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9 Unusual Items Found in Rivers Around the World

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What do a brothel token, ice cream trucks, and an ancient Egyptian portico have in common? They've all been found at the bottom of some of the world's most famous rivers. But the treasure trove doesn’t end there. Here are nine unusual items that have surfaced from well-known rivers across the globe.

1. A SHIPWRECK ON TOP OF ANOTHER SHIPWRECK // NEW YORK CITY'S WATERWAYS

A cabin cruiser located at the bottom of the Hudson River near Yonkers (the exact location is kept secret) sits atop an older, flattened shipwreck—"probably a nineteenth century sailing ship," according to New York Magazine.

Other bizarre NYC discoveries include "gribbles" (Limnoria tripunctata), wood-eating isopods that gnaw on the pilings holding up the FDR Drive, ice cream trucks, and just a little further out, the remnants of an early 20th century amusement park. There's also a $26 million collection of silver bars from a 1903 shipwreck lying in the Arthur Kill area, but those have yet to be recovered.

2. ROMAN BROTHEL TOKEN // THAMES RIVER

In 2012, an amateur archaeologist discovered a Roman brothel token near the Thames's Putney Bridge. The bronze token depicts a graphic act of passion; experts believe this “sex token” was hidden beneath the mud for around 2000 years. 

3. NILE CROCODILE // RIVER SEINE

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In case the grit and grime doesn’t deter you, here’s another reason to forgo a dip in the Seine: In 1984, a 31-inch Nile crocodile was found crawling in a sewer near the popular Pont Neuf bridge. Sanitation workers stumbled upon the reptile while on the job, and called in a zoo vet. It eventually found its way to the Aquarium de Vannes. While its life pre-sewer remains a mystery, the veterinarian estimated the croc spent one to two months living in France’s sewer systems before its discovery.

Over the years, the Seine has seen its fair share of terrifying creatures. Sightings of snapping turtles, snakes, and pacu—relatives of piranhas with an almost uncertainly undeserved reputation for biting off testicles—have all been reported.

4. 15,000 BICYCLES // AMSTERDAM CANALS


Amsterdam, a city of 780,000, has been estimated to have around 2 million bicycles. But as canal cleaners have discovered, bicycles fill more than just streets: Approximately 15,000 bikes are pulled up from Amsterdam’s canals each year.

“Bike fishing” has actually become a popular Amsterdam tourist attraction. The local water company (Waternet) has perfected the activity with a claw and crane device that sits atop a barge.

5. ANCIENT EGYPTIAN PORTICO // NILE RIVER

In 2007, a team of Egyptian archaeologists embarked on the Nile River’s first underwater excavation, hoping to uncover antiquities and shipwrecks from the river’s deep past. Surveying the Nile’s dense, intensely muddy waters wasn’t easy, and required specific gear, including side scan sonar to find artifacts beneath the mud and a GPS, according to Daily News Egypt.

Despite the tough conditions, the historic dive did not disappoint. Archaeologists discovered a portico (covered entryway) for an ancient Egyptian temple. According to a 2008 National Geographic report, the entryway led to the temple of fertility god Khnum. The stone featured inscriptions that date back anywhere from 945 to 525 BCE. The archaeologists also found parts of an ancient Christian church during their dives.

6. SOVIET FIGHTER PLANE AND PILOTS // VISTULA RIVER

In 2015, Poland’s Vistula River reached historically low levels, which unearthed rare World War II artifacts, including a Soviet fighter plane and the remains of its pilots. According to the Associated Press, the plane crashed in January 1945 when Germany’s army was retreating back toward Berlin. The plane was hit while flying low across the Vistula, and ultimately crashed through the ice into the river.

Explorers also found parts of the pilots' uniforms, boots, parachutes, a sheepskin coat collar, and radio equipment with Cyrillic controls.

7. COMPUTER TOWER // RIVERS OF AMERICA



When Disneyland visitors raft over to Tom Sawyer Island, they don’t just drop gum or cellphones in the river (although hundreds do that every year). In 2010, Disneyland employees uncovered a desktop computer tower during a routine maintenance draining.

8. MACHETES AND A SAUNA // LOS ANGELES RIVER

Every spring, the Friends of the Los Angeles River organization hosts a city-wide river cleanup that draws thousands of volunteers, who pick up 70-plus tons of trash and an assortment of unusual trinkets and treasures. Findings from the group’s more than two decades of cleanups include machetes, a sauna, and a phone booth.

9. 18TH CENTURY CANNONS // DETROIT RIVER

According to experts, the Detroit River's muddy waters obscure numerous museum-worthy relics. Between 1980 and 2011, divers pulled up six separate cannons dating back to the 1700s, according to a recent story in the Detroit Free Press. And those cannons, which were likely part of a stash kept by British soldiers before the War of 1812, represent just a small portion of the treasures on the river's bottom (which, given the visibility issues, divers can usually only locate by touch). In November, a 6000-pound anchor belonging to Greater Detroit—a 2100-passenger steamship which traveled the Great Lakes from 1924 to 1950—was recovered; there are also rumors of Prohibition-era vehicles, like a Model T, on the river's Canadian side. (Divers need a federal permit to explore there.)

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Penn Vet Working Dog Center
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Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
New Program Trains Dogs to Sniff Out Art Smugglers
Penn Vet Working Dog Center
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

Soon, the dogs you see sniffing out contraband at airports may not be searching for drugs or smuggled Spanish ham. They might be looking for stolen treasures.

K-9 Artifact Finders, a new collaboration between New Hampshire-based cultural heritage law firm Red Arch and the University of Pennsylvania, is training dogs to root out stolen antiquities looted from archaeological sites and museums. The dogs would be stopping them at borders before the items can be sold elsewhere on the black market.

The illegal antiquities trade nets more than $3 billion per year around the world, and trafficking hits countries dealing with ongoing conflict, like Syria and Iraq today, particularly hard. By one estimate, around half a million artifacts were stolen from museums and archaeological sites throughout Iraq between 2003 and 2005 alone. (Famously, the craft-supply chain Hobby Lobby was fined $3 million in 2017 for buying thousands of ancient artifacts looted from Iraq.) In Syria, the Islamic State has been known to loot and sell ancient artifacts including statues, jewelry, and art to fund its operations.

But the problem spans across the world. Between 2007 and 2016, U.S. Customs and Border Control discovered more than 7800 cultural artifacts in the U.S. looted from 30 different countries.

A yellow Lab sniffs a metal cage designed to train dogs on scent detection.
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

K-9 Artifact Finders is the brainchild of Rick St. Hilaire, the executive director of Red Arch. His non-profit firm researches cultural heritage property law and preservation policy, including studying archaeological site looting and antiquities trafficking. Back in 2015, St. Hilaire was reading an article about a working dog trained to sniff out electronics that was able to find USB drives, SD cards, and other data storage devices. He wondered, if dogs could be trained to identify the scents of inorganic materials that make up electronics, could they be trained to sniff out ancient pottery?

To find out, St. Hilaire tells Mental Floss, he contacted the Penn Vet Working Dog Center, a research and training center for detection dogs. In December 2017, Red Arch, the Working Dog Center, and the Penn Museum (which is providing the artifacts to train the dogs) launched K-9 Artifact Finders, and in late January 2018, the five dogs selected for the project began their training, starting with learning the distinct smell of ancient pottery.

“Our theory is, it is a porous material that’s going to have a lot more odor than, say, a metal,” says Cindy Otto, the executive director of the Penn Vet Working Dog Center and the project’s principal investigator.

As you might imagine, museum curators may not be keen on exposing fragile ancient materials to four Labrador retrievers and a German shepherd, and the Working Dog Center didn’t want to take any risks with the Penn Museum’s priceless artifacts. So instead of letting the dogs have free rein to sniff the materials themselves, the project is using cotton balls. The researchers seal the artifacts (broken shards of Syrian pottery) in airtight bags with a cotton ball for 72 hours, then ask the dogs to find the cotton balls in the lab. They’re being trained to disregard the smell of the cotton ball itself, the smell of the bag it was stored in, and ideally, the smell of modern-day pottery, eventually being able to zero in on the smell that distinguishes ancient pottery specifically.

A dog looks out over the metal "pinhweel" training mechanism.
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

“The dogs are responding well,” Otto tells Mental Floss, explaining that the training program is at the stage of "exposing them to the odor and having them recognize it.”

The dogs involved in the project were chosen for their calm-but-curious demeanors and sensitive noses (one also works as a drug-detection dog when she’s not training on pottery). They had to be motivated enough to want to hunt down the cotton balls, but not aggressive or easily distracted.

Right now, the dogs train three days a week, and will continue to work on their pottery-detection skills for the first stage of the project, which the researchers expect will last for the next nine months. Depending on how the first phase of the training goes, the researchers hope to be able to then take the dogs out into the field to see if they can find the odor of ancient pottery in real-life situations, like in suitcases, rather than in a laboratory setting. Eventually, they also hope to train the dogs on other types of objects, and perhaps even pinpoint the chemical signatures that make artifacts smell distinct.

Pottery-sniffing dogs won’t be showing up at airport customs or on shipping docks soon, but one day, they could be as common as drug-sniffing canines. If dogs can detect low blood sugar or find a tiny USB drive hidden in a house, surely they can figure out if you’re smuggling a sculpture made thousands of years ago in your suitcase.

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This Just In
Flights Grounded After World War II Bomb Discovered Near London City Airport
Dan Kitwood, Getty Images
Dan Kitwood, Getty Images

London City Airport grounded all flights on the night of February 11, after a World War II bomb was found in the neighboring River Thames, The Guardian reports.

The half-ton bomb was revealed Sunday morning by development work taking place at the King George V Dock. Following its discovery, police set up a 702-foot exclusion zone around the area, closing local roads and shutting down the London City Airport until further notice. According to the BBC, 261 trips were scheduled to fly in and out of London City Airport on Monday. Some flights are being rerouted to nearby airports, while others have been canceled altogether.

The airport will reopen as soon as the explosive device has been safely removed. For that to happen, the Met police must first wait for the river's tide to recede. Then, once the bomb is exposed, they can dislodge it from the riverbed and tow it to a controlled explosion site.

The docks of London’s East End were some of the most heavily bombed points in the city during World War II. Germany’s Blitz lasted 76 nights, and as the latest unexpected discovery shows, bombs that never detonated are still being cleaned up from parks and rivers more than 75 years later.

[h/t The Guardian]

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