Hand on a Wall

mene mene Rembrandt-Belsazar

logoDo you recall hearing the phrase, “We see the handwriting on the wall?”  It is used in the context that someone knows something is about to happen, implying, “they know where this situation is headed.”  I do not hear it in conversation much now, but it still occasionally pops up.  I confess it is one that I have always liked because I know where the phrase originated from.  Travel with me for a moment as we go back in time; a time when the world was ruled by empires, a time when kings had absolute power.

Our journey goes back to ancient times, many centuries before the Roman Empire.  Long before the time of Alexander the Great and the Greek Empire.  Even before the once mighty ancient Persian Empire that the Greeks conquered.  For a moment we will explore the ancient Babylonian Empire, around the 6th century B.C.   The one that had the famous, “hanging gardens of Babylon,” one of the eight wonders of the ancient world. A kingdom whose ruins are situated in present day Iraq.  A mighty empire that ruled over many other kingdoms.  The walls around Babylon were over 100 feet high, 30 feet wide, and circled the city state for miles.  Babylon ruled the Middle East for about 70 years and it’s power was unprecedented.  It  ruled it’s conquered subjects very harshly.  Most empires slowly decline.  This one came to an abrupt end all in a single day.

The story is told in the book of Daniel of the Old Testament.  gutenberg-bible-book-of-danielA short book whose author Daniel talks about a number of kingdoms past, present and future to his day.  Daniel was a very high ranking official who served in the King’s court.  He is also the one who you may have heard about that was thrown into a den of lion’s, but that is another story for another day.   Although Daniel honorable served the King, he revered and served God in his heart.  Daniel was blessed with much knowledge, wisdom, management skills, and the unusual ability to interpret dreams.  He served in the King’s court for many years under a number of successive kings.  He was old when the following event took place.

King Belshazzar held a great feast attended by a thousand nobles.  Much wine was flowing and the King ordered the gold and silver cups that had been removed from King Solomon’s Temple when Babylon conquered Jerusalem years before under a different Babylonian king be brought to the feast.  As they drank toasts from these goblets in honor of the gods of Babylon, they mocked the gods of their conquered peoples including the God of King Solomon.  At that very moment the fingers of a human hand wrote on the palace wall the following words,  Mene Mene Tekel Parsin.  No one knew what the words meant and King Belshazzar was filled with so much terror that his knees buckled under him.  None of the King’s enchanters, astrologers, or fortune-tellers could decipher the meaning.  Someone recalled a wise older official named Daniel who had been known to interpret dreams.  He was summoned.

BelshazzerThe King promised Daniel a gold necklace, a royal purple robe, and the third highest position in the land if he could tell the meaning of the words.  Daniel told the King to keep his gifts but he would reveal the message.

Mene means numbered:  God has numbered your days of your reign and has been  brought it to an end.

Tekel means weighed:  you have been weighed in the balances and have failed the test.

Parsins means divided:  your kingdom has been divided and given to the Medes and Persians.

The book of Daniel records that very night Babylon was conquered, Belshazzar killed and Babylon was divided into 120 provinces.

Footnote:  For many centuries scholars debated if Babylon actual ever existed.  The ancient ruins of the city were discovered in the desert north of Arabia in the middle of the 19th century.  Historians and archeologists believe the Medes and Persians dammed up the river that flowed underneath and through the city allowing their soldiers to enter the fortified thought impregnable city.

On the game board for Treasure Trove one of the treasure spaces is titled “Kings and their Kingdoms.”

To learn more about the game go to  boxtop

Blombos Cave

What is it that fascinates people about caves?  A few weeks ago I saw the adventure movie Sanctum about some cave explorers that were on an extended expedition to Borneo that were spending weeks at a time underground.  Heavy rainfall on the surface caused flooding underground and the plot thickens as they are trapped by underground rivers that swell with heavy rainfall.  Their way of entrance and hopeful exit is blocked by underground passages gorged with water.  Let me paraphrase here, “Oh no, what are we to do?  Are we going to die down here?  It’s dark, it’s cold, it’s wet, and I want to go home, but how?  Maybe we can swim our way out, since we have our scuba equipment; anyone have a better idea?   We are all expert scuba divers,….. well……., except for her.”  I’ll let you see the movie for yourself to find out what happens.  Supposedly the movie is loosely based on a true story.  If that is true then the word loosely is getting more stretched all the time. 

I choose to see the movie.  I felt compelled to.  I like adventure movies, and I like documentaries on caves.  I also like to scuba dive.  I wanted to support Hollywood if they are going to make films such as this.  I actually liked the movie, but then again I am a sucker for these type of flicks.  I scuba dived through a cave once.  It was dark and I was not comfortable doing so.  Fortunately, my cave dive was only at a depth of 110 feet and lasted all of ten minutes.  Enough for me, I just don’t like diving in situations where I cannot come up if I chose to do so.

Caverns of Sonora

Blombos cave

I have visited a number of caves open to the public and I always enjoy the experience.  The Caverns of Sonora in southwest Texas have the most unique formations I have ever seen.  It is a small narrow passage way as the guide takes you on the tour.  I sort of like that confined felling, what I think most spelunkers experience.  That is about the extent of my desire to be a true cave explorer.  Well defined trails with someone guiding me.  However, the big one, that is Carlsbad has such large trails that you do not need a guide.  I especially enjoy Carlsbad since it has a two mile walk inside the cave as you traverse downward.  An elevator brings you back up.  It is a great family adventure.  Spelunk  is a cool word that I do not hear much anymore so I wanted to take the opportunity to use it print.  Speaking of cool words, how about Blombos Cave?

artifacts from Blombos Cave

My daughter was helping me find interesting places of adventure in Africa to place on the game board of TreasureTrove and when she found out there was a place called Blombos Cave, she insisted we include it in the game.  In reality it is an archaeological dig that investigates an early civilization on the southern tip of that continent.  It is interesting not only to archaeologists but also anthropologists.  The findings seem to indicate that one of the earliest known human settlements was located in Southern Africa.  A large stash of utensils and artifacts have created an intriguing site of exploration.


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Anglo-Saxon Hoard

      News reports in September 2009 flashed the exciting story of a treasure find in England by an amateur treasure hunter.  With a metal detector and checking out a farmers land he discovered a seventh-century hoard of gold and silver items.  Over one thousand objects have so far been unearthed.  Initial reports by scholars and archaeologists believe the artwork on the different pieces reveal an Anglo-Saxon time period, about 700 A.D. when England was ruled by Anglo-Saxon tribes from Germany.

     When I first heard about the finding I just assumed the British government would claim the medieval treasure.  As of now it looks as if the items will be auctioned off and the money split between the farmer and the treasure hunter who are friends.  I thought that was cool.  It is assumed they each will receive a very nice financial reward.  The government has not revealed the location in order to keep out looters. 

     I posted a blog article in July 2010 called, “Roman Coins.”  That article touched on the Treasure Act passed in Great Britian in 1996.  The English law encourages treasure hunters, or for that matter anyone lucky enough to discover treasure by happenstance, to work with authorities in order to preserve any historical significance to the find.  The government not only wants to reward the finders but also desires to professionally excavate and evaluate any discoveries.  It seems to be working.  The laws are in place to preserve any cultural clues, exactly what a find such as this one can reveal regarding England’s long and rich history. 

     In addition to gold and silver, some copper items, garnets and glass objects have been excavated.  It is being referred to as the greatest Anglo-Saxon treasure discovery of all time.  Many dozens of crosses and religious artifacts have been found.  One of the objects is a small strip of gold with a Latin quotation saying, “Rise up, O Lord, and may thy enemies be dispersed and those who hate thee be driven from thy face.”   

     Speaking of crosses, one of the situation cards in the TreasureTrove board game talks of discovering some medieval crosses and crucifixes.  I liked the fact that this was part of my board game years before this recent historical treasure finding occurred.  The card reads as follows:

                                    MEDIEVAL ARTIFACTS

            While caving in some caverns in Croatia and Kosovo uncover

            caskets containing carved crucifixes and crusaders’ crosses.

                                          Keep this card

                                 REWARD:  TEN MILLION    

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Roman Coins


        News reports the last few days report of a remarkable recent discovery in Britain by a lone treasure hunter.  A cache of thousands of Roman coins was found in April by the use of a metal detector that picked up metal objects under about a foot of soil.  The treasure sleuth handled the find very professionally by immediately contacting the proper authorities after digging up a portion of his discovery. The find is worth millions and is also one of valued historical significance.  

            Hundreds of the coins have the inscription of Marcus Aurelius Carausius, a Roman ruler of Britain during the 3rdcentury.  They may be some of the first coins minted on the island of England.  This will generate renewed interest in the history of Roman Britain.  In 2009 another treasure find occurred in England of gold artifacts also discovered by an treasure seeker.  These artifacts are presently referred to as the Staffordshire Hoard.   The numerous images on the artifacts of the Staffordshire find shed light on the early Anglo-Saxon history of Britain.  The Portable Antiquities Scheme(PAS) of the British Museum is tasked with handling the treasures from discoveries such as these.  England passed the Treasure Act in 1996 which allows compensation to the finders of such discoveries.  As for the Roman coins, they are valued at over $1 million dollars.

           The purpose of the PAS is to encourage the public to voluntarily report findings that may have archaeological value.  Each year chance discoveries are made by gardeners, farmers, and sleuths using metal-detectors.  The sooner any find is reported the greater the ability of professional archaeologists to evaluate the value of the find and the historical circumstances of the culture relating to the found artifacts or treasure.  The Treasure Act states:  “All finders of gold and silver objects, and groups of coins from the same findspot, which are over 300 years old, have a legal obligation to report  such items.”      

The individual who found the Roman coins did just as authorities had hoped these measures would encourage.  The man stated:

“I knew the find was important and I needed archaeological help, so I contacted my local Finds Liaison Officer. I have made many finds over the years, but this is my first coin hoard and it was a fascinating experience to take part in the excavation of it.”

English museums are currently raising the money to compensate not only the individual with the metal detector but also the owner of the land where the coins were found.  This process strives to make everyone a winner in the hunt for lost treasure.  It seems to be working. 

            When I created the board game TreasureTrove in the late 1980’s one of the sixteen treasure pieces on the board is called Roman Coins.  I placed the treasure finding in Central Europe on the game board.  The following description within the game’s instructional booklet reads as follows:

Faux Roman coins fabricated for Game

                     The Mediterranean Sea is full of sunken ships.  Find a  Roman galley laden with coins. 

Value: 10 Million   



  I had read about occasional findings of Roman coins in Europe.  When I lived in Germany in the early 1980’s Roman coins were found underneath a bridge in a city called Trier which at one time housed a Roman garrison.  Trier was about a 20 minute drive from where my wife and I lived.  I believe it was only a few dozen coins here and there, nothing of the magnitude of hundreds, much less thousands of coins as was recently unearthed.   Little did I envision that my imagined treasure for the game would actually come true for someone.

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Bactrian Hoard



logoHistorians and archeologists have long been intrigued by the prospect of finding the lost treasures of this famous Greek conqueror.  Perhaps finding just a portion of the wealth his vast empire acquired would be one of the greatest treasure findings of all time.  It has indeed been a long time.  He lived over 23 centuries ago, so the chances of anything new being discovered seem to be wishful thinking at best, but that is what  happened just a few years ago.

Russian archeologists in Afghanistan in 1978 discovered a large cache of gold artifacts.  It was actually a hoard of over 20,000 ancient gold ornaments dating back to the 3rd century B.C. when Alexander the Great conquered the mountainous terrain of the world known today as Afghanistan.  He proceeded on into India but died there of disease at the young age of 33.  The art work on the artifacts reflects the presence and influence of the Greeks and their army.  This unbelievable discovery is called the Bactrian Hoard.  composite-500

In 1978 the Russians invaded Afghanistan; however the President of Afghanistan secretly hid the recently found treasure from the invaders.  Fortunately, it was also kept safe from the Taliban rulers during the 1990’s after the Russians had left.  In the early years of the 21st century the Taliban were driven out of the country.  Those who had secretly hidden the treasure from foreign invaders in 2003 helped relocate it and returned it to the rightful owners of the treasure, that is, the people of Afghanistan.  It is considered one of history’s greatest archeological collections and let us hope it stays well preserved, revealing the rich cultural heritage of Afghanistan.

48-crown-300The treasure of Alexander the Great is not one of the treasures to be collected while playing the TreasureTrove board game, but it is a fascinating story and is briefly mentioned in the booklet  that comes with the game footnoting some of the world’s greatest treasure findings.

To learn more about the game go to  boxtop