Monday, 20 September 2010

Outback Legends - The Search for Lasseter's Reef of Gold

Do you know the legend of Harold Lasseter’s Reef of Gold? Australia is a huge country that offers many different landscapes and climates.  However, the majority of the population live within a short distance of the ocean enjoying the laid back Aussie beach lifestyle. But the interior of Australia is a totally different type of country.  The landscape here varies from semi-arid to desert and is known as the ‘Red Centre’ due to the reddish-brown colour of the soil. The most common name for these remote, rural parts is the Outback and it covers thousands of square miles. Vegetation and water is scarce, temperatures are extreme and human settlements are very few and far between.

Harold Lasseter's Tomb in Alice Springs
Harold Lasseter's Tomb in Alice Springs

When the Outback was being explored by the Europeans for the first time in the 19th century, many expeditions were led into Australia’s interior to discover new routes to the north or the fabled ‘inland sea’, some of them ending in death and disaster.  These intrepid explorers were followed by the cattle men, sheep farmers and crop growers who were looking to open up new areas for agriculture. There were also miners and prospectors who had been bitten by gold fever or the lust for opals and were looking to stake new claims.  They had to carve out lives in a harsh, unforgiving landscape, and for every story of untold riches and success, there was a story of despair, crushed dreams and death.  So it is not surprising that the Australian Outback is a place where legends grew up, myths that endure to this day of the trials, adventures and lost dreams of these early explorers.

The dream of striking it rich and discovering a top quality new seam of gold or opals drove many men into the Outback, always looking for their lucky break.  One of these men was called Harold Lasseter and his claim that he had found a fabulous reef of gold created one of the Outback’s most enduring legends.  He was born in 1880 in Victoria and when he grew up he prospected throughout the Outback. He then travelled extensively around the United States where he became a Mormon, before returning to Australia.  He had a somewhat chequered romantic life, having several wives and five acknowledged children.  He legally married his first wife in America in 1903 and after his return to Australia he first married a nurse in 1921 without obtaining a divorce, and then in 1924 bigamously married Irene Lillywhite. He was also alleged to have had numerous affairs with other women and fathered several other children.

Kata Tjuta (The Olgas) - own image
Kata Tjuta (The Olgas)

It was in 1929 that he made the sensational claim that when he was riding from Queensland to the Gold Fields of Western Australia looking for rubies, that he had discovered a huge reef of pure gold somewhere near the MacDonnell or Petermann Ranges on the borders of the Northern Territory and Western Australia.  This reef of gold-bearing rock was claimed to be seven miles long, twelve feet wide and up to seven feet high. He claimed to have collected specimens of the gold in a bag, but had gotten lost as he was trying to find his way back to civilisation and was rescued, half-crazed with thirst and totally disorientated, by an Afghan camel driver.  He then mounted a two-man expedition with a surveyor called Harding a couple of years later to find the elusive gold reef again, and when they found it they charted its position by using the sun and the time on their watches.  They collected more samples of the gold ore, but when they reached the coast of Western Australia again they found that their two watches had a time discrepancy of an hour, which made it impossible to chart the position of the gold reef on a map.

Lasseter managed to get funding and raised an expedition to go in search of his fabled gold reef in 1930 and set off with two trucks and an aircraft that could survey a much wider area than those on the ground.  He was accompanied by two experienced bushmen, an engineer, a prospector, an explorer and the pilot. The expedition experienced a lot of technical difficulties, including damage to the plane and shortages of food and water. Exasperation among the expedition members peaked when, after reaching Mount Leisler, Lasseter declared that they had gone too far north. The expedition parted company with Lasseter at Ilbilba and he carried on with a few camels and a dingo-shooter called Paul Johns. They set off in the direction of the Olgas, with Lasseter’s behaviour apparently becoming more and more unpredictable by the day. Lasseter returned to the camp one day announcing that he had once again found the reef of gold, but refusing to tell Johns where it was located.  They got into a quarrel which became violent and Lasseter took two of the camels and went off into the bush.   Unfortunately for Lasseter, the camels ran away and he had to rely on a nomadic band of Aboriginals for food and water, but he was too sick and weak to keep up with them and eventually died alone in the desert.

A bushman called Bob Buck was sent out to locate the missing Lasseter and he found a body that he believed to that of the prospector and buried it. He also retrieved some of Lasseter’s personal effects from a cave where he had been sheltering, including a diary.  However, questions were soon asked about whether it was really Lasseter who was buried in the grave and Bob Buck himself admitted that the body had been so badly decomposed that he could not even tell if it had been the body of a white man or an Aborigine. Whoever it was that was really interred in that grave, they were not to rest in peace for long. In 1957 an Australian television company illegally disinterred the body and took it to Alice Springs.  After a legal wrangle, the remains were buried once more in the cemetery in Alice Springs and covered with a sculpted figure of Lasseter.

The real mystery here is did Harold Lasseter really discover the fabled gold reef and was then unable to locate it again, or was he really just a conman who was trying to rip off those who had invested in his expedition?  Or was he just a poor, deluded soul who had lost his grip on reality? Certainly, when the gold specimens that he claimed to have dug out of the reef were assessed they were found to have been very high grade gold ore, calculated to produce three ounces of gold per ton of rock. But did they really come from the mythical gold reef? Also, some traces of gold found in the pockets of the jacket that had supposedly belonged to Lasseter were analysed and found to have originated in Kalgoorlie in Western Australia, which was not the supposed location of the gold reef.

There is also a big question mark over whether Harold Lasseter really did die out there in the desert in 1930, as there have be many sightings and reports of him still being alive since then. It has been reported that he fled to San Francisco with the investor’s money and lived there until he died in the late 1950’s. An Australian lady called Nellie Edwards also recognised a photograph of Harold Lasseter that was published in a magazine in 1956, saying that this was the same man who had shown her samples of gold and a picture of his wife and children.  The researcher Murray Hubbard has also unearthed documentary proof that Lasseter was incarcerated in a Salvation Army Home for Boys after being charged with burglary in 1897, so could not have been prospecting for gold in Central Australia during that year.

So what is the truth concerning Lasseter’s gold reef?  Modern geological surveys say that there is now way that gold could have formed in the rocks in the area that Lasseter was pinpointing, but this has not stopped many people mounting expeditions to try and find the famous reef of gold.  There is no known map of the position of the gold-bearing outcrop, so they only have the stories and anecdotal evidence to go by.  So far nobody has found it, but is Lasseter’s gold reef just a myth or is there really a huge outcrop of quartz rock out there in the desert waiting to be found, with nuggets of pure gold glinting under the burning hot sun of the Australian Outback?

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Ancient Tomb Uncovered in Luxor

Dr Zahi Hawass has announced that an ancient tomb has been rediscovered on the West Bank of the Nile at Luxor. The tomb is situated in the area of the West Bank known as south Assasif, and is that of a priest called Karakhamun.  The tomb was first discovered in the 19th century and was subsequently lost.

The tomb dates from the 25th dynasty and the reign of the Pharaoh Shabaka, who was the second of the Nubian pharaohs who ruled Egypt around 700BC.

The burial chamber of the tomb was discovered at the bottom of an 8ft shaft, and is beautifully painted with images of stars in the night sky and the goddess Nut. The entrance is decorated with an image of the tomb's owner Karakhamun.

The tomb is comprised of two pillared halls and a burial chamber divided into five rooms and is currently the largest tomb to ever have been discovered in the south Assasif.  The mystery is that Karakhamun is not a well known historical character and does not list any particularly important titles in his tomb. It has been suggested that Karakhamun must therefore have had close connections to the Nubian royal family, and the tomb has been dated to the 25th dynasty because of the tomb owner's Nubian name and the style of the tomb architecture.

Read on to discover more about the discovery of the tomb of Karakhamun

West Bank of Luxor - Assasif

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Unique Roman Helmet with Mask Unearthed in Cumbria

A unique bronze Roman helmet with a full face mask has been discovered by a treasure hunter with a metal detector in Cumbria. It is thought that the helmet was designed to have been worn at cavalry sports parades by Roman soldiers, as a badge of excellence.  This helmet with mask is one of only three of its kind that has ever been excavated in Britain.

The original owner of this superb piece of Roman metalwork is not known, but the Roman helmet has been named the Crosby Garrett Helmet after the village in Cumbria where it was found.  The Roman helmet has been dated to the 1st or 2nd century AD, and is expected to fetch around £300,000 at Christie's Antiquities Auction.

Click here for the whole article and photographs of the unique Roman helmet

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Two New 6th Dynasty Tombs Discovered at Saqqara

There have been some exciting discoveries made at Saqqara over the last few years, and in July 2010, it was announced that two sixth dynasty tombs had been discovered.  These were the tombs of a father and son called Shendwa and Khonsu.  Both of these individuals had important jobs, with Shendwa's titles including 'Head of the Royal Scribes' and 'Supervisor of the Missions'.  His son Khonsu appears to have taken over theses same titles from his father.

Shendwa's tomb incorporates a beautifully painted false door, which pictures the deceased Shendwa seated before an offering table.The tomb contained a wooden sarcophagus, that had unfortunately deteriorated badly because of the conditions in the tomb, and a set of offering vessels in the shape of a duck.

Khonsu's tomb also contains a painted false door, an offering table and an engraved stone lintel on the floor.

Read on to find out more about the discovery of the 6th dynasty tombs at Saqqara