Tommy Thompson in 1989, before his disappearance. (Photo: AP)
In 1988, treasure hunter Tommy Thompson uncovered tens of millions of dollars of gold from the shipwreck of the S.S. Central America sunk deep off the coast of South Carolina. He has since become a fugitive, disappearing with millions of dollars owed to his investors. The “ship of gold” that Thompson found is currently being scoured for its remaining millions by a group led by his former partners.
Treasure unearthed from the SS Central America. (Photo: AP)
But this is far from the last sunken treasure yet to be uncovered. Around the world, buried beneath the earth, sunk far into the oceans, countless billions of dollars’ worth of gold, gems, and valuables are just waiting to be discovered. So hoist up that pirate flag, study your secret maps, and embark on a real or imagined journey to some of these worldwide destinations rumored to be harboring vast riches. Just don’t neglect to pay back your investors, or the feds will come for you…
Peter Leo and Dominic Addario look at two cannons and an anchor that were recovered in 2002, believed to be from the site of the San Miguel Arch Angel. (Photo: AP)
In 1715 a Spanish sailing fleet, laden with treasure, attempted to race a hurricane from Havana out of the Caribbean. The fleet lost the race, a dozen ships, a thousand sailors, and an estimated $2 billion worth of gold. Some of the loot was recovered, but the frigate San Miguel, which was carrying the bulk of the valuables, has never been found. One treasure hunting operation has recovered gold coins dated from 1715 off the coast of Florida, another found gold chains and rings, but the full bounty remains undiscovered. Aspiring treasure hunters take note: coastal salvage claims need to be registered with the state of Florida, or you may become a fugitive like Mr. Thompson.
Golden Beach (Photo: Getty Images)
This is about the only place where there’s guaranteed buried treasure, but you may have just missed it: Just a few weeks ago, on August 28, a German performance-artist buried 30 gold bars worth over $16,000 in the sands of this southeast-England beach holiday town. Conceived as a promotion with the local tourism office and an artist interested in “interrupting the every-day,” the event brought out hundreds of people with metal detectors and shovels. One catch—the artist also buried hundreds of metal washers to make digging for the two-inch-long gold ingots more of a challenge. It’s still unclear if all the gold has been found, so if you’re in the neighborhood, bring your pail and sifter and maybe you’ll get the last one.
General Tomoyuki Yamashita of the WWII-era Japanese army gained fame for conquering (and looting) most of Southeast Asia, from Singapore to the Philippines. Rumor has it that as the war progressed, Yamashita shipped and concentrated his war spoils to the then Japanese-controlled Philippines. As the tide of war turned against the Japanese, Yamashita hid the treasure in perhaps 175 different caves in the limestone mountains surrounding Baguio on the main Philippine island of Luzon. Much time and effort has been spent since then to locate the treasure, with no confirmed success, although alleged stories include recovery by the Marcos family, the CIA and independent treasure hunters. If you believe the treasure was actually hidden there, chances are at least some of those 175 caves are still filled with gold.
Forrest Fenn (Photo: Corbis)
Art collector Forrest Fenn contracted cancer, and decided as a final fun gesture to gather his most valuable treasures and bury them in an antique bronze chest. His cancer went into remission, but the chest full of gold nuggets, gems, and ancient artifacts valued at over a million dollars still remained in his home until 2010 when he says he hid it “somewhere in the mountains north of Santa Fe.” Fenn then published a book with a poem full of clues about the location of the chest. Since then, thousands of people have wandered the countryside digging holes looking for the buried loot, some publishing blogs about their many treasure hunting journeys. As far as anyone knows, the treasure has not yet been recovered, so study those clues and get out there.
A wall around a burial site about 150 miles northeast of Ulaan Bataar, Mongolia, once thought to be the location of the tomb of Genghis Khan. (Photo: AP)
Genghis Khan, the greatest conqueror over the greatest land mass in history, is buried with untold riches…somewhere. Said to have been buried in a solid silver casket in 1227, surrounded by looted treasure from two continents, Genghis Khan’s remains have eluded centuries’ of treasure hunters. Archaeologists using surface-penetrating radar and thousands of aerial mapping photos think they have narrowed down the search to a couple mountains in remote Mongolia. One explorer is planning an expedition this fall in which he hopes to finally uncover the tomb. But if he fails like thousands have done before him, you still have a shot at that shiny casket.
The South African province of Mpumalanga where Kruger’s gold was once thought to be stashed. (Photo: Olly301/Flickr)
As the British troops approached South Africa’s Pretoria during the Boer War in 1900, President Paul Kruger issued orders to take the gold reserves of the national bank and hide it in the countryside. It’s disputed how much was taken, and what, if anything was actually buried. However, assuming the entire gold stock was removed and hidden, a buried treasure worth perhaps $250 million is still out there in the South African countryside for the finding. The loot has been the topic of rumored discoveries and continued debate in the world of treasure hunting over the years, but no big haul has ever been confirmed.
A replica of the Flor de la Mar sits outside the maritime museum in Malacca, Indonesia. (Photo: Gordon Tour/Flickr)
In 1512 the Portugese ship the Flor Do Mar (flower of the sea) set sail from Malacca carrying 60 tons of gold, along with treasure chests full of diamonds and jewels, all taken from conquered local sultans. The ship sank in a storm somewhere near the Straits of Malacca, between what is now Indonesia and Malaysia. The value of the ship’s treasure is estimated at $60 billion (and that’s not including the “magic bracelet” listed on the ship’s manifest). Many treasure hunters have searched for the gold, including American Robert Marx, who has spent $20 million in his efforts. Rumored sighting of the ship by an underwater drone in April prompted the Indonesian government to stake a claim, meaning finding the loot will only be the beginning of a treasure hunter’s challenge.