, a parallel rule and a fishing rod with a brass reel.

Items of daily use were found in what is believed to have been the storage pantry of the captain’s steward (Edmund Hoar) just forward of Franklin’s cabin. Objects discovered there include a leather shoe, storage jars and a sealed glass cylinder that held some sort of pharmaceutical product. The contents look thick and grey like a less shiny mercury (I hope the doomed Franklin expedition crew didn’t use mercury the same way the doomed Mary Rose crew did). The vial is embossed with the letter “K” and the broad arrow that labelled it government issue.

Brass fishing reel from Second Lieutenant Henry Dundas Le Vesconte's cabin. Photo courtesy Parks Canada.An excavation of a seaman’s chest in the forecastle revealed objects used by regular sailors on the ship. There were some pistols, other military items, footwear, coins, a stoneware bowl and medicine bottles. Only a small selection of the finds were recovered, including the brass fishing reel, the stoneware bowl, the K bottle and one pistol. They will undergo conservation and be studied further in Ottawa before they go on display at at the Nattilik Heritage Centre in Gjoa Haven (Uqsuqtuuq), Nunavut.

Out in the debris field, divers documented one of the ship’s spare propellers (first recorded on the seabed in 2015) and found an ice anchor. This is the first ice anchor found from HMS Erebus or HMS Terror.

The major push to document of the site resulted in thousands of high-resolution digital photographs being taken. They will be used to create extremely accurate and virtually explorable 3D photogrammetry models of the site. The models will allow researchers to follow the effects the movement and sediment are having on the wreck. Already parts of Erebus like the upper deck have collapsed, so scientists are keen to explore the dangers posed by the unforgiving environment.