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Swindle Solved Volume 57 Number 5, September/October 2004

By analyzing drops of molten lead from a sixteenth-century archaeological site on a tiny Arctic island, geologist Georges Beaudoin of Canada's Laval University has finally closed the book on what is perhaps the country's most notorious swindle.

Between 1577 and 1578, as much as 1,200 tons of worthless rock were mined and shipped from Kodlunarn Island to England after explorer Martin Frobisher convinced Elizabeth I the ore was rich with gold.

While many historians had suspected Frobisher's metallurgists committed outright fraud, it had been suggested that the lead used by them to assay the ore may have already contained gold. In assaying, which helps to determine a mineral's metal content, a sample is heated and mixed with lead. Any precious metals present in the ore bind with the lead.

If the assayers were unaware that the lead already contained particles of gold, they would have erroneously concluded that the ore was valuable and would make the Queen, and them, very rich. But analysis of lead samples from the assay workshops on Koldlunarn Island, excavated in the mid 1990s, now proves beyond a doubt that there is no gold present in the lead used to evaluate Frobisher's ore, and that Queen Elizabeth was deliberately scammed.

© 2004 by the Archaeological Institute of America