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August 13th 2020 - 13:40

Thread #364

sharlene has no photo

by: sharlene
June 12th, 2010
Alcatraz Historic Guide Needs Help
This is a strange story about a mummified head that ended up on Alcatraz Island. Iīm looking for information concerning day to day life of a sailing vessel in 1873 so I can better understand the story. These are the details from the 1873 San Francisco newspapers. The bark Matthais Mayer (I think about 175 ft.) left England with coal, dropped it off in Ancon Peru where it was to pick up sugar. Didnīt. It needed ballast. Picked up sand. Offloaded the sand on the wharf in San Francisco, and bones and skulls poured out. A mummified head with long black hair was collected to bring to the doctor on Alcatraz for his collection. Further research showed me that in Ancon Peru in 1873, there was almost a party atmosphere. A 4000 year old burial ground, complete with full mummies, jewelry, textiles etc was uncovered because of the new railroad line cut from Lima. Everyone was out there digging up buried treasure. In 1874 it was all collected by German scientists in a formal dig so it wouldnīt be lost forever. What I need to know is how the ballast would have been collected. Remember: they didnīt expect to have to collect ballast. I forget the numbers: it was tons and tons however. I have been told two very different stories by two people who work at the Maritime Museum here. One said the sailors would have hand dug and wheelbarrowed the sand. In that case, they would have been well aware what they were collecting. He said it would have been repeated on shore in SF. The other said the captain would have brokered a ballast company to dig it with a steam shovel, and it would have been bagged (he said in jute or paper (!) bags). On the SF wharf, some bags may have broken to reveal skulls. They are two very different sets of facts, and tell two very different stories. Can anyone venture a guess at the likely scenerio? I would be most appreciative!

chrisheaney has no photo

by: chrisheaney
November 7th, 2012
Alcatraz Historic Guide Needs Help
Hi Charlene,

I've actually come to this story from the other direction, in Peru. The article that ran in the Daily Morning Call on 10 of November 1873 made it back to Peru, where it was re-printed in El Comercio of Lima, without commentary.

What else have you found? I'd love to learn more. Does the skull, or head, still exist in Alcatraz? I'm working on a project on the travels of Peruvian skulls and mummies in the 19th century, and this detail is fascinating.  How'd you learn this story?

It might be worth me looking at books on sea trade here in Peru for you.


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