Earlier this month, archaeologists unearthed a stockpile of gold coins, silver jewelry and other valuables that were buried more than 2,000 years ago in what is now Ukraine. Last year, two ‘amateur treasure hunters’ tracked down a stash of ancient coins worth more than $15 million in southern France. The booty is out there, people. Here are some tips to help you find it before your fellow buccaneers.
Underwater navigation is a great way to hedge your treasure-finding bets, since the precious cargo from numerous shipwrecks still remains beneath the surface of the sea to this day. Take the Nuestra Señora de Atocha, a Spanish galleon that sank off the Florida coast in the early 17th century. In 1985, an American treasure hunter named Mel Fisher uncovered the bulk of the vessel’s riches — a cache of dubloons, silver coins and other pirate pieces of flair that were valued at more than $500 million. But experts believe there was more treasure aboard; namely, the contents of the captain’s sterncastle, which included 17 tons of silver bars and 35 boxes of gold, have never been recovered. Today, Florida Keys visitors can sign up for a week-long dive excursion to comb the depths of the Atocha wreck — but a solo venture, far from the tourist crowds, may be your best bet at recovering the remaining loot. If you don’t find Spanish riches, there are plenty of other underwater wrecks to explore that may yield interesting (if not valuable) items.
Tip #2: Learn your way around Mexico City
Rumors of buried treasure are usually just that — unsubstantiated exaggerations that will, most likely, fail to yield any valuable findings. This has certainly (almost) been true of ‘Montezuma’s Gold’, a legendary stash of precious metal that Spanish conquistidors acquired by force from Aztec tribesmen in the 16th century. The mythos behind this loot lasted for centuries, and numerous treasure hunters journeyed as far north as Utah in the hope of locating the gold — to no avail. Then, in 1981, a construction worker in Mexico city unearthed a piece of conquistador’s armor rendered entirely from gold; the item was valued at $35,000, and experts concluded it was, in fact, part of Montezuma’s fabled stash. Of course, no one has found any more of the treasure… yet. An Indiana Jones-style tour of Mexico City might be in order.
Tip #3: Excavate your backyard… because you never know
Every year (or so it seems), some lucky homeowner unearths a stockpile of ancient riches on their property. So forget about the notion of maintaining a pristine, clean-cut lawnscape — it’s time to start digging, because you might become the next ‘Andreas K.’ That’s the given name of an Austrian gentleman who discovered a trove of rings, brooches, and other valuables that had been buried since the Middle Ages, right in his backyard. His tools: a shovel and a little materialistic curiosity. Of course, not knowing how precious his findings were, Andreas K. simply stored them in his attic and only learned their true worth two years later, when he posted some pictures on the Internet.
Tip #4: Conquer your fear of deep pits
One of the longest rumored burial sites of pirate treasure is located on Oak Island, just off the western coast of Nova Scotia. In 1795, a local teenager found a sizable pit; a limbless tree sat nearby, and legend has it that a ship’s tackle was hanging from the tree — suggesting that something heavy was lowered into the pit. The imaginative youth determined the crater was home to some lost pirate booty, and immediately alerted some of his fellow townspeople. The first dig yielded a flagstone, followed by several obstructions made of oak. The following decade, excavators uncovered what they believed to be a treasure chest — but by the time they returned the following day, the hole was completely submerged with water and the team was never able to relocate the chest. Hundreds of treasure hunters have traveled to the pit, and most have left empty-handed; explorers have tunneled down more than 170 feet, and the most valuable finding was a few links of gold chain unearthed in 1849. Meanwhile, several men have perished while plumbing the depths of the Oak Island pit.
Realistically, you’re unlikely to locate any buried treasure — whether on purpose or by accident. But if you’ve still got shiny riches on the brain, be pragmatic about it and start panning for gold. There are numerous claim sites scattered through the U.S. where gold deposits are relatively abundant, but if you want to hunt for gold and get a tropical vacation out of the deal, consider a panning trip to Papua New Guinea. One of the world’s top gold producers, PNG’s mineral-rich soil typically yields 50-60 tons of the precious metal every year. For visitors to PNG, the only legitimate gold-hunting option is through an organized tour; many local inhabitants rely on the meager amounts of gold they obtain for sustenance, and much of the land has already been legally claimed (either by the country’s government or private mining enterprises). Another potential destination is Pilgrims Rest in South Africa. Home to the World Gold Panning Championships, this site has long been regarded as a treasure hunting hotspot.
Tip #6: Recognize the true ‘buried treasure’ in front of you
A loving family, salsa dancing, Korean food, you name it. Remember: a treasure chest of gold dubloons can’t buy you happiness. Just a lot of everything else.
By Brad Nehring