Articles

The hottest treasure hunter in history

The hottest treasure hunter in history is an offbeat Canadian-Swedish genius who’s found ▶ ore worth five billion ▶ King Solomon’s mines ► a science-shaking prehistoric skeleton . . . Now Hans Lundberg is out to farm gold and milk uranium from seaweed

Peter C. Newman December 7 1957
Articles

The hottest treasure hunter in history

The hottest treasure hunter in history is an offbeat Canadian-Swedish genius who’s found ▶ ore worth five billion ▶ King Solomon’s mines ► a science-shaking prehistoric skeleton . . . Now Hans Lundberg is out to farm gold and milk uranium from seaweed

Peter C. Newman December 7 1957

The hottest treasure hunter in history

The hottest treasure hunter in history is an offbeat Canadian-Swedish genius who’s found ▶ ore worth five billion ▶ King Solomon’s mines ► a science-shaking prehistoric skeleton . . . Now Hans Lundberg is out to farm gold and milk uranium from seaweed

PETER C. NEWMAN

Canada’s most extraordinary prospector is Hans Torkel Frederik Lundberg, a Toronto scientist who follows goats, pine needles and maple syrup to mineral wealth, grows gold, and fishes for new mines from gadget-studded aircraft. much like an angler trolling for trout.

Although few Canadians outside mining otfices know his name. Lundberg has, in the thirty-three years since he came here from Sweden, discovered ore worth five billion dollars—the equivalent of more than twice the annual value of Canadian mineral production.

In his obsessive rummaging through the crust of every continent, Lundberg has helped trace the gold sources of King Solomon, the ancient Roman Empire, and the Inca Indians. He has also discovered hidden champagne caches, meteorites, and an ice-age skeleton which proved man’s existence in the Western Hemisphere a hundred and fifty centuries ago.

Easily Canadian mining's most controversial scientist, Lundberg has not quite realized the old alchemists’ dream of producing gold from other things, but he has found a new way of extracting it from the earth. He'll soon become the operator of the world's first gold farm. He also plans to refine uranium out ofseaweeds and to search Mount Royal, in the heart of Montreal, for diamonds. In a basement laboratory he is experimenting with a revolutionary method of boiling the oil out of northern Alberta’s tar sands.

A stout, witty Norseman with courtly manners, Lundberg is perhaps the world’s most experienced practitioner of airborne geophysics. This is the inexact science of using instruments mounted in aircraft to feel out new mines by gauging the magnetism, gravitational pull, radioactivity and other physical properties of rock formations as much as two thousand feet underground.

Although he holds many offbeat views, Lundberg is so highly regarded by fellow scientists that he has given seventy papers to learned societies all over the world, including a major address to the 1949 United Nations Scientific Conference on the Conservation and Utilization of Resources. “Lundberg is a real genius,” says John W. Carrington, editor of the weekly Northern Miner. “He is the father of geophysical prospecting.”

Lundberg’s gadgets have found new mines in twenty-

eight countries as well as every geologically favorable region of Canada. He has been associated with the discovery or extension of such well-known Canadian mines as Buchans. Waite-Amulet, McIntyre Porcupine, Siscoe. Granby Consolidated. Toburn. Falconbridge, Stadacona Rouyn, Britannia. Opemiska, Rainville, Copper Mountain. Donalda, Eldona. and several Noranda, International Nickel and Ventures subsidiaries. In 1942 he outlined deposits of cryolite, then essential in the manufacture of aluminum, in a secret war mission to Greenland. In 1949 his air crews skimmed over the Cariboo district of British Columbia, locating hidden channels in placer-gold streams. In 1952 he helped the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission find uranium deposits in Colorado.

Although he has just passed sixty-four and is beginning to slow down, Lundberg travels about sixty thousand miles a year directing the world-wide field operations of his company, Lundberg Explorations Limited,

which carries out more than a

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million dollars' worth of geophysical prospecting annually.

He has traced more new mineral deposits than any other Canadian, but seldom participates in the mining of his discoveries. "I lose interest." he says, "when shaft sinking starts." All his surveys are done for other mining companies at set fees, which in 1956 gave the I undberg firm a net profit of $127,929.

A dozen Lundberg air crews are currently searching for new' mines and oil wells over Venezuela. Spain, the western L\ S. and the northern parts of five Canadian provinces. One discovery about a year ago made by 1.undberg airborne magnetometer crew was the billion ironore body on the Belcher Islands in Hudson's Bay. "Anyone can run a magnetometer." says Douglas Banks, president of the Belcher Mining Corporation which is developing the find, "but damn few can interpret its findings like Lundberg."

Bob Jowsey. one of Canada’s most successful mining men, who often hires Lundberg, says: “As an explorer, he has been ahead of anybody I know. He's a great pioneer.”

Lundberg's pioneering instincts are never more apparent than when lie's telling a doubting audience about his unique “gold growing" experiments. His technique can be used by anyone who knows the location of a low-grade goldore body not w'orth mining by traditional means. It consists simply of harvesting plants that extract the gold from the earth through their roots and concentrate it in their leaves.

"Underground waters in millions of years carry upward slight dissolved traces of the minerals they touch." says Lundberg. “The plants soak up this moisture but the minerals are poison to them. To protect themselves, they capsule the minerals at the ends of their leaves.” Lundberg has refined gold out of the ashes of these leaves, most successfully from the tufts of the common horsetail — a palebrown weed, about ten inches high, which grows in sandy or gravelly soil in many parts of Canada. Near Timmins he has burned as much as four ounces of gold (worth $140) out of a ton of horsetails.

He has quietly been negotiating for land in northern Indiana and Illinois that contains gold too thinly scattered to be mined. There he hopes to create the w'orld's first gold farm.

Lundberg introduced to Canada the use of vegetation as a prospecting guide. “It is definitely possible,” he says, "to go out into an unknown area and from a study of certain plants or trees determine not only approximately where the ore is to be found, but also what metals there may be in it." He has analyzed plants to track down lead, manganese, vanadium, molybdenum, tungsten, tin, silver, and copper mineralization as much as fifty feet underground, and once helped one of his associates find a chromium mine in Greece by the long-distance study of leaves from the area's scrubby oaks.

When he heard about a farmer north

of Kingston, Ont., whose maple syrup was being rejected by U. S. border officials because of its high lead content, Lundberg toured the farm, sampling tree branches. Through a leaf analysis he eventually located a small deposit of lead. It wasn’t good enough for commercial mining, but he was able to mark the trees directly above the ore body. By not tapping them, the farmer has since got his maple syrup past customs.

While he enjoys forays of this kind. Lundberg now spends most of the year in his Toronto offices. For five hours of an average day he scribbles on geophysical charts with his coloring pencils, plotting the results of field surveys and translating them into mineral-deposit indications.

He has little time to sit behind his large green-leather desk, but, when he does, he occasionally winks up at the orange plaster guardian angel suspended from the ceiling. Though the figurine looks conventional enough from the visitor’s side of the desk, the angel has a mustache and an open-mouthed expression of admiration for its keeper.

The about thirty head-office employees of Lundberg Explorations share this sense of hero worship. The boss is addressed as “Dr. Lundberg,” but privately he’s always referred to as “Father.” This paternal instinct reflects more than friendly esteem, for, thanks to Lundberg’s instruments, the office staff consists of the richest clerks and stenographers in the country.

During a geophysical - survey flight into claims near James Bay in 1953, Lloyd Leach, Lundberg’s director of field operations, noticed a parallel bend in two rivers north of Kapuskasing, Ont., which to him indicated that a solid rock mass—-possibly with ore in it—lay between them. The aircraft’s geophysical detection gear registered such a kick that he turned it on during ensuing flights and eventually blocked out a strong ironore indication.

Leach offered the find to Lundberg and when he wasn't interested collected twenty thousand dollars among the staff to have the claims staked. Another office collection was taken up to finance diamond drilling, which outlined a hundred million tons of iron ore. The Steel Company of Canada bought the claims in April 1956 for a million dollars, giving the staff syndicate a better than forty-toone payoff. Many bought cars, houses and mink coats. Joan Scllon, the receptionist. toured Europe. The most satisfying outcome of the office bonanza to Lundberg was that none of his “millionaires” resigned.

Lundberg usually leaves the office early, but he always packs a briefcase home. He travels in a rented, chauffeurdriven limousine. He hates driving; his own 1952 Chrysler sits inactive on blocks in his garage.

The geophysicist spends most of his leisure time enlarging his stamp collection. His two hundred albums, kept in a walk-in safe tucked behind a false living-room wall panel, include stamps from letters carried on many of the sixty balloon ascents out of Paris during the 1870 German siege. “Lundberg,” says Douglas Patrick, a leading Canadian stamp authority, “is Canada's only consistent gold-medal winner in international philatelic competitions.”

As well as two medals for stamps, Lundberg has two Swedish scientific gold medals. Gustav VI, King of Sweden, last May created him an Honorary Doctor of Technology, one of the country’s highest scientific distinctions. He is one of Sweden’s best known expatriates and has several times been offered a Swedish title, an honor he can’t accept because he has

been a Canadian citizen since 1937.

His home is a luxurious eight-room bungalow on a fashionable dead-end street in north Toronto. The elevated lot and flat-roof design were originally meant to adapt the house for helicopter landings, but the idea was never implemented. The basement is split into three large weaving rooms where Lundberg’s wife— the former Signe Sjöberg, a high-school sweetheart — works at her five looms spinning rugs and draperies. She bases some of her patterns on her husband’s geophysical maps, giving her products surrealistic quality.

In a small cellar laboratory, Lundberg is working on a Swedish patent he believes may be the most efficient way of extracting the more than two hundred and fifty billion barrels of oil locked in northern Alberta’s Athabaska tar sands. He plans to heat the ground with steam pipes, then condense the oil out of the vapors.

The home’s main hall is lined with Lundberg’s library containing mostly technical books in eight languages. He speaks and reads Russian, French, German. Spanish, Danish and Norwegian, as well as Swedish and English. Off his bedroom is one of Lundberg’s secret indulgences: a yellow-and-blue tiled bathroom with a closed-in glass shower-bath compartment. It has indirect fluorescent lights that switch on automatically when he steps in for a dip.

The living room of the house has a shelf of petrified tree chips and fossils. They are the souvenirs of Lundberg’s archeological manhunt on the clay bottom of dried-up Lake Texcoco, near Mexico City. Previous searches had turned up elephant bones in the region and bits of worked stone which indicated that man had hunted there during the late ice age. Human remains were needed to clinch the archeologists’ argument that man inhabited this continent long before the predecessors of the American Indians crossed over from Asia.

The 20-million-dollar meteor

Lundberg flew to Mexico in February 1947, with the theory that there had been time for the skeletons to mineralize, making them detectable by his instruments. The first two of the three spots he marked for digging contained nothing but pools of water. In the third—three and a half feet down—lay the oldest human skeleton unearthed in the Western Hemisphere. The fifteen-thousand-year-old cranium had pronounced eyebrow ridges set in a low. vaulted forehead. Ninety pits were dug after Lundberg left but no other bone remains were found.

The discovery of the Tepexpan Man, as the find is otficially known, was not Lundberg’s first venture into prospecting for the unusual. In 1937 he took his instruments to a mile-wide crater near Canyon Diablo in northern Arizona, to seek a missing meteor. From the size of its crater it was thought to have weighed more than a million tons, and from the odd fragments found, it was known to have consisted of ninety-two percent iron, making it worth roughly twenty million dollars. Shafts sunk six hundred and fifty feet below the crater had found no trace of the heavenly rock.

Lundberg dismissed the traditional approach of looking for the meteor beneath its crater. He believed that it had hit an underground lake, boiled it into steam, and that the ensuing explosion had scattered the meteoric material horizontally around the crater. Some three thousand feet from the crater’s centre, his gear picked up a strong indication of iron ore.

When he revealed his find in New

York, an elderly heiress offered him eight hundred thousand dollars for a few tons of the meteorite, “f want to build a church,” she explained. “I want to build the only church in the world that will be made of material direct from heaven.” Lundberg refused the offer and Arizona turned the crater region into a state park before a shaft could confirm his discovery.

Lundberg’s reputation for unconventional prospecting has prompted many treasure hunters to seek his services. Just before World War II he directed a search for a sunken ship off the Bahamas which was supposed to have a hold full of silver bullion. Lundberg located the wreck, but the cargo turned out to be bars of lead.

In 1940 he organized an expedition into the Andes Mountains of Peru to look for Inca gold. It was financed by his friend Dr. Axel Wenner-Gren, the controversial Swedish financier who was recently granted a prospecting concession over one tenth of B. C. Lundberg has been Wenner-Gren’s Canadian representative since the mid-Thirties, but the association produced no major projects before the B. C. scheme, except the Andes expedition.

Instead of looking for hidden Inca treasures as previous explorers had done, Lundberg decided to try to locate the source of the ancient race’s gold. The sixty-seven-member party found two lost Inca cities — Sciyaq Market and P hoy it Pata Market —and at the foot of a great cliff abandoned gold pits were discovered. But the terrain was too dangerous and the natives too unfriendly for more detailed investigation.

At the head of the Manu River the expedition stumbled on a bizarre white colony, which had been founded by a prospector sent into Peru to plant rubber trees by Henry Ford in 1907. The eightyyear-old patriarch, who had thirty-five years earlier chosen jungle life instead of attempting a return to civilization, had only three requests. He wanted a bag of salt to season his diet, a meat grinder to help overcome the loss of his teeth, and the services of the expedition’s Peruvian priest to baptize his children. He balked at the priest’s entreaties to let himself be married, but the baptizing took ten hours. The old man had ninety descendants.

Lundberg’s company was also involved in a search for the fabled gold mines of King Solomon. On the basis of aerial photographs and surveys taken by one of Lundberg’s associates, a British mining syndicate in 1935 found some ancient gold workings two hundred and fifty miles northeast of Jidda, in Saudi Arabia. They are thought to have been the source of the biblical emperor’s treasures. No further mining was carried out but piles of ore surrounding the pits had been so primitively processed that a mill set up by the company extracted seventeen dollars’ worth of gold from every ton of tailings.

Lundberg’s strangest quest was not for gold, but for champagne. At the end of prohibition he located forty cases of champagne which had been buried in the garden of a Long Island estate. The wine had arrived just as the owner was called away on a sudden trip to Paris. A gardener who had buried the shipment for safekeeping died of pneumonia during the owner’s absence and left no map. Lundberg acclimatized his geophysical gear to the ting of champagne-bottle cases by having friends hide empties.

Lundberg the businessman says he now has no time for treasure hunting, but privately he admits he’s thinking of exploring Oak Island, in Mahone Bay south of Halifax, the rumored site of

Captain Kidd’s gold cache. He has also studied Canada’s two major diamond rushes—to Val d’Or, Que., in 1950 and to the East Main River near James Bay in 1909—and has worked out his own diamond theory. He believes there may be diamonds in the throats of such extinct volcanoes as Mount Royal in the centre of Montreal and nearby Mount Oka. He once started poking around Mount Oka, but the Trappist monks who own the land chased him away.

Stalking diamonds and pirate gold help nourish the madcap side of Lundberg’s make-up, which he first demonstrated, with almost fatal results, as a teen-ager in his native Malmo, a southern Swedish port town. He built a set of wings out of bamboo spars joined by wrapping paper and headed for a cliff from which he intended gliding into the sea. Some trees entangled the contraption, preventing his plunge but cracking his collarbone.

Cured of his aerial ambitions, young Lundberg considered a career in the pulpit. “But,” he says, “that didn't last long.” His main interest has always been mining and even his childhood hobby was collecting mineral specimens. His studies at the Royal Institute of Technology at Stockholm were interrupted by a short stint in the ski regiment which guarded the Swedish-Finnish border during World War I. In 1915 he was stranded for six months while exploring coal deposits in the Arctic Spitsbergen Islands.

Follow that witch doctor

He became an instructor of geophysical exploration in 1917, but spent his summers in the field. In an isolated northern Swedish village he once interviewed a Lapp witch doctor awaiting trial for killing patients by having them sniff the fumes from his secret potion. Lundberg’s tests showed that the brew was arsenopyrite—the source of fatal arsenic, but also of copper.

At the spot where the witch doctor had been mixing his deadly tonic, Lundberg used his first invention—a crude electric magnetometer—to discover part of the ore body which later became the huge Kristineberg mine. It made Sweden independent of copper imports during World War II and is still a major producer.

During the next five years Lundberg pioneered many geophysical techniques in successful mineral hunts throughout western Europe and northern Africa. In 1920, while trying to probe under an impassable bog in northern Sweden, he suspended his instruments from a kite and took history’s first airborne geophysical readings. In northern Spain a year later, he discovered the long-sought— though largely worked-out—mines that provided the ancient Roman Empire with most of its gold.

By 1923 the reputation of the young Swedish geophysicist and his omniscient instruments had crossed the Atlantic. August Hecksher, a New York financier. offered Lundberg a hundred and twenty-five dollars a day for six months to find him new mines. Lundberg worked out the agreement without spectacular success, then formed his own exploration company. He located a small basemetal ore body at Cobalt in 1924 and was so impressed with this country’s mineral potential that he decided to settle in Canada permanently.

One of his first major strikes was at the Buchans River mine, a small and gradually petering out lead-zinc property near Red Indian Lake in central Newfoundland. The company didn't want to gamble too much money on Lundberg’s

still-new gadgets, so it limited his prospecting contract to one square mile. After briefly walking around the property, he decided to lug his instruments into a patch of swamp, west of the little shaft. The bog swarmed with black flies and the humming induction coils of his electric gear attracted wild bears out of the surrounding bush. They paced hungrily around his machines, convinced they were camouflaged beehives.

Lundberg ordered a trench dug four thousand feet west of the shaft, where his earphones had registered their strongest kick. The miners cursed at the apparently senseless burrowing through the syrupy muck. Fifty feet down they exposed outcroppings of the richest leadzinc deposit in the world up to that time. Buchans is still mining Lundberg's discovery; more than a billion dollars’ worth of ore has been taken from under the swamp.

Even after this Lundberg had to spend most of the Twenties and early Thirties fighting for adequate recognition of geophysics among Canadian mining men. The science was too new, not always effective and there were many charlatans. Although he continued to find ore bodies more regularly than any pick-and-shovel prospector in the country, many of his early clients thought of Lundberg as just a lucky Swede with a hopped-up divining rod. In 1928 the Canadian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy asked the government to investigate the value of geophysics by tests over a known mineral site. Of the two dozen “geophysicists" who accepted the challenge, only Lundberg and one other candidate outlined the ore body.

Lundberg’s early professional relations were stormy because he was often proved right after contradicting the advice of geologists and mining engineers. At a base-metal mine near Bourlamaque, Que., now known as Golden Manitou, geologists forecast ore extensions east of the shaft. Lundberg advised a drive westward. The richest ore was found in the western zone, after an eastward exploration found only scattered values.

At the Windpass gold mine, fifty miles north of Kamloops, B.C., underground drifting had not lived up to encouraging surface showings. In 1935, Lundberg outlined a new exploration pattern and after blasting through a hundred feet of barren rock, drills bit into a milliondollar gold vein. At the great Falconbridge nickel mine near Sudbury, engineers had failed to locate a new shaft site without having it swamped by quicksand. Lundberg picked a knoll of solid crust and predicted bedrock a hundred feet down. Drilling confirmed his depth estimate to within six inches.

Some of Lundberg’s early searches into regions of Canada once considered bare of minerals have taken more than twenty years to pay off. He was the first geophysicist into the Chibougamau area of northern Quebec, where in 1936 he outlined the copper deposits now being mined by Copper Rand Chibougamau. In 1938 he found a boulder with rich zinc-lead-copper values at Armstrong Brook, west of Bathurst, N.B., near the site of the spectacular 1953 base-metals strike. Convinced that the rock had been separated from its mother lode by glacier movements, he traced the boulder for nineteen miles back to the Tetagouche River, where he outlined an impressive ore body. The property is now being developed by New Calumet, a Ventures subsidiary.

Lundberg has long been well enough established not to be bothered by doubters, but remains a rebel among geophysicists. He loves to ridicule the

scientissimo geophysicists, his label for colleagues who try to present the profession as a mysterious super-science. He is constantly urging the wider adoption of geophysics by practical prospectors without physics degrees; he once compared the science to cooking.

“Ninety percent of our best cooks,” he told the 1942 meeting of the American Institute of Mining Engineers,” use baking powder without the slightest concern over the molecular changes that may result in the cake . . . the mistakes of practical people using geophysical methods are not more frequent than those of the theoretically skilled scientists.” The Institute was so shocked that his paper was “misplaced” and not published with the session’s transcripts.

Lundberg regards geophysics as more of an art than a science. “Dame Nature,” he says, “is a creature of such infinite variety that attempts to reproduce her moods artificially can never be wholly successful.”

Although he invented an electrical ground-prospecting method in 1916, Lundberg's main contributions to the science have been his adaptations of geophysical instruments for use from aircraft. He has redesigned the supersensitive gadgets to operate from the shaky dashboards of small aircraft, and has completely restudied the techniques of interpreting results. He has had twenty inventions patented.

With a two-man crew Lundberg’s airborne instruments now cover as much territory in one hour as an eight-man geophysical ground party can survey in

three months, and at one fiftieth the cost. He uses five main techniques:

—the magnetic method, based on the principle that all rocks have some effects on the direction and strength of the earth’s magnetic field. Lundberg’s magnetometers measure and pinpoint the distortions caused by the magnetic ores associated with iron and nickel.

—gravimetric surveys, which can weigh ore from the air by measuring minute variations in gravitational pull, caused by the difference in density between rock and ore. Lundberg was the first to make this technique airborne and has outlined underground copper, lead and /.inc deposits weighing up to five million tons. —airborne electromagnetic devices that locate metallic but non-magnetit deposits (especially iron, copper and nickel) by outlining the varying electrical conductivities of the earth’s crust. The electricity is induced into the ground from loops of copper wire in the aircraft or by ground cables.

—seismic measurements, a ground technique based on the fact that vibrations —set oil' by firing a small explosives charge—travel at different speeds through different materials. Measurements of the tremor echoes determine the location and depth of oil pools.

—the scintillation counter, originally an improvement of the Geiger counter which Lundberg adapted for use from the air in the hunt for oil. Lundberg's theory is that oil pools stop the normal diffusion of radioactive salts to the surface, giving low scintillation readings directly over oil pockets, and higher-than-normal

readings at the pockets’ perimeters.

Lundberg caused a sensation among petroleum men when he introduced his scintillation method to Texas in 1950. He found one well in Dawson County which brings in royalties of twentyfive thousand dollars a year. Venezuela now fixes its oil-bearing-land auction prices according to his surveys. His instruments helped discover the Coleville oil and gas field in northwest Saskatchewan, as well as parts of the Redwater field in Alberta.

The next phase in Lundberg’s assault on the earth’s minerals may involve the ocean. He is particularly interested in seaweed beds off Ireland, which he believes may be washing uranium out of seawater in recoverable quantities.

Whichever direction Lundberg’s future probing takes, his activities are bound to involve him in controversy. When he announced his plant-sampling prospecting method, for instance, one crusty prospector objected in a letter to The Northern Miner: “I wonder what the Ontario Securities Commission would say if I put out a prospectus stating that the Balm of Gilead on my claims has a high copper content. Some of them scientists should work out a method employing the beaver to go prospecting.”

“Yes,” says Lundberg, “that’s not impossible.”

In Sweden he found one copper deposit by shadowing a goat with copper smears on its horns and he knows of a copper mine in Rhodesia discovered by tracing the copper flecks in a parrot's tail feathers. ★