Hans Lundberg, Canada’s greatest mineral detective, Part 3

Hans Lundberg examining a geophysical map. Norman Carlisle, “World’s greatest prospector … he finds treasures by the billion.” Popular Science, May 1964, 60.

Lundberg contributed the Allied defence effort during the Second World War. In 1942, working in secret with two Americans, he outlined new deposits of cryolite in Greenland. At the time, this mineral, a vital element in the production of aluminum, a highly strategic material produced in large quantity in Canada and elsewhere, could be mined in no other place on Earth.

One of Lundberg’s most unusual contracts seemingly took place in the United States in the early 1930s, toward the end of Prohibition period. It so happens that a wealthy American had managed to get 40 cases of champagne in the country without attracting the attention of the authorities. He had instructed his gardener to bury the loot until he could get home. Said gardener had unfortunately died quite suddenly, before he could reveal the location of the champagne to anyone. Lundberg quietly agreed to pay the wealthy American a visit. He soon found the 40 cases.

In early 1938, Lundberg went to Arizona to see if he could detect the remains of a meteorite underneath Crater Mound, a spectacular feature known today as Meteor Crater. His instruments picked up what appeared to be a large iron ore body buried to one side of the crater. An elderly New York heiress was so fascinated by the news that she offered to buy a few tons of metal to build the only church on Earth made from materials that came from the sky. The project went nowhere. In any event, later research revealed that meteorite had all but disintegrated when it crashed on Earth, about 50 000 years ago.

For some reason or other, Lundberg was seemingly fascinated by archaeology. Mind you, it is also possible that his growing reputation attracted treasure hunters and more serious researchers. In November 1938, one of Lundberg’s employees, American geophysicist Mark Cyril Malamphy, performed a geophysical survey at Colonial Williamsburg, an 18th century living history museum in Virginia known to millions of 21st century tourists. Even though it failed to locate its target, a stone vault said to be within the yard of the Bruton parish church, Malamphy’s survey appears to be the first case of geophysical exploration undertaken on an archaeological site on the American continent. Lundberg would have conducted the survey himself had he not been forced to stay behind because of an injury suffered in a recent automobile accident.

The circumstances behind the Colonial Williamsburg survey were somewhat unusual. Lundberg’s client was one Marie Bauer, born Marie Schweikert, a German American woman whose attempt to dig up the vault had been thwarted by the owner of much of the site, Colonial Williamsburg, Incorporated, an organisation controlled by the Rockefeller Foundation. Bauer was convinced that the vault contained priceless and long lost documents, including the first transcript of the King James’ Bible and manuscripts of William Shakespeare’s plays. Bauer married Canadian American author, lecturer and mystic Manly Palmer Hall in 1950. Many of her followers still believe that the vault is real and hope that it will one day reveal its secrets.

A Canadian geologist working for Lundberg, George Kenneth Lowther, was among the many members of a 1940-41 scientific expedition financed by one of the wealthiest men in the world – a controversial figure who was a friend of Hermann Wilhelm Göring, the commander in chief of the German air force, the Luftwaffe. The Canadian geophysicist knew Swedish businessman Axel Lennart Wenner-Gren and agreed to help him look for the source of the gold of the Incas, a 15th and 16th century South American civilisation that controlled the largest empire in the history of pre-Columbian America. The team discovered proof of ancient gold mining as well as two cities unknown to Western archaeologists.

In early 1947, Lundberg conducted a geophysical survey near Mexico City that led to the discovery of Tepexpan Man. The well known German American archaeologist, explorer and geologist in charge of the site, Helmut de Terra, believed that this individual was 10 000 years old, which made it the oldest human being found up to then in Latin America. He was seemingly a bit over optimistic. Tepexpan Man is now believed to have died around 2 700 BCE.

Lundberg also played a pioneering North American role in the use of plant matter to uncover mineral deposits. While the presence of traces of various metals in plant leaves had been known for quite some time, this geobotanical knowledge was seemingly applied only around 1936, in Sweden. In 1939, Lundberg gathered leaves from bushes and trees to conduct his own experiments. Early trials proved that known deposits located less than 15 metres (50 feet) underground could be detected. Lundberg then proceeded to untested areas.

Geobotany remained something of a hobby for Lundberg. He seemingly opened the world’s first gold farm in northern Indiana and Illinois, during the 1950s. He grew horsetails, a primitive plant and living fossil known for its mineral absorption capability, on poor quality land. Each ton of plant material contained 125 grams (4 ounces) of gold worth 140 dollars. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Lundberg put forward the idea of harvesting seaweed off the coast of Ireland to produce uranium – a concept several decades ahead of its time.

Is that the end of our story, you ask, my reading friend? Of course not, say we. We have yet to talk about Lundberg’s airborne geophysical work, among other things. This aspect of the story will be brought up in the 4th part of this article.

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Rénald Fortier