Imagine decoding a tattered old map, puzzling out clues, following in the footsteps of an infamous pirate, and digging up buried treasure! The shiny coins and sparkle of jewels might be bright, but not as dazzling as the thrill of discovery.
Rumors of buried treasure have outlived real-life privateers like Captain Kidd and Blackbeard. (A privateer was a private person or ship COMMISSIONED during wartime to capture enemy ships and goods. Or, as Encyclopaedia Brittanica explains: a privateer was a pirate with papers.) Both men captured and plundered enemy ships with the approval of the British government for a time, but when the winds of fortune changed both met bad fates.
William Kidd was born in Scotland in 1645. He made a name for himself in the Caribbean, the island's southeast of the Gulf of Mexico and North America. Kidd was commissioned to protect British ships against attacks by French ships. But in 1698 Kidd and his crew attacked a ship in the Indian Ocean, putting him on the wrong side of British government officials. Kidd ended up being put on trial for piracy. The British court found him guilty and he was hanged on May 23, 1701. Before his death, Kidd claimed to have buried some of his treasure in the Caribbean.
The legend of Captain Kidd’s buried riches is an important part of the plot of the Edgar Allan Poe story “The Gold-Bug.” The short story tells how the protagonist solves a code and eventually unearths Captain Kidd’s treasure. It was the first piece of fiction to include cryptography, or using code in writing.
Edward Teach or Thatch, better known as Blackbeard, also had the approval of the British during his early exploits. He captured French ships along the Colonial American coast in the early 1700s. While he had a fearsome reputation, it may have been mostly myth. Some historians say Blackbeard was not particularly violent, and not even a very successful pirate—his name and image were bigger and badder than the actual man.
By 1718, Blackbeard claimed he would give up piracy and even asked for and received a royal pardon. But the lieutenant governor of Virginia did not trust the pirate and feared he would attack Virginian ships. So he sent two ships with British soldiers to raid the pirate’s vessel. Blackbeard died in the attack on Nov. 22, 1718, at Ocracoke Island, North Carolina.
People have found hidden treasures that have nothing to do with pirates. Some fantastic finds have happened this year. Adventure seekers have looked to books that gave clues about hidden riches, two teenagers unearthed ancient coins at an archaeological site, and one man got lucky at a state park with a gem of a name. Treasure hunting can be dangerous, so never go without your parent!
On Labor Day, a 33-year-old man had a fabulous find at Crater of Diamonds State Park in Arkansas. Kevin Kinard visited the park for the first time when he was in second grade. On his visit last month, Kinard says he picked up anything that looked like a crystal. He thought one particular marble-sized rock looked “interesting and shiny.”
Kinard had picked up the second-largest diamond discovered in the park! Maybe it was kismet, as the 9.07-carat diamond was discovered on the date 9/7. Unlike most parks, Crater of Diamonds has a “finders keepers” policy. The park is the only diamond site in the world that is open to the public.
This summer also saw the news that gold coins over 1,000 years old were discovered at an Israeli archaeological dig. Two teens, working as youth volunteers, found the 425 gold coins in a clay jar. The coins are so thin that at first they appeared to be leaves, according to one of the teen treasure finders. The Islamic coins date back to the golden age of the Abbasid Caliphate, a dynasty that ruled in east Asia and northern Africa.
Another big find this summer was the long-sought treasure chest hidden by a New Mexico art dealer. Forrest Fenn filled a chest with coins, gold nuggets and gems and hid it somewhere in the Rocky Mountains. He wrote a memoir published in 2010 with clues to the whereabouts of the treasure. Fenn set in motion a sometimes dangerous quest that had fortune hunters scouring the western states. Five people died during this decade-long treasure hunt. On June 6, 2020, Fenn posted on a blog that the treasure had been found. The chest was found in an undisclosed location in Wyoming. Fenn died three months later.
Legends, Train Robbery and Lost Gold
How much buried treasure, hidden gold and other fortunes are waiting to be found in Arizona? The first gold mining in Arizona took place in 1774. This was back when Arizona was just a territory and not a state. The Arizona Gold Rush continued until 1849, when most prospectors headed towards California.
Perhaps the most famous legend of hidden gold in Arizona is the story of the Lost Dutchman Mine. The Superstition Mountains, located near Apache Junction, are where many have searched for this great treasure. In the 1840s a family named Peralta who were from Mexico had success in a mine. Years later a man named Jacob Waltz (the Dutchman) and his prospecting partner found the mine with directions given to them by a Peralta family member. The mine is said to be located near the shadows of Weaver’s Needle, a landmark in the mountains. When he was older and his health was failing, Waltz tried to give directions to the mine to others, but to this day, no one has found it, and some who have tried looking for it have been injured or worse.
“The Legend of Colossal Cave” is another treasure waiting to be found near Tucson. The most common account of the story is that in 1884, four bandits robbed a Wells Fargo mail train. They escaped with an estimated $72,000 in cash and gold. That was a lot of loot back then and still is to this day! They hid in the Rincon Mountains in what at the time was called Five Mile Cave—we now know this as Colossal Cave. The bandits were eventually caught. Three of them did not survive a gunfight with a sheriff and his POSSE. The one who survived went to jail for 18 years. After his release from jail he returned to the cave before law enforcement could follow him. All they found in the cave were three empty Wells Fargo mailbags.
Other bank robbers are said to have hidden their stash in Colossal Cave, but to this day no money or gold has been found in the cave. Other legends say treasure may have been buried in areas around the cave or other parts of the Rincon Mountains.
Gold in the Grand Canyon!
Did you know there is lost gold in the Grand Canyon? It is called “Long Tom’s Gold.” In 1910, Tom Watson was staying in an abandoned cabin in Flagstaff when he came upon a letter written by the previous tenant. The letter told of gold nuggets found near the Old Tanner Trail in the Grand Canyon. There was a map and Watson set out to find the nuggets. It took him over four years to find the cave that was hidden by a waterfall, due to the fact that the waterfall did not run year round. It only formed after a heavy rainfall or snowmelt. Watson was able to enter the cave and find the nuggets. He stuffed many of them in his pockets and went to get a bag to carry the other nuggets. He slipped and fell into the waterfall and broke his leg. After his leg healed, he tried several times to find the waterfall and cave again, with no luck.
Tools for locating and reaching treasure have come a long way from finding a map to the loot and breaking out the pick and shovel. Remote sensing and diving robots are just some of the game-changing technologies that are leading to big discoveries on land and out at sea.
You’re probably familiar with treasure hunters waving metal detectors just above the ground and hearing that strange electronic squawk when it comes across a piece of metal. The transmitter coil is in the disc and creates an electromagnetic field. Metal changes the field, and the receiver coil senses the change and sends a signal to the control box. Most metal detectors can find things on the ground down to about a foot below ground level.
Ground Penetrating Radar can “see” much deeper into the ground. These lawn mower-sized devices are much more expensive than metal detectors and can find metal and non-metal buried items. GPR sends out electromagnetic energy into the ground, and if it hits a buried object, part of that energy reflects back up to the machine. Depending on the soil type, GPR can locate items from a few inches to 100 feet deep!
Sonar (Sound Navigation and Ranging) sends out and picks up sound waves to create high-definition renderings of what’s underground or in the water.
Remote sensing is a group of technology aboard satellites or aircraft. Some, like drones, can automatically map an area capturing photos or video. Lidar measures how long it takes a laser beam to reflect back up to a sensor and can “see” through dense jungle to create 3D images of long lost ruins!
Sunken treasure from long ago can be worth a fortune! Did you know there are more than 3 million shipwrecks lying on the bottom of the ocean?
But getting there is dangerous, so expensive robots and remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) are used to explore and even to retrieve artifacts.
ROVs are often nimble SUBMERSIBLES that are controlled from a ship through a tether. Some shoot video and can snap still photos, others use sonar interpreted by AI (artificial intelligence) to generate high-resolution 3D images of underwater objects!
AUVs are autonomous underwater vehicles (robotic submersibles) that explore the ocean without being tethered to a ship. Some are capable of diving deeper than ROVs.
USVs (unmanned surface vehicles) are robotic boats or ships that operate without a crew! They can be used to monitor coastlines and for mapping large areas.