A Swiss mountaineer who stumbled upon two dozen wrapped in burlap and weighing about 7kg (15lb) has been hailed a hero after claiming to have found the ancient British secret code to the world’s highest peak.
Gregory Legg, 62, said he found the jewels on Mont Blanc last week while he was preparing for a climb of a route he had failed to make in the past because of poor weather conditions.
He bought them, measuring 14 inches long, nine inches wide and six inches high, and has refused to return them, saying he will show them to the world and return them to the British consulate.
Legg told the Swiss newspaper Blick newspaper he had managed to smuggle out the jewels after digging up the burlap wrappers, as an “act of vandalism”.
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“It was almost as if I had stumbled on an ancient Hindu artefact,” he said. “I know when to keep it hidden, it had no cash value and was the property of foreigners.”
Legg said that the remnants of the beads were so old that the Japanese, who had already called in experts to determine their origin, used the correct verb in Japanese to translate the codes. The use of the word “phonecall”, which appears in the codes, indicated the jewels were sent by phone.
He was soon discovered by other climbers, who found the jewels washed up on the side of the mountain. Legg said he believed the jewels were “somewhere between 900 and 1,100 years old”.
He said that local authorities wanted to return the jewels, worth a reported €90,000 (£84,000), but Legg said that was impossible as the code was “a national secret”. He said that he would send the jewels back to the British consulate if asked to, although he would not attempt to break into their offices and would give them back if they wished.
“They are British but they belong to a nation. And all my life I have fought for the preservation of this treasure,” he said.
The British security industry expert at Interpol, Steve Gillings, tweeted his congratulations to Legg, saying he was “an amazing gentleman”.
Steve Gillings (@shatteredc) An amazing gentleman/survivor & a hero. Congratulations to @gregarygg – a great man – & a once in a lifetime find. Keep him safe. Best wishes to your grandchild @monopoli
He said: “Great bit of blue ware with multi-cultural meaning to us all: phonecall.”
Monopoli is the Italian climbing platform, originally a recruiting ground for British services, which has experience dating back to the 18th century. One of the scenes of British emigration is inside Montepolis, which resembles a medieval castle, and is believed to have been inhabited at one point.