Many of history’s most famous hidden treasures have either been found or been proven to be nothing more than wishful thinking. But every once in a while, we’re reminded that there are still undiscovered fortunes out there. This year, the imaginations of modern-day treasure hunters were sparked when miners in a remote area of Namibia discovered what’s believed to be the remains of a 16th century Portuguese shipwreck. The find, which included gold coins, was worth millions.
When discoveries like this hit the news, they remind us of other treasures — real or imagined — that haven’t been unearthed. Even people who have no interest in looking will find the stories intriguing.
Here are eight opportunities for modern-day treasure hunters.
Crater of Diamonds State Park
Crater of Diamonds is one of the most accessible places for modern-day diamond prospecting. (Photo: Doug Wertman/Wikimedia Commons)
Crater of Diamonds State Park stretches for 900 acres in rural southwestern Arkansas. Diamonds were first discovered in the area in the early 1900s, but attempts at commercial mining failed. Crater of Diamonds became a tourist attraction, and interest was sparked when a large diamond — a 15-carat stone that became known as the Star of Arkansas — was found by a tourist in the 1950s.
Today, diamond hunting takes place on a 37-acre plowed field in the middle of the park. Diamonds are found almost every day by tourists, and stones of significant size (more than three carats) are unearthed almost every year. Crater of Diamonds State Park is the only known diamond-bearing area in the world that’s open to the public. Yes, visitors are allowed to keep whatever they find as long as they pay the “search fee,” which is currently $8 for adults and $5 for children, before heading to the diamond field.
Jade pebbles often wash into the beaches of Jade Cove after strong storms. (Photo: Bryan Hughes/flickr)
Jade is often found on the shore and in the waters of Jade Cove, a scenic seaside area in Big Sur on California’s Central Coast. This is an ideal spot for casual treasure seekers because seeing the coastal scenery can be as rewarding as finding a gemstone in the beach. Actually, divers find the largest jade stones offshore.
People who scour the beach during low tide after a storm often get lucky and find sizable pebbles. The cove is not easy to access, which helps keep the number of jade seekers down. Also, regulations stipulate that collectors can’t use tools to extract the jade and can only take what they can carry themselves.
Despite its name, Jade Cove is actually known for more than precious stones. The cove’s Sand Dollar Beach is considered one of the best surfing spots on the Central Coast.
Ozark Hills lost copper mine
A lucrative copper mine was once operating near the town of Jacks Fork and the Current River in Missouri’s Ozark Hills. In the mid 18th century, the mine’s owner, Joseph Slater, would regularly float large amounts of high grade copper down to New Orleans. In an effort to keep the location of his lucrative mine secret, he filed a claim for the mine several miles away from where it actually was. This means that the location of one of the country’s most profitable copper mines was never known to anyone but Slater and his daughter.
Slater and his family eventually moved away. The miner had planned to return to the mine one day but died before he could do so. The story is that before he left, Slater and his daughter carefully covered the entrance to the mine so that no one would be able to find it before they returned. They must have hid it well because treasure hunters and curiosity seekers have been scouring the area for almost a century, but the mine’s location is still a mystery.
Treasure of the San Miguel
One of the largest remaining unfound treasures in the U.S. is sitting somewhere along the Atlantic Coast of Florida near Amelia Island. A Spanish treasure ship called the San Miguel was lost in the area in 1715. It was carrying gold and other valuable items that could be worth as much as $2 billion today.
Small finds by local treasure hunters suggest that the ship could have gone down somewhere near Amelia Island. Despite finding fragments of other ships that were part of the Spanish cargo fleet alongside the San Miguel, no one has found the billion-dollar haul yet.
Dutch Schultz's treasure
Many people think Dutch Schultz's treasure is buried somewhere near the tiny town of Phoenicia in the Catskill Mountains. Population: 309 as of the 2010 census. (Photo: Daniel Case/Wikimedia Commons)
Dutch Schultz (real name: Arthur Fleganhiemer) was a well-known crime boss in New York City during the Roaring Twenties. He made a fortune with bootlegged liquor, illegal lotteries and other criminal activities. When he was being prosecuted for tax evasion, Schultz allegedly stashed some of his fortune at a secret location in the Catskill Mountains in Upstate New York. The “treasure” was said to include cash in the form of $1,000 bills, diamonds and gold coins.
He was acquitted of tax evasion, but prosecutors started pursuing other charges, so Schultz was not able to get his hidden loot. He managed to avoid jail, but he was eventually gunned down on orders from rival crime bosses. Some stories say Schultz mumbled barely coherent words about the treasure as he bled out after being shot. Others tell of maps to the treasure that the city-dwelling mob men were unable to decipher. Many people think the treasure is buried somewhere near the hamlet of Phoenicia in the Catskill Mountains.
One of America’s strangest treasure stories involves a series of ciphers that supposedly tell the whereabouts of a treasure buried in the early 1800s. Thomas Beale was part of a group that found a large treasure in the American West in 1819. The men transported the haul to their home state of Virginia, where they buried it. Beale decided to write three ciphers that would give the location and contents of the treasure in case something happened to the group when they returned to the West to bring back more treasure.
Neither Beale nor anyone else from the group ever returned to Virginian — but no one was able to decipher to codes. The story was made public in the 1880s. People were able to decode one of the ciphers, but it spoke only of the contents of the treasure; it did not say anything about its location. Many claim the whole Beale story is a hoax, but cryptographers continue to try to crack the code to this day.
Forrest Fenn's treasure
Treasure hidden by eccentric author Forrest Fenn is believed to be in the mountains in New Mexico. (Photo: David Herrara/flickr)
Forrest Fenn, a wealthy writer and collector who lives in Santa Fe, claims he has hidden a treasure worth more than a million dollars. Clues to the haul’s whereabouts were published in one of Fenn’s poems, and he has put additional hints in later works. Based on past clues, most people now believe the treasure is somewhere in the mountains of New Mexico.
There's some controversy surrounding Fenn. Earlier this year a man died while searching for the treasure. This caused some people to criticize the author and question whether the story might be a hoax. Fenn continues to stand by his claim, however. He has said it's not in a dangerous location and “no one should search in a place where an 80-year-old man could not hide it.”
Auburn was a major destination for Gold Rush-era prospectors. After gold was discovered there in 1848, thousands of miners came to the area. Auburn’s restored Old Town hearkens back to this 19th century heyday.
Gold seekers have now come back to Auburn, inspired by rising gold prices and cable TV shows that follow the exploits of modern day gold miners. Many of Auburn’s new prospectors have been panning for gold along the American River in the Auburn State Recreation Area. Some people have also been using metal detectors. The Recreation Area office has published a list of rules for prospectors. In the past, people have actually been arrested for trespassing and taking gold from property owned by private mining companies.