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As it turned out, the heat and humidity were stifling. I spent two weeks wading through mud trying to dig chunks of wood out of the ground, in the hope that someone with more experience could date the timbers. Boats that had apparently washed ashore here were being investigated by my supervisor; Professor Galloway. She is known worldwide for her expertise in maritime disasters, and as such had been called in to try to untangle the mess. Progress had been painfully slow, and morale was low, so when news began to trickle through our team that an encampment had been discovered a mere half mile up the hillside we felt as if we were finally beginning to achieve something.
A small group of selected archaeologists was assigned to investigate the encampment but were soon left bitterly disappointed; ‘livid’, in fact, when it rapidly emerged that this was not a shelter established by the shipwrecked, but a much more recent structure than that. What was even more disturbing were the reports that bodies had been found there, some charred, some broken, and others merely with gunshot wounds. Although they were fairly badly decayed it was obvious from their attire that these poor souls had been dead for only two years, possibly three.
Horrified and disgusted as I was, I kept my student ears open for more news. Something dreadful had happened, and curiosity was getting the better of me. Contriving a reason to get into the site hut to engage in some eavesdropping was not difficult; I began hastily filling out a long overdue context sheet for the pit that I had excavated that morning. Once inside the site hut I had plenty of opportunity to listen in to the hushed conversations while pretending to find the correct filing cabinet. What we had uncovered here could only be the work of those who illicitly trade in cultural property and heritage.
And it had gone badly wrong, even by their standards.
From what I could gather, the encampment that had been found had served as the centre of operations, but had been almost completely obliterated. Some structures were still partially intact, although others had collapsed and all but rotted in the damp earth. One had all the markings of having been blown apart by a hand grenade. Papers that had been found in the main hut were so badly damaged by the humidity that they were mostly unreadable.
What can have been here that was worth all this death and destruction? Nothing that we had found yet hinted at wealth or importance. There were more ships closer to the area where the bodies had been found but no one could work out why they would be any more important than the ones we were looking at.
The mood in the camp worsened over the coming days; more bodies were being dug up, and not the bodies from the wrecked ships. Archaeology is painfully slow work at the best of times, and while we turned our attentions to some anomalies further out from the camp, it was still a full week before anyone from our team made their way further up the hillside. This venture did finally yield some of the answers we wanted. Not just answers to the questions that had brought us to the island in the first place, but to the questions raised by our unexpected find.
A cave, of sorts, had been discovered and inside hundreds of bodies lay rotten. These were the sailors that we had been looking for; apparently they had taken shelter from the storm that had broken their boats and washed them ashore in the first place. Recording and cataloguing the remains was going to take some poor archaeologist years. The work would be dull and tedious but their career would be made. Not mine, though. Not my cup of tea. One object was carried from the cave; it had been found with one of the bodies. It was a wooden box, a little more than a foot long, with a cross section of approximately a five inch square. The senior archaeologists seemed to think this was something important, although for the life of me I could not work out what.
“I would stake my career on this being the work of Drake,” the site director said to Professor Galloway.
“What on earth makes you think this is his handiwork?”
I had not the slightest idea who these two were talking about, but from the look on the face of the director in particular, I assumed ‘Drake’ was a Bad Man.
“Look about you; dozens of dead bodies, a camp that has been blown to pieces, an undiscovered site of particular archaeological interest with something… probably a single object… removed. Who else do you suppose this is?”
My professor looked doubtful; “What do you suppose was in there, and how do you know it wasn’t removed long ago?”
The site director gave Professor Galloway a closer look at the box. “See these fingerprints? It has been opened recently. The dust marks confirm this. There was also a trail cut through the bodies leading to this… Spent torches… It also looks as if the box and whatever was in it was wrenched from the clutches of one of the skeletons.”
My stomach did a barrel roll.
“Jeez. Well, if Drake really has been here this excavation has just lost all its credibility…”
It was some days later that the decision was made to pack in our investigations. The local law enforcement shut down our initial excavations as it was now a crime scene and not ‘archaeology’. The mood never recovered, and I learned that the funding had been cut. When I asked why I was simply told; “Drake.”
None of my superiors wanted to talk about it (and I worked out why, later), and so I was unsatisfied. Google is your friend, or so I am told. “Drake archaeology” yielded nothing but some World of Warcraft bits and bobs, an archaeological consulting service with ‘Drake’ in their URL and a couple of links to the Current Archaeology Magazine. Not much to go on. I checked out the consulting service, but they seemed innocuous enough. One thing did catch my eye, though, and that was something about Sir Francis Drake. The link led me to an article that considered the theory that he had travelled further up the American coast than previously thought… it wasn’t what I was looking for, but fascinating nonetheless.
It was sometime later that I returned to the topic. Coursework and real life took over but there was always a nagging in the back of my mind. My day job of checking peoples’ credit history was the absolute pits of boring hell; hence the evening part-time university. It allowed me the opportunity to think about something else at work, other than whether Joe Bloggs was consistently paying his phone bills on time in 1994. The job was a gut-tangling bore fest from 9:30 to 5:30 (and not a moment later), day in, day out until the welcome weekends, during which study, revision and essay writing became my Lords and Masters. It was not until a seminar on the illicit trade in cultural property that I was reminded of the fact that this was something that was mentioned by one of my superiors that day in Borneo.
I began researching the world of black market dealings, clandestine auctions, and outright theft of historical artifacts with the idea of eventually producing a thesis on the matter. What transpired was tantamount to career infanticide, so I am writing this in the vain hope that someone will pick it up and offer me work as a writer, a private detective or a… well, anything other than a credit checker… At the very least I hope it will be cathartic.
It was through this research that I finally discovered who and what Drake is, and I became fascinated with him. Obsessed, even. He lives a life which to the casual observer may look to be romantic, exotic and free, although when I dug a little deeper, I uncovered a dirty, seedy world of thugs, thieves and murderers that ran parallel to the world that I inhabited. I had clearly been incredibly naive; yes I had heard about the black market, and I had attended lectures which mentioned works of historical significance that had been lost to the world through illegal trade. But I had never really given it much thought outside the classroom; never stopped to think what the people behind all this might be like, how they operated, and, crucially; why.
Nathan Drake is a lot of things. He is a thief, a liar, a killer, and has a track record in destroying cultural property like you wouldn’t believe. However, finding evidence of his existence was more trouble than you would expect. He is known to a few, and is the bane of actual archaeologists’ careers. There is a good reason for them to keep him as secret as possible; there is no point in advertising the fact that one man could almost single-handedly cut a path through not only the people that may come between him and his goal, but also any red tape. Rules, regulations, guidelines… The academic world would hardly gain from it being known that it is easily possible to get away with such crimes. And so my research was slow and painful, yet immeasurably enticing.
If I dug deep enough, pushed the right buttons, and spoke to the right people I found I could uncover parts of his life and dealings, and through these little breakthroughs I have been able to piece together what I believe are the events of his life, thus far.
(I don’t claim to own the original story. Sony and Naughty Dog have that honour.)