Click to use the Talking Dictionary 47. Murals Are Over 200 Years Old

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Two men chanced upon a trap door in a back room of a historic church near San Francisco. They discovered 23 religious murals painted by Native Americans more than 200 years ago. The murals record scenes from the Bible. Arthur Anderson, an artist, and Eric Bush, a painter, had been to the church many times before. But they were not aware of any trap doors in the building.

The only reason they discovered it was that Arthur dropped a coin onto the floor while pulling a small knife out of his pants pocket. He heard the coin hit the floor and roll. He started searching. A minute later, he found his dime. "Gotcha!" he said proudly. But then he saw what looked like an unusual gap in the floor board. With his knife, he began digging around the gap.

The floor board suddenly loosened. Arthur felt that he was onto something. He removed the floor board and saw a rope handle attached to what looked like a trap door. Eric helped Arthur remove four more floor boards. Then Arthur slid open the trap door.

Beneath it was a hole in the ground about 15 feet long, 10 feet wide, and 2 feet deep. They shined a flashlight into the hole and saw the murals. They were not wrapped, covered, or otherwise protected. Yet they were in wonderful condition, according to Eric.

"God truly does work in mysterious ways," said Arthur. The murals use only the colors black, red, and yellow. The smallest are about 12 by 12 inches, and the biggest are about 24 by 24 inches. Digital photographs were taken of all the murals before they were loaded onto a truck.

All 23 murals, created about 1791, are now at the Museum of Native American Art. They will be inspected, cleaned, archived, and examined by experts. They will not be put on public display until early next year. Museum officials expect a huge turnout when that day occurs. "This is truly rare," said one official. "I wonder how many more treasures are out there waiting for someone to drop a dime on them."


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