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Acting on the divine vision of a respected Hindu guru, Indian archaeologists began excavating the ancient Unnao fort in the village of Daundia Khera on Friday in a quest to find 1,000 tons of gold worth more than $40 billion.
Swami Shobhan Sarkar told Indian authorities that he dreamt that a huge cache of gold was buried under the fort of former King Raja Ram Bux Singh. The king was an Indian martyr who fought the British during the country’s struggle for independence in 1857 and has long been associated with local stories of hidden treasure.
The charismatic guru had written to the prime minister, Manmohan Singh, a few weeks earlier, explaining that the late king came to him in his dreams and asked him to not only find the treasure but hand it over to the government of India. The $40 billion bounty would be used to help India through these difficult economic times.
“The dead ruler’s spirit has been roaming the palace and asking for the gold to be dug up. It is a hidden treasure for the country,” Sarkar said.
Apparently, the guru’s credibility warranted immediate action. A 12-person team from the Archaeological Survey of India was sent to survey the area and begin the excavation of two 100-square-meter blocks.
Before the digging started, Sarkar performed prayers and marked out the points to be excavated by the archaeological team, the Press Trust of India reported. The digging, which will be conducted mostly by hand, could take 20 laborers a month to complete.
Deepak Chaudhary, a supervisor at the dig, told India Today that “drilling machines had hit something that seemed different from earth” about 20 meters under the soil. “We can establish it’s the treasure only after we dig that deep,” he said.
Thousands turned up at the site as the news of the buried bonanza spread. The district administration quickly beefed up security, banned access into the fort premises and assembled barricades to control the movements of curious onlookers.
Since reporting his initial prediction, Sarkar also announced his vision of second suspected gold burial site. The swami believes there is a 2,500-ton pile of gold (worth $100 billion) beneath a temple in the same region.
The new claim has attracted vandals and illegal digging at the site, with some treasure-hunters having already dug up nine different spots in search of the gold, according to the Hindustan Times.
The elaborate skeletons, which were hidden for centuries in churches throughout Europe, are the subject of Koudounaris’ new book, “Heavenly Bodies: Cult Treasures and Spectacular Saints from the Catacombs.” According to the Daily Mail, Koudounaris hunted down and photographed dozens of eerie, but beautifully adorned, skeletons in the world’s most secretive religious establishments.
The Los Angeles-based Koudounaris believes the skeletons are about 2,000 years old and were removed from Roman catacombs during the 16th century on the orders of the Vatican. The relic hunter explained that the skeletons were certified by Vatican officials as early Christian martyrs and became sacred subjects known as “catacomb saints.”
The catacomb saints were preserved with a glue-like substance made from animal fat and then painstakingly decorated with a bounty of gold, silver, pearls and gemstones — a task that could take up to five years.
Once completed, the adorned skeletons were displayed in Catholic churches throughout Europe as a tangible reminder of the spiritual treasures of the afterlife.
By the 19th century, the blinged-out skeletons fell into disfavor, as they really weren’t saints at all, and posed an embarrassment to the church. They were removed from display and hidden away in lock-ups and containers, according to Koudounaris.
“One of the reasons they were so important was not for their spiritual merit, which was pretty dubious, but for their social importance,” Koudounaris told the Daily Mail. “They were thought to be miraculous and really solidified people’s bond with a town. This reaffirmed the prestige of the town itself.”
Aptly named “The Orange,” the 14.82-carat pear-shape gem boasts a rich, saturated color reminiscent of an orange peel or pumpkin. Its clarity rating is VS1, which means is has only very slight imperfections.
The Orange is more than twice the size of the previous orange diamond record holder, “The Pumpkin Diamond,” a 5.54-carat modified cushion-cut gem that sold for $1.3 million (or $234,657 per carat) at Sotheby’s in 1997. The Orange has a legitimate shot at achieving $1.35 million per carat.
Pure orange diamonds, also known as “fire diamonds,” are exceptionally rare in nature and hardly ever hit the auction circuit — especially in large sizes. The orange color is the result of the presence of nitrogen during the diamond’s creation.
The Gemological Institute of America (GIA) confirmed, “In the Laboratory’s experience, strongly colored diamonds in the orange hue range rarely exceed three or four carats in size when polished. [This diamond] is almost four times larger than that size range.”
The GIA also noted that diamonds become progressively more rare as the GIA color scale transitions from yellow-orange to pure orange.
“[The Orange] is great because stones of this nature, of this color, are not just looked at for their size, color, clarity and price per carat; they’re looked at as works of art,” said Rahul Kadakia, Head of Jewelry, Christie’s Switzerland and Americas. “This is, indeed, a great work of art in the world of gems and jewelry.”
The Orange will headline the 280+ lots at Christie’s Geneva sale on November 12. Among the other notable items under the auction hammer will be pieces from the collection of style icon Helene Rochas, as well as 130 carats of Colombian emeralds from tin magnate Simon Patino.
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