Ancient Treasures, by rian Haughton (Softcover, 2013)|
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Reviewer: Mark Lamendola, author of over 6,000 articles.
Most folks have some vague awareness of treasures from long-ago eras being
discovered. A shipwreck here, a cave there, and yeah, some interesting stuff has
turned up. But what if you could go deeper than that? What if you could learn
the sordid details of how $200 million in treasure from the Roman Empire was
stolen and sold on the black market?
And then there's Afghanistan. Most of us know that, due to its position
on the Silk Road, it's been historically important despite not being that
great of a place to live and not having an abundance of resources. We also
know it's important today because of its strategic position. What tends to
escape popular notice is the fact that significant treasures have been lost
(and found) there. The who, what, why, and so forth form some truly
fascinating stories. Have you heard any of these?
Enter Brian Haughton, and his book Ancient Treasures. Having enjoyed and
reviewed a previous book of his, Hidden History,
I was eager to see what he had to say on the topic of ancient treasures. As
with his other book, he did not disappoint.
Some of the hype I've seen about the book makes it sound like he wrote an
action adventure novel. That's not what you get, though the writing style is
engaging. Mr. Haughton provides sixteen different discussions (each in its
own chapter) about specific treasures. Then he provides a final chapter on
fake ancient treasures.
That last chapter is important. One of the difficulties of writing a book
like this is sorting through all the fraud that's so endemic in the world of
treasure seekers, archaeologists, and others exploring artifacts from the
past. I don't mean fraud by these people, but by others who try to ply their
scams in this space. Sometimes it's for fame and glory, sometimes it's for
money. Sometimes, the frauds go on for years before experts can expose them.
That's one reason the bibliography is as large as it is (12 pages) relative
to the text (203 pages).
Of the sixteen treasures, I had previously heard of only four. That's a
75% ignorance rate on my part! So I'm guessing the typical reader will get
plenty of new material from this book.
In addition to the problem with fakes, there's a huge black market in
stolen antiquities. As you read about some of the sixteen treasures, you get
insight into just how bad this problem is. And it's not just individual
criminals doing the stealing. In many cases, it's a national government
behind the thefts. Some treasures are today the center of bitter claims and
counterclaims of ownership.
The treasure account I found most interesting was the one about Amber
Room. This treasure's pretty legendary, and I knew it had something to do
with the Nazis and Soviets. Far from being a linear story, it has twists and
turns that, despite Haughton's skill at explaining, require the reader to
stop and back up from time to time. It's so crazy, it brought to mind the
famous refrain, "You cannot make this stuff up." While meant to be
informative, it was truly entertaining as well.
We may never recover the $49 trillion the Federal Reserve gave to the
large banks between 2007 and 2012 (that heist isn't mentioned in this book,
as the treasure isn't ancient), but it's fascinating to read the stories of
ancient treasures that have been lost and then discovered. Or just lost.
I'd say the book is easily worth its cover price.