Insane Careers: Treasure Hunters

national treasure
national treasure

Have you ever imagined yourself as a swashbuckling globetrotter, traveling the savage seas in search of untold fortune and riches? Or maybe you have imagined yourself as a member of The Goonies, seeking out One-Eyed Willy’s treasure (yes, that is the name of the pirate’s treasure the group of kids are looking for… censors in the 80s were more than likely high on cocaine and completely insane, which would explain how a colloquialism for the male member slipped by them and into a kids’ movie). You might even hate snakes and imagined yourself being chased down a slope by a house-sized bolder while carrying a solid gold idol. Well, quit your dead-end job and put on your most pirate-y knee-high boots, because this is what being a professional treasure hunter is like.

The small time


You can start looking for buried treasure and look like a bona fide dork doing so! All you need is a medium-tier metal detector, which you can buy for around $2,000 to $4,000, and sock/sandal footwear. Although sock/sandal footwear isn’t a requisite, it is the unofficial footwear of metal detectors all over the world. Don’t worry about the initial equipment investment either, because the cost should negate itself in a year or two. If you don’t feel like plopping down a couple of thousand on a new detector, you can alternatively purchase used equipment from people that tried it as a hobby and found out that there aren’t “gold in them there mountains” in the abundance that they were expecting… as in close to none.

Most metal detectors find relics, bullet housings, and small denominations of coinage that were most likely discarded. That doesn’t mean that you can’t find gold, silver, and antiquities though, as many people with metal detectors have found hordes of gold, silver, and jewelry. Of course, there’s a flipside: you might find your endeavor less than profitable, as your finds – especially if they’re ancient – could be commandeered by your local government, a museum, or the antiquities authorities. Sure, you could go on the black market but, honestly, do you want to add a huge fine and jail time to your treasure-hunting record? Probably not.

The bigger


If you have a little more money to invest, you can definitely make exponentially more money and you won’t even have to worry about legality. The reason you don’t have to worry about legality is because you will be on a boat at sea salvaging cargo from sunken vessels which, according to maritime law, entitles you to the value of the lost cargo from the original owner. So, basically, it’s kindergarten sandbox rules: finders, keepers. For a lean couple of millies (that’s “million” for the uninitiated in the urban art of hip-hop), you can dip your toes into deep sea exploration and salvage. Although that seems like a steep investment, keep in mind that this is a legitimate endeavor, and you can approach (or swindle, though not recommended) people to invest in your treasure-hunting expedition.

You’ll need all the external funds you can get too, because the average exploration vessels requires $35,000 to operate – daily – and it might take up to a year to conduct a full expedition. Ironically, this type of exploration started as a field of archeology, known as Deep Sea Wreck Studies, and was forcibly privatized due to its high expense. Of course, once in a while, like in the case of Tommy Thompson (and please tell me that isn’t the most treasure hunter-appropriate name you’ve ever heard), your investment could pay out to the tune of $50 million in gold bullions.

Thompson hadn’t even scratched the surface though, because the shipwrecked vessel he was salvaging from was carrying a whopping 19 tons of ingots, coins and raw gold, plus the opulent belongings of the 477 passengers. By the way… that $50 million worth of gold? That doesn’t even account for the already wafer-thin 5% excavation of the shipwreck…

Still uncovered


Beyond three million sunken vessels just waiting to be touched, there are also numerous other treasures that are sitting uncovered, just ripe for the taking (or digging?) Treasures such as Forrest Fenn’s hidden stash, estimated at around $1-3 million, still remain undiscovered. Why did I mention only the Fenn treasure? Well, because the specific cache has all the trappings of a Hollywood movie that would make both National Treasure and The Da Vinci Code blush with inadequacy.

After Forest Fenn retired from the Air Force, he became a successful art and antiquities dealer, accumulating a small fortune. When he was diagnosed with cancer in 1988, Fenn decided he wanted to leave a legacy behind by creating a bronze treasure chest filled with Chinese Jade carvings, gems, gold, and his autobiography with the intent of burying it and dying in the woods that held his treasure. However, Fenn recovered from his illness and didn’t end up burying the treasure until he was around 80 years old. In 2010, he published his memoir containing a riddle to help treasure hunters, both amateur and pro, pinpoint the chest’s exact location. The treasure is said to be hidden in the Rocky Mountains, and the riddle reads:

As I have gone alone in there
And with my treasures bold,
I can keep my secret where,
And hint of riches new and old.

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.

From there it’s no place for the meek,
The end is ever drawing nigh;
There’ll be no paddle up your creek,
Just heavy loads and water high.

If you’ve been wise and found the blaze,
Look quickly down, your quest to cease,
But tarry scant with marvel gaze,
Just take the chest and go in peace.

So why is it that I must go
And leave my trove for all to seek?
The answers I already know,
I’ve done it tired, and now I’m weak.

So hear me all and listen good,
Your effort will be worth the cold.
If you are brave and in the wood
I give you title to the gold.

Good Luck! And most of all have fun!

Beyond that, Forrest has revealed numerous clues (as the old dude is still alive and kicking): it’s north of Santa Fe at an altitude of 5,000ft above sea level, it is not denoted by any type of structure, and it is not located in a graveyard (duh, read the previous comment). He went on to add a map in his new book, Too Far to Walk, which delineates the search area (that spans four freakin’ states!), and he revealed in an interview earlier this year that the chest is wet… which sounds remarkably dirty… That’s the only thing I good at searching for: dirty messages in non-dirty sentences.

Fenn’s treasure, if you haven’t noticed, is pretty unique by the fact that the owner hid it with the explicit purpose for it to be found and he is still alive; usually, the treasure’s owner hides it with the purpose to reclaim it at a later day and is (usually) long deceased.

The long dead (see above)


Sure, you have your golden age of pirates, which resulted in tons and tons of gold being lost at sea, but what if I told you there are treasure maps, way older than that, that also happen to have a religious context? No, it has nothing to do with Nazis melting, the Ark of the Convent, or the Holy Grail, but instead the Dead Sea Scrolls and, specifically, the one called the Copper Scroll.

This 1st century scroll (made of copper, duh?) was found in two segments – oh my God, just like a movie treasure map! Beyond the fact this scroll was the only one to be written on copper and not parchment like the 14 others found at the same location, the Copper Scroll was also written in ancient Hebrew with a dash of Ancient Greek for good measure. If you think that that’s the only disparity it has with its Dead Sea Scroll counterparts, you’d be wrong, because although its parchment cousins had narratives and parables written on them, the Copper Scroll is actually a list of hordes of precious metals and coins and their locations.

Of course, to be able to find the treasure, you’d need to know 1st century Israel like a local… you know, the type of local who gives you directions like: “Turn right at the forked tree on Old Man Aviv’s property”. There are a stupefying 64 locations (thus 64 stores of treasure) on the list, 63 of which speak of gold and silver. The other one mentions a priest’s vestments… which are GOLD – no, I’m joking (or maybe I’m not? I’m not…)

Don’t worry though, because the 63 other entries show the location of thousands of gold coins, and gold and silver ingots. Unfortunately, however hell-bent you are on cashing in on some ancient coinage, the Israeli government has blocked, stopped and deported dozens of researchers searching of the Copper Scroll treasure, because first, it is a national treasure and second, it might have religious significance since it’s assumed to be the fortune of Solomon’s Temple, which was destroyed by the Babylonians in 587 BC, or of the Second Temple, which was looted and destroyed by the Romans.

Are you a treasure hunter? Let us know about your experiences in the comments section below!