British Archaeologists Take on Treasure Hunters

British Archaeologists Take on Treasure Hunters

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Amateur treasure hunters armed with a metal detector and shovel are digging up valuable treasures across the UK but now archaeologists are speaking out and have accused hobbyists of damaging Britain’s heritage.

It is estimated that across England and Wales there are approximately 10,000 metal detector users and, in 2011 alone, hobbyists found close to a million artefacts, 1,000 of which could be classed as treasure including ancient jewellery, weapons, tools, or caches of Roman coins.

Back in 1990, Roger Mintey, a man with a hobby for metal detecting, was scanning the backyard of his house in southeastern England when he stumbled upon a massive collection of 6,705 gold and silver coins dating back to the Middle Ages – a find now dubbed the Reigate hoard.

"I removed what I thought was a piece of land drain, and I saw two groats," Mintey recalls. "I pulled away another piece of land drain and suddenly saw all these coins stacked vertically in concentric circles."

Mintey handed the find over to the authorities. Some coins were distributed to museums, but the rest were returned to him. In the end, it netted him a tidy sum of money, £184,000.

But not everyone is pleased. Archaeologist and illicit antiquities researcher at Cambridge University, Christos Tsirogiannis, is one of those concerned. He says that amateur archaeologists are damaging important sites and destroying key historical traces and wants the practice banned.

"Every object has an amazing historical value, especially when it's found in its actual and original archaeological context," Christos Tsirogiannis explains. "If something is extracted violently and by an uneducated, non-specialist person from its original context, this cannot be reconstructed."

Some of the worst ransacking took place at a Roman-British temple site in Surrey in the 1980s where an estimated 20,000 historical objects were removed and sold world-wide. And in 2002, and Iron Age hill fort in Northumberland was looted and left pitted with dozens of holes.

However, not everyone agrees that the practice is wrong. Some archaeologists believe that amateur artefact hunters have an important role to play, including finding things that have been missed by the professionals.

"Metal detector users are changing what we know," said Archaeologist Suzie Thomas, noting that users who record their finds are producing vast amounts of data. "The sub-discipline of battle archaeology makes a lot of use of metal detected data because they're looking at objects like cannon balls and musket balls that are, of course, metal. Having the data of where on the field they've been found can help you reconstruct how the battle went, and that's incredibly useful information."

Stories like Roger Mintey’s have inspired many to take up hobby artefact hunting in the hope of finding treasure, but whether the practice is responsible for undermining Britain’s heritage is a matter that is still hotly debated.

Two "Scummy Snakes" Found Among the UK's Grabby Treasure Hunters

LGD your "success" is everybody else's loss, and one day you will be called to account.

'Getting you lot out on the treasure'.

Oh, so not the history then?

And who would willingly belong to a group that is so aware of the wrong it is doing that they cannot show their face in public?

(and are the hoikers really sure that IF Heritage Action had someone in there watching and listening while they discussed how they were going to pocket Britain's archaeological heritage, that they got the right guys, and got all of them? Probably safer to delete membership of anyone that can spell)

Greg Brooks: Salvaging WWII Treasure or Scamming Investors?

/>PHOTO: In this file photo, treasure hunter Greg Brooks is pictured on March 25, 2004 in Portland, Maine.

It is reported there may be $3 billion worth of platinum ingots resting on the bottom of the ocean floor, 50 miles off the north eastern coast of Cape Cod. The UK-owners of a sunken WWII freighter said to have been the ingots plus jewels, gold, and silver want to know if the freight truly is worth $3 billion. The US investors who have put forward $8 million into the salvage effort. Sadly there isn’t much to show for it.

The Main Office of Securities announced this week it will be researching information from the residents in Maine who invested in–or were approached–about investing in Sea Hunters, L.P., and two other companies who are linked to Greg Brooks, the treasure hunter who is trying to locate the sunken freighter, the SS Port Nicholson.

Brooks isn’t being investigated because he hadn’t found anything inventory of found items Sea Hunters filed with the US District Court in Portland included a broken compass, a fire extinguisher and a Brick.

An attorney in Portland, Michael Kaplan, represented the United Kingdom’s interest in the ship, describes the current list of retrieved goods as “pitiful.” He believes they left a few things off the list, “like jewels, gold, platinum, and silver,” as he told the Bangor Daily News.

Kaplan, and his colleague, Timothy Shusta from Tampa, told ABC News they believe there isn’t anything of value left to be found from the wreckage. The reason, they say, is the original “Lloyd’s List” manifest for the ship states it only had military stores in board.

Sea Hunters contends in court filings that the ship was carrying somewhere near 71 tons of platinum ingots.

Due to refutation, Kaplan cites US Geological Survey yearbooks from the 40s documenting the world’s mineral production. In the years prior to WWII, he states the total world’s production of platinum only totals to 15.5 tons a year. He believes it is impossible that the freighter was carrying anything close to 71 tons.

Kaplan and his colleague will continue to keep a close watch on the situation though. Partially for what they call PR reasons: What if there really is a treasure down there? They say the British public would be furious if their government were not taking precautions to protect their claim to the ownership of the wreckage.

Brooks says he has been working periodically through the years on the effort to salvage the cargo, even with long delays which he attributes to bad weather and faulty or insufficient equipment. His investors have grown restive.

An investigation of Brooks’ operation by the Portland Press Herald during 2013 stated that Brooks, who has worked as a treasure hunter for the past 30 years, has never found treasure. The story listed several salvage experts and marine archaeologists who have expressed doubt that his attempt to find the treasure from the Port Nicholson was anything more than an effort to raise money.

Robert Marx is an underwater archaeologist who has written 64 books on treasure hunting. He told a newspaper that in a business full of less-than-honorable hunters, Brooks stood out. Marx said they have a saying in the business that if someone was trying to fool investors, they would say “Are you doing a Greg Brooks?”

Marx was contacted by ABC News and he stated that nothing of any value would be recovered from Nicholson. He even stakes his reputation on it. He cited the Lloyd’s records and an earlier salvage effort for the freight turned up nothing. As for Brooks’ claim that he has found treasure, Marx told ABC that he didn’t believe him.

ABC News asked Brooks and his attorney, Thimi R. Mini, to comment on the assentation that the ship carried no treasure and that the salvage effort was just a money-raising scheme. They declined to answer.

ABC News questioned the Maine Office the Securities how frequently the Office had to question investors for investments. Office spokesman, Doug Dunbar, said the number of requests is relatively slim, maybe only five a year.

$3B Sunken Treasure? Fight Over Wreck Off Cape Cod

Are platinum ingots worth $3 billion sitting on the ocean floor, 50 miles northeast of Cape Cod?

The United Kingdom--owners of a torpedoed WWII freighter said to have been carrying that cargo (plus jewels, gold and silver)--would like to know. So, too, would a group of U.S. investors who have sunk $8 million so far into the salvage effort, without having much to show for it.

The Maine Office of Securities this week announced it will be seeking information from Maine residents who invested inor were approached about investing inSea Hunters, L.P., and two other companies associated with Greg Brooks, the treasure hunter trying to salvage the freighter, the S.S. Port Nicholson.

Its not that Brooks has recovered nothing.

An inventory of retrieved items Sea Hunters filed with the U.S. District Court in Portland includes a broken compass, a fire extinguisher and a brick.

Portland attorney Michael Kaplan, representing the United Kingdoms interest in the freighter, describes the list to date as pitiful. They left a few things off, he dryly told the Bangor Daily News, like jewels, gold, platinum and silver.

Kaplan, and his colleague, Timothy Shusta of Tampa, told ABC News they believe nothing of value is left to be recovered from the wreck. The reason, they say, is that the original Lloyds List manifest for the ship says it was carrying only military stores.

Sea Hunters, however, contends in court filings that the ship was carrying 71 tons of platinum ingots.

By way of refutation, Kaplan cites U.S. Geological Survey yearbooks from the 1940s documenting world mineral production. In the years leading up to WWII, he says, total world production of platinum averaged 15.5 tons a year. It is not plausible, he says, that the freighter was carrying anything like 71 tons.

Nonetheless, Kaplan and his colleague are keeping an eye on the situation, in part for what they call PR reasons: What if a treasure really is down there? The British public, they say, would be outraged if the British government was not taking steps to protect its claim to ownership of the wreck.

Brooks says he has been working on and off for years on his salvage effort, with long delays he attributed in the local press to bad weather and faulty or insufficient equipment. His investors, meantime, have grown restive.

An investigation of Brooks operation by the Bangor Daily News in 2013 said that Brooks, who has worked as a treasure-hunter for three decades, has never found treasure. The story quoted a variety of salvage experts and marine archaeologists expressing doubt that his attempt to recover treasure from the Port Nicholson was anything more than an exercise in money-raising.

Robert Marx, an underwater archaeologist who has written 64 books on treasure hunting, told the newspaper that in a business rife with less-than-reputable hunters, Brooks stood out: We have a saying in this business, he said. If someone is trying to pull the wool over an investor, we say, Are you doing a Greg Brooks?

Contacted by ABC News, Marx said he expects nothing of value to be recovered from the Nicholson. Ill stake my reputation on it, he said, citing Lloyds records and a previous salvage effort that turned up nothing. As for Brooks claim to have found a treasure, Marx told ABC, I dont believe he has it, and nobody else believes him, either.

ABC News asked Brooks and his attorney, Thimi R. Mini, to comment on the assertion that the the ship had carried no treasure, and that the salvage effort was just a money-raising scheme. They declined.

ABC News asked the Maine Office of Securities how common it is for the Office to query investors about investments. Office spokesman Doug Dunbar said the number of requests per year is smallperhaps five on average. I believe this one is our second this year, he said, regarding Sea Hunter.

ABC News asked Brooks and his attorney for comment on the Office's inquiry. Mini responded via email provided the following statement:

Finders Keepers? Not Always in Treasure Hunting

In September 2009, David Booth, a park ranger in Stirling, Scotland, packed up his brand-new metal detector ("I practiced at home picking up nails and bits"), drove to a field, walked seven yards (six meters) from his parked car, and scored big. His first sweep with a metal detector yielded a spectacular find: four gold torques, or neck bands, from the first century B.C.—the most important hoard of Iron Age gold found in Scotland to date.

Several days later, Stuart Campbell of the National Museum of Scotland, the man in charge of "treasure trove" finds, as they are known in the United Kingdom, arrived at his Edinburgh office, opened his email to find a message with the subject "gold jewelry" and thought, "Oh, no, not another Victorian watch chain." Then he saw the images.

Thanks to laws in England and Scotland that encourage artifact hunters to cooperate with archaeologists, Booth was paid the current market price for the cache, about $650,000, set by the queen's and lord treasurer's remembrancer (the British crown's representative in Scotland). He split the sum with the landowner.

In England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, the Treasure Act of 1996 defines gold or silver finds older than 300 years as treasure and claims them for the crown. Finds must be reported within 14 days. Scotland's laws are broader: Treasure does not have to be gold or silver and can be less than 300 years old, but in both jurisdictions, a significant find will be offered to museums to bid on.

The spectacular hoard of Anglo-Saxon gold, silver, and garnet objects discovered in 2009 by Terry Herbert, an unemployed metal-detector enthusiast, was acquired by the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery and the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery, Stoke on Trent. The assessed value of $5.3 million was split between Herbert and the owner of the Staffordshire field where it was found. (In December, about 90 more pieces of gold and silver were recovered from the same area.)

Britain's Amateur Treasure Hunters Strike Gold

Nearly 90 percent of archaeological artifacts in the U.K. are found by amateur treasure hunters with metal detectors. Michael Lewis, deputy head of portable antiquities and treasure at the British Museum in London, calls it "land fishing," adding that the law encourages treasure hunters to adopt best practices in metal detecting, such as recording the location of finds.

A related program, the Portable Antiquities Scheme, is a voluntary project, managed by the British Museum, to record archaeological objects—not necessarily treasure—found by members of the public. So far, the British Museum has documented 800,000 finds, everything from gold and silver artifacts to bits of pottery and iron. Taken in context and seen together, they give a picture of where and how people lived in the past.

The relationship between archaeologists and metal detector hunters is, for the most part, downright amiable. Each year, the British Museum reaches out to some 177 metal-detecting clubs and judges the year's "best" find.

How do laws in the United States stack up? Fred Limp, president of the Society for American Archaeology, summed it up: "Basically, except for materials on federal land, state law applies and, with some exceptions, objects are the property of the land owner." There is no standard rule it varies state to state.

Federal laws are strict. "A stone tool is property of the federal government in perpetuity," said Limp. "Its digging up is a violation of law and can be a felony." Depending on the state, the same object found on private land may or may not have protection.

In other words, "private landowners can dig up all the sites they want and sell on eBay," said Tom Green, director of the Arkansas Archeological Survey. A notable exception is burial sites. Nearly all states have laws forbidding the digging up of burial sites (where most of the best material is found—"like the good, fancy pots," explained Green).

What about exporting the British scheme to the United States?

"It wouldn't work here," said Chris Espenshade, a consulting archaeologist for Commonwealth Cultural Resources Group in Michigan. "It's contrary to our culture." It's the mindset of "It's my property and I'll do what I want" and an American individualism that expresses itself in "no trespassing" signs.

Furthermore, said Espenshade, "We don't have that kind of treasure in the United States. Most of the people out metal detecting aren't finding big money items. It's not a Celtic gold broach. It's a lead minie ball [an old bullet]."

Still, he admitted, the compensation afforded by the United Kingdom's laws mitigates the idea that a finder should give away a treasure and not get anything in return.

Limitations to the U.K. Treasure Act

The U.K. laws aren't perfect. Important finds have slipped through the cracks—notably a magnificent bronze Roman helmet found in Cumbria and auctioned off by Christie's in 2010 for $3.6 million to a private collector. (Because it was a single object and made of bronze, it didn't technically qualify as "treasure.")

But the laws seem to function well enough. Said Michael Lewis of the British Museum: "The Treasure Act works well because it ensures that important finds end up in museums for all to enjoy and that finders are rewarded. They are encouraged to do the right thing."

And Booth, the finder of the Iron Age hoard in Scotland? "It was nice to pay off the Ford Focus," he told a local newspaper. He's still hunting.

UK Citizens Found More Buried Treasure Than Ever Last Year, Including an 1,100-Year-Old Brooch and an Ancient Gold Ring

Now might be a good time to take up backyard metal detecting.

Copper alloy fitting from bucket, in the shape of a human face, from Lenham, Kent. Iron Age c. 50 BC. ©Mat Honeysett 2019.

As more people around the world are shuttered indoors, those lucky enough to have a backyard might want to consider taking up metal detecting.

Members of the UK public uncovered a record number of historic discoveries last year, according to a new report from the British Museum.Amateur treasure hunters registered a whopping total of 81,602 finds with the British Museum’s portable antiquities program in 2019, including some 1,311 high value pieces of treasure.

“These discoveries by the public are vital for advancing our understanding of Britain’s diverse history,” British Museum director Hartwig Fischer says in a statement. Fischer added that it is “incredibly encouraging” that so many finds were recorded voluntarily with the museum.

Official “treasure” is generally defined as gold and silver objects that are more than 300 years old, as well as groups of coins and prehistoric metalwork. Among the most significant discoveries is a medieval brooch uncovered after a dump truck made a delivery of soil in Norfolk. The rare 1,100-year-old brooch was found in an excellent state of preservation.

Early Medieval silver and niello brooch from Great Dunham, Norfolk c. AD 800 – 900. ©The Trustees of the British Museum.

Elsewhere, someone uncovered an Iron Age drinking set in Kent. The 2,000-year-old set of vessels included a bucket decorated with mythical creatures and a strange humanoid face.

Other treasures include Roman coins and Bronze Age jewelry. Nearly all of the items—some 90 percent—were discovered by metal detectorists. The new report also highlights that 399 of the 1,266 treasure finds that were reported in 2017 have been acquired by museums, 92 percent of which were local museums.

“I am very pleased that a record number of treasure finds have been unearthed and it is brilliant that they will now go on display in local museums across the country,” Caroline Dinenage, the UK’s minister of state for digital and culture, says in a statement. “Each one of these valuable discoveries tells us more about the way our ancestors lived and I want to congratulate all those who played a part in helping uncover more about our shared history.”

See more images of the astonishing discoveries below.

Copper alloy fitting from bucket, in the shape of a human face, from Lenham, Kent. Iron Age c.50 BC. ©The Trustees of the British Museum.

Copper alloy radiate coin of Emperor Carausius from Headbourne Worthy, Hampshire. Roman Britain AD 286 – 293. ©The Trustees of the British Museum.

Gold arm ring from St Bees, Cumbria. Bronze Age c. 900 – 700 BC. ©The Trustees of the British Museum.

What's at Stake if You Find Treasure

Just a few years ago, every metal detector fan in the UK - and possibly the world - could not help but envy Terry Herbert who dug up the Staffordshire Hoard. This hidden treasure find, unveiled to the world in September 2009, was the biggest hoard of Anglo Saxon gold ever found in the UK.

After 18 years of treasure hunting with his metal detector, Herbert uncovered a hoard that contained more than 3,900 individual pieces of seventh century, Anglo Saxon gold and silver. The gold, valued at £3.3 million, was acquired by The Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery and The Potteries Museum and Art Gallery in Stoke-on-Trent. The finder, Herbert and the landowner, farmer Fred Johnson, shared the proceeds from the sale of the hoard (about $4.73 million).

But that was not the end of it. In 2012, 81 additional items found at the site by archaeologists were declared treasure, Since they are part of the same hoard as the 2009 discoveries, Herbert and Johnson share the value of those too.

10 Real Treasure Hunt Stories from Around the World

The history of the civilizations of the past was rich—even in terms of wealth. Kings, queens, and pirates have known to have large amounts of treasure that was often hidden to prevent it from being looted. Warring kingdoms hunted treasure to make their enemies weak, and these treasure hunts required deciphering clues and solving puzzles that were often unsuccessful. Many such ancient treasures that were buried or sank down to the ocean floors remain a mystery today.

The tradition of hiding treasure and then making people hunt for it continued in the modern world with an intention for fun. Some, however, continue to look for the lost ancient treasures with companies and people investing a lot of money, time, and energy into it.

In this list, we have compiled some of the most compelling real treasure-hunt stories from around the world.

1. In 1982, a bookwas published that had 12 riddles and 12 pictures as clues to 12 real locations in the United States where there was a key buried that redeemed a treasure worth 1,000 dollars. Only two such treasures have been found by treasure hunters until today.

Image source:,

Byron Preiss, an American writer, wrote a book entitled The Secret: A Treasure Huntthat had 12 short verses along with 12 fantasy paintings by John Jude Palencar. Each painting could be paired with a verse that led to the location of 12 parks across North America. In each of these 12 parks, it was said that a ceramic box could be found that would contain a key which could be redeemed for a jewel worth 1,000 dollars.

Inspired by another book, Masquerade,that led to a widespread treasure hunt, Preiss wrote this book in 1982. He personally buried these ceramic boxes or, as he liked to call them, “casques.” Treasure hunters have been looking for these 12 boxes, but only two of such boxes have been found so far. One was found in Grant Park, Chicago. in 1983 by a group of student,s and another was found in Cleveland in 2004 by two members of the Quest4Treasure forum. The remaining boxes are yet to be discovered. The author who knew the locations of the boxes passed away in 2005 in an accident.

The page number 219 of the book states that all the boxes are buried not more than three feet deep in the ground and are not located in natural places but in places that were already disturbed by man. The hunt continues. (1,2)

2. The 200-year-old Oak Island treasure mystery has baffled hundreds leading to several treasure hunts to recover the “Shakespearean manuscripts,” “a pirate’s chest,” and “Marie Antoinette’s jewels” that are believed to be buried there. U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt followed the mystery until his death.

Image source: Wikimedia, Image credit: Richard McCully/Wikimedia

Known to be an actual treasure trove, treasure hunters have been digging in a pit at Oak Island in Nova Scotia for two centuries now, especially for the pirate Captain Kidd’s treasure. The very first treasure hunt at the site dates back to the 1700s but the first published account of one was only in 1856. This began when a man named Daniel McGinnis discovered a pit on of the island while looking for property to build a farm. Then, a legend about a dying sailor was told to him. The dying sailor was from the pirate Captain Kidd’s crew and said that a treasure worth two million euros was buried on the island. The location of the pit was consistent with the dying sailor’s story so McGinnis and two other men began digging.

They found tool marks and loose soil on the walls of the pit but did not find treasure. Eight years later, two different companies, Onslow and Truro, carried out their own treasure hunts. A lot of people and companies have tried to find treasure on the island. In 2014, the “History Channel” aired an episode about the digging efforts to find the treasure by two brothers.

The 32 nd President of the United States, Franklin Delano Roosevelt began following the mystery in 1909 and even planned to visit the island once but was stopped due to bad weather. Until his death in 1945, he continued to follow the digs. Actors Errol Flynn and John Wayne invested in the efforts to retrieve the treasure. Marie Antoinette’s jewels, Masonic artifacts, and Shakespeare’s manuscripts (those that indicated Francis Bacon was the real author) are believed to be buried in the pit. (1,2)

3. A millionaire has hidden 2 million dollars worth of treasure in 2010 somewhere in the Rocky Mountains. Four people have died trying to find the treasure out of the 350,000 who have attempted. The clue for the treasure is hidden in a cryptic poem that he wrote himself.

“Begin it where warm waters halt

And take it in the canyon down,

Not far, but too far to walk.

Put in below the home of Brown…”

Reads one of the stanzas of millionaire Forrest Fenn’s cryptic poem. Fenn states that in 2010 he had buried a bronze chest full of gold and precious gems somewhere in the 3,000–mile-wide Rocky Mountains. He believes that it would take at least 1,000 years for someone to find it. After hiding the treasure, he published a memoir, The Thrill of the Chase, that has a 24-line poem with nine clues and a map of the area that has the treasure. Approximately 350,000 treasure hunters have attempted to find the chest worth approximately two million dollars, and four have died.

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After being accused of causing deaths, Fenn said that the chest is not underwater, it is also not near the Rio Grande River, and one does not have to move large rocks or climb steep surfaces to find it. He created the hunt to encourage families to spend more time outdoors. He has made two trips to the place where the treasure is located at the age of 80. The 85-year-old said that should he die before the chest is found, the secret location will also be buried with him. (1,2)

4. The Copper Scroll, which is one of the Dead Sea Scrolls, was found by an archaeologist in a cave in Qumran. The scroll elaborately lists 64 locations out of which 63 are said to have items of gold and silver buried or hidden. Several expeditions led by treasure hunters have unearthed nothing so far.

Image credits: Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin FRCP(Glasg)/Wikimedia, na/Wikimedia

The “Copper Scroll” is the only Dead Sea Scroll that is not a literary work but has details about treasure and the locations of it. Found in Cave 3 near Khirbet Qumran on March 14, 1952, it has been kept on display since 2013 at the Jordan Museum in Amman. The scroll is like an inventory list but of treasure. Out of the 64 locations listed on the scroll, 63 talk about gold and silver coins and the name of the places where they are buried. One of the lists describes a place to have 868,000 troy ounces of buried gold.

Written with an assumption that the reader was familiar with the locations mentioned on the scroll, one of its verses read, “In the salt pit that is under the steps: forty-one talents of silver. In the cave of the old washer’s chamber, on the third terrace: sixty-five ingots of gold.” In 1960 it was estimated that the total worth of the treasure mentioned in the Copper Scroll would be worth 1,000,000 dollars. It is presumed to be hidden by Simon bar Kokhba who was the leader of a revolt against the Roman empire to establish an independent Jewish state. Scholars believe that the treasure belongs to the Jewish Second Temple of Jerusalem. The treasure is yet to be found. (source)

5. In a small village in India, a local priest said that a 19th-century king had come in his dream and told him about a 1,000-ton, golden treasure buried underneath his palace in the village. He convinced the government of India to conduct a month-long excavation to find the treasure. Nothing was found.

Image credit: Ashok Dutta via

In October 2013, a local priest from India’s Unnao district’s Daundia Khera village dreamed of treasure. He told the people that the 19th-century king, Ram Baksh Singh, had told him in his dream about a treasure that was buried underneath his palace which was now in ruins. The priest said that the king was worried about the current Indian economy and had thus revealed the treasure’s location.

When his letters to the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) were ignored, he approached a Minister of State who then convinced the ASI and Geological Survey of India (GSI) to at least inspect it. On October 12, 2013, the inspection began, and ASI detected metal 20 meters below the ground. Six days later, excavation for the treasure began. Ten pits were dug as hundreds of people and media looked on. On 29 th October, ASI stopped digging after finding some toys, bangles, and a mud floor dating back to the 17th century.

The same priest had another dream about a treasure buried below a temple in a district in India’s Uttar Pradesh. Some people dug up the area and were believed to have taken away hidden gold. (source)

6. After hearing an Egyptian legend about gold being buried in the pyramids of Meroe, a treasure hunter, Giuseppe Ferlini, destroyed 40 pyramids looking for it in the 19 th century. He tried to sell the treasure he found, but no one in Italy believed that such high- quality jewelry could be made in Black Africa.

Image source:, Image credit: Fabrizio Demartis/Wikimedia

An Italian treasure hunter Giuseppe Ferlini destroyed 40 pyramids in search for treasure. After joining the Egyptian Army, Ferlini met an Albanian merchant Antonio Stefani along with whom he deserted the army and went on an expedition to Meroe on August 10, 1834.

At Meroe, he heard the local workers talk about a legend of 40 ardebsof gold being buried under a pyramid. To find that treasure, he vandalized and raided over 40 pyramids and stopped only when he found what he was looking for at a pyramid at Wad ban Naqa. At pyramid N6 of Kush Queen Amanishakheto, he found a several gold and silver jewelry pieces which he brought with him when he returned home to Italy in 1836.

When he tried to sell his finds after publishing a report of his expedition two years later, people refused to buy it as they couldn’t believe that such high-quality jewelry could be made in Black Africa. Finally, in Germany, he did sell the treasure, a part of which was purchased by King Ludwig I of Bavaria and the other parts were bought by the Egyptian Museum of Berlin. All of the treasure is on display at the State Museum of Egyptian Art in Munich and the Egyptian Museum of Berlin. (source)

7. The Nazis had a secret project where they built a complex system of underground tunnels under the Owl Mountains. A “gold train” with over 300 tons of various precious metals and gems is believed to be buried here. The search for it continues even today.

Image credit: Chmee2/Wikimedia

A “gold train” is believed to be buried under the city of Walbrzych, Poland (formerly a part of Germany) that carried 300 tons of gold, jewels, weapons, and some art masterpieces. Shortly after World War II, the train left Breslau (now Wroclaw) and entered a secret underground system of tunnels built by the Nazis beneath the Owl Mountains.

In August 2015, the news about two men, Piotr Koper of Poland and Andreas Richter of Germany, having found the train was abuzz in the media. They had obtained a death-bed confession about the whereabouts of the train and had struck a deal with the Polish government for 10% finder’s fee to reveal the location. Later in that month, the Culture Minister of Poland said that ground-penetrating radar images by the two men clearly showed that a 100 meter-long train had been found. But later, the Governor of Lower Silesian Voivodeship of Poland refuted the claims.

Koper and Ritcher began digging to find the train in May 2016 but had to call off the excavation seven days later as no trace of a track, tunnel, or train was found. They did not give up, and like scores of other curious treasure hunters, continue their search for the “gold train.” (source)

8. When pirate Olivier Levasseur was executed in century centery, he threw a cryptogram leading to a huge treasure to the crowd. Another pirate who had recovered some of this treasure left three cryptograms on his death. The centuries-long hunt is going on even today.

Image source:, Wikimedia

Pirate Olivier Levasseur, nicknamed “La Buse,” is known to have had one of the largest treasures in history. Before his death in the 18th century, he wrote a cryptogram of 17 lines on his necklace about the location of the treasure and threw it to the crowd saying, “Find my treasure, the one who may understand it!” In 1923, a woman named Rose found mysterious carvings on a rock due to the low water levels on the island of Mahé in Seychelles that were later found to be pirate symbols connected to the treasure. Deciphering the symbols, two coffins with bodies of pirates were found but there was no treasure.

The second discovery of the treasure was made in the last will of another pirate named Bernardin Nageon de L’Estang who died 75 years after La Buse. In his will, he stated he had found parts of the treasure and revealed its location in three cryptograms and two letters along with a key for his nephew.

In 1947, Reginald Cruise-Wilkins studied the documents, the symbols and the cryptograms in combination, and found them to be Masonic symbols. He began digging at the island of Mahé and found some coins, some old guns, and pirate sarcophagi, but nothing else. Before his death, Cruise-Wilkins deciphered the last part of the code. His son, a history teacher named John Cruise-Wilkins, continues the quest for the treasure of Levasseur today. A game, some films, and TV series have been made on the subject of Levasseur and his treasure. (source)

9. Odyssey, a company involved in marine exploration to find treasures from shipwrecks, found coins worth 500 million dollars from the wreck of a Spanish ship. Even though it was discovered in international waters, they got nothing as the treasure had to be given back to Spain in 2012.

Image source:, National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, Greenwich Hospital Collection/Wikimedia

The Spanish ship Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes sunk on 5 October 1804 after the Battle of Cape Santa Maria with the British. It had a treasure on board which also sank with it. In 2007, a company named Odyssey Marine Exploration found the treasure off the coast of Portugal worth 500 million dollars. The company had code-named the salvage operation “Black Swan.”

The Spanish government said that it retained the ownership of the ship and everything it had aboard. A five-year legal battle ensued which ultimately led to Odyssey’s loss. The country of Peru had also laid claim to the treasure citing the reason that Spain had looted them in the past. A U.S. court ruled in the favor of the Spanish government and the company had to return everything that was salvaged from the wreck of the ship. The ruling was considered to be a deviation from the legal norm of “finders keepers.” The discovery of the ship’s treasure was done in international waters.

In 2013, the coins were returned to Spain who showcased them in an exhibition from June to December 2014. In 2015, when the Spanish government sent an expedition to study the shipwreck for archaeological purposes, they stated that Odyssey had damaged the ship badly when they found the treasure. (1,2)

10. After making 161 people invest millions of dollars for a hunt for treasure from the shipwreck of SS Central America, treasure hunter Tommy Thompson built an underwater robot to dive 8,000 feet into the sea. When he found the treasure, he disappeared. He was arrested later but he refuses to reveal what he did with the treasure.

Image credit: J. Childs/Wikimedia

The steamer SS Central Americasank in a hurricane with 457 people and at least three tons of gold from California near South Carolina. Around 130 years later, Tommy Thompson, a young engineer obsessed with shipwrecks, built an underwater robot named Nemo. Nemocould dive 8,000 feet under the sea, and Thompson used the robot to retrieve the treasure that was on the ship after convincing 161 people to invest in the plan.

In 1989, Thompson’s crew found large gold bars, 19th-century coins, and the ship’s bell in what was considered to be the most-daring shipwreck expedition in American history. When the investors did not get their share of profits and ran out of patience, they dragged Thompson to court in the early 2000s, but he was nowhere to be found when a judge ordered him to appear in court in 2012. After a two-year-long manhunt, Thompson was arrested in Florida but the treasure was missing.

At first, Thompson said the treasure was in Belize, but then his attorney said that Thompson did not remember who he gave the treasure to. Now in jail, he refuses to reveal the whereabouts of the treasure that was lost, found, and then lost again. (source)

British Archaeologists Take on Treasure Hunters - History

"The Trouble with Treasure- A Preservationist View of the Controversy," by William A. Cockrell, in American Antiquity vol.45, no.2 (1980):333-339.

In recent months, we have seen treasure hunting glorified in Saturday Review, Newsweek, Playboy, National Geographic, on NBC, CBS, and ABC television as well as on public television. There is no denying that the search for sunken treasure has long been romanticized in the United States. Widely circulated stories of easy riches have met with receptive audiences, yet no major media vehicle has presented the attendant story of the massive irreversible destruction of these irreplaceable elements of the past.
Sadly, I find many archaeologists do not view historic shipwrecks as deserving the same degree of protection as land sites. This position arises from an ignorance of the sophisticated exploration, recovery, and interpretation presently being done by those such as George Bass and his associates at the Institute of nautical archaeology or that done by Carl Clausen and Barto Arnold under the auspices of the Texas Antiquities Committee. Although I have been Florida's State Underwater Archaeologist since 1972, I continue to find myself more fascinated by my Early Man research than by contemplation of the remains of these historic wrecks. But in the face of the shocking destruction wrought on these time capsules in recent years, the recent loss of protective federal legislation, and the potential imminent loss of all state protective legislation, I feel that my personal and professional ethics force me to speak out and compel me to demand that my colleagues do the same.

In 1975, a redefinition of Florida's territorial waters in the Florida Keys placed
.an entire hitherto protected fleet (lost in 1733).outside Florida's jurisdiction. At this time unbridled depredations began: today [5 years later] none of those wrecks formerly protected by Florida law have escaped massive looting or total destruction. Furthermore, wrecks in adjacent state waters are openly looted. When apprehended, even while diving on state-owned wrecks (I must point out that there are no state laws prohibiting diving on wreck sites the prohibitions are against disturbing or looting the sites) and in possession of dripping-wet, coral-encrusted artifacts, looters simply claim to have made the recoveries earlier in nearby federal waters. Accordingly, the devastation is nearly complete in state waters adjacent to federal waters that contain accessible wrecks.

Whether or not we knew better in the past,

We know today that we are committing wrongs: destroying archaeological sites, archaeological data, and artifacts. The archaeological profession may no longer in good conscience allow the destruction to continue unremarked. In an era of concern for the destruction of nonregenerative natural resources, it seems especially criminal to destroy the last vestiges of a significant period of Western history for the fun and profit of a few, at the expense of the irrevocable loss of knowledge for all subsequent generations.

Johnston, Paul Forsythe, "Treasure salvage, archaeological ethics and maritime museums", International Journal of Nautical Archaeology (1993) 22.1: 53-60.

In this article, "Treasure salvage, archaeological ethics and maritime museums", Paul Johnston ".discusses maritime museum and museum association positions on treasure hunting, and explores some of the issues and possible solutions to what has become one of the most significant and controversial problems in the profession."

He discusses the positions of two of the world's most prominent museum organizations, the Council of American Maritime Museums, and the International Congress of Maritime Museums. He examines their mission statements, applauds the efforts currently being made, and criticizes their shortcomings.

Statutes of the International Council of Museums
Code of Professional Ethics. 1987.

.acquire by purchase objects in any case where the governing body or responsible officer has reasonable cause to believe that their recovery involved the recent unscientific or international destruction or damage of ancient monuments or archaeological sites.

Each museum should develop policies that allow it to conduct its activities within appropriate national and international laws and treaty obligations, and with a reasonable certainty that its approach is consistent with the spirit and intent of both national and international efforts to protect and enhance the cultural heritage.

All planning for field studies and field collecting must be preceded by investigation, disclosure, and consultation with both the proper authorities and any interested museums or academic institutions in the country or area of the proposed study sufficient to ascertain if the proposed activity is both legal and justifiable on academic and scientific grounds. Any field programme must be executed in such a way that all participants act legally and responsibly in acquiring specimens and data, and that they discourage by all practical means unethical, illegal, and destructive practices.

SUB-ARCH Discussion List, 6 March 2003.
Treasure Hunting vs. Archaeology Debate.

"If either the good-ole-days, the status-quo, or the possible-future are better or worse are subjective judgements by indiviuals or collections of individuals. We can only state cases and present ideologies to look for philosophies that best fit the physical condition. If they are better or worse is precisely the question we must decide through debate.

The differing motivations (that archaeologists seek to preserve and treasure hunters seek to capitalize) polarize the perception of cultural resources into two camps. Through my case in this philosophical debate, I wish to impart the collective ethical motivation that underlies the archaeological stance for preservation. The relevance of the bible-thumping analogy is lost on me, I don't see any contention being won or lost there.

With terms defined and seemingly accepted by tacit or active approval, perhaps we should more clearly draw the lines of pro and con so the point of the debate remains clear.

As I opened the debate, mine is the affirmative argument (pro), which favors the archaeological perspective of preservation of cultural resources as a collective resource for the benefit and enlightenment of all humanity. The growth of scientific archaeological practice has been accompanied by the development of philosophies, ethics and ideolgies which naturally temper the application of science and technology in understanding and relating any resource. I contend that these principles, which have orginated from a basic entropic level and continue to develop in response to dynamic factors of culture and environment, contradict and countermand the original practice, that is the commercial activity known as treasure hunting. As defined, treasure hunting is the business of recovering lost objects that are precious by virtue and made exclusive by historical association for the purposes of profitable liquidation on the open market to interested private parties.

I expect the logical contrary argument against archaeology, academia and their ethics to be in favor of free enterprise, dissolution of movements to set standards and regulations concerning cultural resources, and the ability to capitalize and freely exploit those resources. But, it is not for me to take that side or influence the construction of the argument. In fact, I am not seeing anyone on the list come out and logically defend treasure hunting with evidence or a structured case that depicts the merits of the practice over the principles of archaeology. Surprisingly, I've seen acceptance of the fundamental ethical principle of archaeology (that cultural heritage is a collective resource to preserve) as a given. Perhaps it is not understood that such acceptance is a huge concession that essentially undermines the whole business principal behind treasure hunting: private ownership of cultural material.

Rob, what perplexes me most is your statement: "And none of us TH'ers wants--maybe, OK, I should say 'expects'--to own and sell all artifacts."

Treasure hunting is not a viable enterprise unless private parties buy, sell and own artifacts. The qualifier of 'all' has been stipulated by law, laws which were passed through the efforts of archaeologists and those that appreciate their principles. It is my interpreation of the sentiments of treasure hunters on and off this list that those legal stipulations are almost universally resented and considered inhibitive to free enterprise, hence there is an embittered perception of archaeology and archaeologists as a whole because they wish to impose limits to preserve resources.

If this is not the case, there is no grounds for debate. It means essentially that treasure hunters acknowledge the validity of archaeological standards. Of course, this is not the case, but if it was, logically, the only basis remaining for the rift would be that treasure hunters feel they are already qualified as archaeologists through experience without having to go through formal education. In essence the syllogism is, if you aren't selling artifacts you've recovered, you aren't a treasure hunter, but if you are digging up a site without qualifications and appropriate authority, you aren't an archaeologist. you're effectively a criminal against society destroying a cultural resource. On further consideration, this syllogism may actually have validity in regards to the perspective that sees wreck diving as a "sport" -- if one were to think of sport in terms of big game hunting and not defined as athletic activity and competition.

I hope never to wander into incivility in making these arguments, as it would cloud my purpose. In the past, I have been frustrated (and voiced that frustration poorly) by seeing this useful resource get crowded with non-constructive and beligerent tirades. I am now employing a tact of structured logical and philosophical debate by which I hope to engage those who berate archaeologists in their own forum and give them an opportunity to make their case. I am secure in my beliefs, but open minded to other views when stated convincingly. There is no straw here.

Bylaws of the Council of American Maritime Museums
As amended and approved September 26, 1978, April 25, 1987, May 21, 1988, April 28, 1989, and April 20, 1990.

"CAMM member institutions shall

Adhere to archaeological standards consistent with AAM/ICOM."

"CAMM member institutions shall not

knowingly acquire or exhibit artifacts which have been stolen, illegally exported from their country of origin, illegally salvaged or removed from commercially exploited
archaeological or historical sites."

Underwater Archaeology: The Proceedings of the 14th Conference on Underwater Archaeology , edited by Calvin R. Cummings, San Marino, CA: Fathom Eight Special Publication 7, 1986.

Calvin R. Cummings states that throughout history, "(.) nothing clouds intellectual reason more than the "flash of gold" (greed). Eyes glaze over, minds become fogged, and reason evaporates. In chasing the "lure of gold" individuals and groups invent amazing rationales to explain their departure from societal order." He then goes on to quote various by-laws enacted by each of the major professional archaeological societies in the United States to protect cultural resources from the "lust for treasure":

Society for American Archaeology :

" .to advocate and to aid in the conservation of archaeological data to discourage commercialism in the archaeological field and to work for its elimination."

"The practice of collecting, hoarding, exchanging, buying, or selling archaeological materials fore the sole purpose of personal satisfaction or financial gain are declared contrary to the ideals and objects of the Society ."

Society of Professional Archaeologists :

" A professional archaeologist has the responsibility to:

"Conserve the total cultural resource base."

"Discourage, and if possible prevent, destruction of archaeological sites, or portions of sites for the purpose of acquiring materials for other than scientific purposes."

"Actively support conservation of the archaeological resource base."

"Avoid and discourage exaggerated, misleading, or unwarranted statements about archaeological matters that might induce others to engage in unethical or illegal activity."

"support and comply with the terms of UNESCO Convention on the means of prohibiting and preventing the illicit import, export, and transfer of ownership of cultural property,. "

Society for Historical Archaeology

" The collecting, hoarding, exchanging, buying, or selling of archaeological artifacts and research data for the purpose of personal satisfaction of financial gain, of the indiscriminate excavation of archaeological sites, including underwater wrecks, are declared contrary to the purposes of The Society. To support this position, The Society shall initiate or endorse efforts to discourage unnecessary destruction of archaeological resources by public and private institutions, agencies, and corporations. Further, The Society encourages its members not to condone the use of their name or research findings by others engaged in illegal or unethical activities, and to report knowledge of such activities to appropriate authorities and professional societies ."

(Ethical Position Statement)

National Association of State Archaeologists

" .to facilitate communication among State Archaeologists and thereby to contribute to the conservation of cultural resources and to the solution of problems in the profession. Consensus views of NASA will be communicated to governmental agencies and organizations concerned with management of cultural resources ."

Association for Field Archaeology

" . to serve as an instrument for the discussion of and action concerning the recovery, restoration, and primary interpretation of excavation material, and the protection of antiquities, including opposition to the dealing and the illicit traffic in such materials ."

Society for California Archaeology

" The gathering of archaeological specimens of the destruction of archaeological sites for the purposes of selling artifacts or finding souvenirs shall in all instances be forbidden ."

(Code of Scientific Ethics)

Archaeological Institute of America

" The Archaeological Institute of America condemns the destruction of the material and historical records of the past by the plundering of archaeological sites both in the United States and abroad and by the illicit export and import of antiquities ."

" The Archaeological Institute of America applauds the efforts of local authorities, both in the United States and abroad , to prevent the despoliation of archaeological sites and the illicit export and import of antiquities and archaeological materials, and pledges its support to such efforts ."

American Society for Conservation Archaeology

" .the practice of collecting , hoarding , exchanging, buying, or selling archaeological materials for the purpose of personal satisfaction of financial gain are declared contrary to the ideals and purpose of the society ."

T he statement submitted by The American Association of Museums to the Subcommittee on Oceanography of the Committee on Merchant Marine and Fisheries of the U.S. House of Representatives,
on H.R. 74, The Abandoned Shipwreck Act.
Submitted April 21, 1987.

The AAM supported the passage of HR 74, the Abandoned Shipwreck Act.

.Through several acts of Congress in recent years, the nations public policy has strongly embraced the need for a federal presence in the protection of natural, historical, and archaeological resources. Further, the federal government has taken an essential role in assisting museums and other cultural institutions to undertake the critical task of preserving artifacts of artistic and historical significance. However, one valuable resource of both archaeological and historical import that does not receive such treatment and is in need of protection from potential destruction and exploitation are historic abandoned shipwrecks.

The Abandoned Shipwreck Act provides the necessary protection of abandoned shipwrecks in state waters. This bill would remove shipwrecks of historic importance found on submerged lands from the jurisdiction of federal admiralty law. Unlike archaeological sites on land, the ability of states to manage sites on their submerged law is not explicitly stated in U.S. law. Hence, in absence of federal recognition of the special nature of historic shipwrecks, these wrecks are subject to admiralty law whereby a "finders-keepers" theory awards wrecks to commercial salvors or others establishing a claim to them for the purpose of personal gain. This "finders-keepers" system directly contradicts laws protecting archaeological sites on land that prohibit salvage, looting, and commercial exploitation.

Admiralty law was developed for a worthwhile and necessary purpose, a need that it continues to effectively serve in many situations. However, changing attitudes toward cultural preservation of all kinds, combined with the rapid development of underwater technology, have demonstrated that exceptions to admiralty law are necessary.

Historic shipwrecks attract archaeologists, sports divers, and treasure salvors for a variety of reasons - exploration, scientific inquiry, and recreation. Yet, if commercial mining of these wrecks remains unchecked and they continue to fall prey to any and all who may assert claim to them, few historic underwater sites will be left for current and future generations of scholars, underwater enthusiasts, and the general public.

.The United States may be the only nation with a substantial number of historic shipwrecks that has not enacted legislation recognizing the importance of protecting these resources. As a world leader in the development of human achievement and the preservation of its heritage, the United States must establish a responsible federal policy on historic abandoned shipwrecks that provides for the orderly and archaeologically sound excavation of sites when salvage takes place.


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The Best Guide To Treasure Hunting &ndash 2021| Written by Timothy Draper

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