Have you ever wondered about the endless treasure that must be lying somewhere at the bottom of the sea? Unheard of riches squirreled away by fearsome robbers hiding the spoils of their crimes? Men have been stealing and losing and finding treasure since the dawn of civilization, and the ongoing search for it offers a promise of wealth and more importantly, epic adventure. And sometimes, these lost treasures symbolize something greater than mere wealth—they are the spoils of history, imbued with the culture and meaning of a time long past. They are a slice of a life that can never be regained, offering a contextual understanding of the objects we hold precious. And other times, what makes them priceless is their ability to provide answers to the shadowy secrets our human history. Yes, buried treasure is the stuff of fantasy, of pirate stories, but other cases—it is known to be real.
The problem? No one can seem to find it. Accidental discoveries sometimes happen, but these mysterious fortunes have been eluding treasure hunters for years, and in some cases, centuries. Hidden under the ocean’s great depths and in the dark niches of the earth, these lost stashes comprise immeasurable wealth. In fact, experts say there are currently over one million shipwrecks still missing throughout history, containing some $60 billion in lost fortune. And not just money. No, no… these treasures holds with them the story of time.
The Lost Voyage Of The Flor de la Mar
Also known as the Holy Grail of lost treasure, this 400-ton Portuguese ship built in 1502 was the “Flower of the Sea” and sailed during the era of mass exploration, colonization, and exploitation. Consisting of three masts and six sails, this enormous ship cut through thousands of ocean miles and explored some of the most exotic countries in the world, all the while gathering immense treasure and conquests.
Despite the young ship’s fortitude, she was eventually lost off the coast of Sumatra in a violent storm around 1511. The ship had been participating in decisive events in the Indian Ocean for the past nine years, all the while gathering riches for the king of Portugal. Aboard the Flor de la Mar was an inestimable treasure—some of the richest plunder in history—like gold statues, royal jewels, priceless furniture, exotic perfumes, countless chests of pearls, and precious stones from the deepest reaches of civilization. As she was returning from the conquest of Malacca, a typhoon hit and literally cracked the great ship in half, sending the glorious lot and its crew to the bottom of the sea. Many treasure seekers have claimed discovery of the ancient wreck, yet none have been able to prove their theory or lay claim to the fortune buried in the deep.
Lake Toplitz Treasure
Situated in the thick forest of the Austrian Alps and known for its great depth and overall seclusion, Lake Toplitz was the site of Nazi naval testing during WWII. Soon after the Germans surrendered in 1945, local witnesses reported seeing convoys of SS vehicles taking large trunks out to the lake and dumping them in the water. Some years later in 1959, a diving team found several chests of forged British banknotes in the lake worth about 700 million pounds.
The false currency had been produced on Hitler’s instruction to eventually corrupt and destroy the British economy during the war. Aside from the discovery of a Nazi medal by a Dutch tourist in 2001, there has been no sign of the chests of gold or the dark relics of Hitler’s Reich. When the war ended, it’s believed the senior official in the Nazi regime, Ernst Kaltenbrunner, may have dropped this medal as he moved through the area trying to evade capture. He was eventually found and arrested by U.S. soldiers in a hut about 20 miles beyond the lake in a mountain range nearby. He was the highest ranking Nazi SS officer to appear at the Nuremberg trials and was executed for his crimes in 1946.
The San Jose Shipwreck
This three-masted galleon of the Spanish Navy was first launched in 1698 and not only carried a 60-gun capability but served as a powerful warship in the treasure fleet during the War of the Spanish Succession. On its final voyage in 1708, the San Jose sank during a battle with the British when its powder room below deck exploded, killing all but 11 of the 600 people aboard. Along with the dead, a vast treasure of silver, gold, emeralds, and jewelry sank to the bottom of the sea off the coast of Columbia.
This massive shipwreck is estimated to be worth about $1 billion and was likely carrying 11 million gold and silver coins. Although an independent treasure hunter apparently found the wreck in 1981, the Colombian government fought long and hard to claim the fortune for themselves, eventually winning complete ownership in 2011. However, the independent explorers who originally found the site would not give up the coordinates, and it wasn’t until 2015 that the Colombians were able to even locate the ship’s resting spot. While the bronze cannons have been spotted by an underwater vehicle, the Colombian government has yet to pull up any of the infamous treasure.
The Tomb Of Qin Shi Huang
In central China, buried deep beneath the ground and surrounded by an underground moat of toxic mercury, lies the hidden remains of the country’s first emperor—Qin Shi Huang—who died in 210 B.C. While the general location of his tomb is known, both the Chinese government and the limitations of science are standing in the way of further discovery. Because the legend suggests he was buried with approximately 8,000 clay soldiers and untold riches, entering his burial site is a very delicate and complex task.
Some of Qin Shi Huang’s outer tomb has been uncovered, yet the inner sanctum, which holds his body and other essential possessions, has yet to be explored, mostly because the government does not feel it has the proper technology for the task. Rather than diving into the excavation with more excitement than pragmatism, explorers hope to avoid the type of mistakes made by those who exposed King Tut’s tomb impulsively and lost valuable information and treasure in the process.
Ancient writings suggest the emperor created a fully-realized underground kingdom and palace to enjoy in the afterlife with a ceiling encrusted in pearls and endless terracotta concubines. These writings also suggest the tomb is being guarded by rivers of liquid mercury, which was once believed to offer immortality and protection. So, while the temptation to find the ancient treasure is overwhelming, explorers have decided to hold off until science guarantees it can be done safely and effectively. When will that actually happen? No one knows.
The Lost Treasure Of The Knights Templar
A foggy, rough coast in Nova Scotia may be the burial ground for one of the world’s greatest and most mysterious treasures—the order of the Knights Templar. This secret society was considered one of the most powerful groups in the medieval world. For centuries, the Knights plundered vast riches under the banner of the Crusades and were supported financially by wealthy families looking to support the religious cause. Estimated at over $1 billion, this treasure has been missing since the 14th-century and apparently consists of not only gold and silver bullion, various royal crown jewels, and sensitive religious documents from both Christianity and Judaism, but possibly lost Shakespearean manuscripts as well as a sunken Viking ship.
There are many legends surrounding the Templars, but history suggests the Temple Mount, located in Jerusalem and considered one of the holiest sites in the world, was their headquarters. There, it is said the Knights discovered documents hidden in the ruins that further illuminated the details of Jesus’s life. Whatever this discovery was, it was a treasure valuable enough keep them moving from France to Scotland and eventually landing in Canada. While most explorers believe the actual treasure site has been found, no one has been able to find a way around the flooding seawater that always covers the dig.
Forrest Fenn’s Treasure Of The Rockies
True, this treasure will only bring in about $3 million, but it certainly has the most unique backstory—one that happened just five or six years ago. An eccentric 85-year-old art dealer by the name of Forrest Fenn decided to hide a chest of gold and jewels in the Rocky Mountains in order to entertain America and “lure people away from their TV sets and into the healthy wilderness, and to give working class Americans a chance at sudden, blessed wealth.” Feeling blessed by good fortune himself, Fenn wanted to give back before he died. But he has not died, and the treasure hunt is still alive and well. In recent years, two people have been reported missing while looking for the riches in the rugged Colorado mountains, and while Fenn feels bad about this, he maintains it is not his fault. Finders Keepers will make people do crazy things.
Dead Sea Scrolls
Known as the “Copper Scroll,” this piece of the larger Dead Scrolls treasure was found in 1952 on the shores of the Dead Sea. It is one of the few scrolls ever to be discovered in its original position from over 2,000 years ago. The majority of the Dead Scrolls were found some time ago by Bedouin people and sold through various dealers; however, this amazing piece was found by archeologists, à la Indiana Jones.
The text of the ancient scroll refers immediately to a hidden treasure “In the fortress which is in the Vale of Achor, forty cubits under the steps entering to the east: a money chest its contents, of a weight of seventeen talents.” Intriguing and baffling, the first column clearly alludes to a vast fortune of gold, silver, coins, and vessels. It’s impossible to say what exactly something like this would be worth, besides the adventure of a lifetime, but the number is likely significant.
Turns out, there’s even more hidden treasure in America, reportedly left behind in the Civil War and worth about $350,000. Not much in the scheme of buried booty, but unlike ancient treasure maps leading to nowhere, this cache is probably the most “discoverable.”
One rainy night, a Confederate Colonel named John Mosby launched a raid on some unsuspecting Union men and managed to capture the lot of them while absconding a burlap sack filled with family heirlooms and treasure stolen from wealthy Southern planters. The Confederates quickly swept up the jewelry, candlesticks, coins, and silver ornaments along with their captives and headed back to their territory. However, returning home proved more difficult, and the Confederate men soon found they were surrounded by the Union Army. They quickly decided to bury the treasure in the woods and return later instead of being forced to hand it over to the enemy. Mosby and his men were never able to return and went to the grave with their precious secret.
The Lost Amber Room
The Nazis were very clever at hiding valuables that did not belong to them, and the mystery of the vanishing “Amber Room” is no exception. This world-famous chamber bedecked with glowing amber, gold leaf walls, and gilded mirrors was crafted in the 18th-century to adorn the Catherine Palace near Saint Petersburg, Russia. The stunningly opulent room took about six years to build and covered about 590 square feet, containing over 13,000 pounds of amber. True to form, the Nazis looted the Amber Room during WWII and scurried off with what was once considered the eighth wonder of the world. But where did it go? Despite its obvious weight and size, no one really knows. Estimated at close to $500 million, this glowing piece of history is just another casualty of the Nazis’ nefarious crimes.
The Peking Man
Not all hidden treasure involves gold. The story of the Peking Man is an example of how a lost opportunity to increase human understanding can be just as regrettable as losing a fortune. This extraordinary archaeological find was made around 1927 near Beijing, China while explorers were looking for prehistoric fossils. Their search pulled up many pieces of ancient bone, which were later assembled together into what is known as the Peking Man, dating back roughly 750,000 years ago.
Relying on the science of Darwin and anthropological history, many researchers believe this discovery offered proof of evolution and the existence of an unknown human species. The bones found were neither specifically those of apes or humans and had experts scratching their heads—in a good way. Besides this osteological discovery, The Peking Man apparently provided some answers to questions of early cannibalism and the origins of spoken language. When China went to war with Japan in 1941, and the valuable bones were packed on a ship headed to the U.S. for safekeeping. The ship arrived, but the crates did not find port, and what is now considered one of the most significant archeological finds ever has disappeared into the night, taking with it a valuable key to human understanding.
And the rest is history.
One Comment Add yours
As always this History of lost treasure was just amazing..It was beautifully written. I was in St Petersburg last year and toured Catherine’s Palace . The Amber room is now back to stunning beauty. The Amber is exquisitely and exactly placed as before..Yes the Nazis stole everything they could and laid ruin to thousands of valuable. As you wrote they continue to search for the Amber. What a horrible era😞Thank you Ms Shulman. All articles were perfect..