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Book Review of: Ancient Treasures
The Discovery of Lost Hoards, Sunken Ships, Buried Vaults, and Other Long-Forgotten Artifacts
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Ancient Treasures, by rian Haughton (Softcover, 2013)|
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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.