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25 Real-Life Treasure Hunts That Turned Up Millions In Loot

Many people grew up hearing stories of hidden riches, pirate maps to find the loot, and tales of wild adventures. There is a desire to find these spots, marked with a gigantic ‘X’ if the treasure hunter is lucky, whether that be for fame, fortune, or simply to have a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

There are stories of hidden treasures that are shrouded in mystery, like the valuables believed to be located beneath the water of Austria’s Lake Toplitz, or art dealer Forrest Fenn’s fortune which is said to be worth millions and hidden somewhere in the Rocky Mountains -- somewhere no one has been able to find, despite their efforts. Stories of riches like these are intriguing, but those searching for them often come up empty-handed. But just when treasure hunters feel disheartened, they are reminded that loot has been found, sometimes quite by chance, in a backyard or a dusty attic. Others have gotten lucky on a trip with a metal detector or on a salvage mission.

Treasure does exist, and some people have made their fortunes because of it. Below are 25 real-life lost riches, some of which have been found and turned up millions, even billions in spoils, while others remain hidden.

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25 The Treasure Of San Jose Lay Undiscovered For Hundreds Of Years (And It's Worth Billions)

Via The Mirror

Perhaps one of the most impressive treasures to have ever been found was aboard the Spanish galleon known as the  San Jose. The wreck was found at bottom of the Caribbean off the Colombian coast, 307 years after it sunk, Live Science reports.

The publication notes that the ship sunk during a battle with the English, and the haul of gold and silver it was carrying is worth billions. The gold, silver, and emerald hoard was from the mines of Peru and headed to Europe to help aid the War of Spanish Succession.

24 Lake Toplitz In Austria Is Believed To Hold The Lost Treasures From World War II

News.com.au

At the end of World War II, the German Nazi’s are believed to have sunk a fortune in Lake Toplitz, Austria, Daily Star reports. The area served as a naval base during the war, and the publication notes that when the Allied forces were approaching, the Nazi's began sinking treasures in metal boxes in the lake, much of which is still believed to be there.

Many people have lost their lives trying to locate the treasure, although no one is certain of what treasure lies in these boxes. According to The Guardian, some believe the boxes contain gold, while others think they are filled with important documents.

23 When The Nuestra Senora De Las Mercedes Sank, It Sank With A Hoard Of Gold And Silver

Via PRI

Another impressive underwater treasure to turn up also belonged to a Spanish ship, the Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes, which sank off the coast of Portugal in 1804, Reader’s Digest reports. Similar to the story of the San Jose, this battleship was also carrying a hoard of silver and gold and was sunk during a battle with the British.

The wreck, and it’s loot, was found in 2007 by an American salvage company, who named the project the “Black Swan.” But it could not be proved that the $500 million belonged to the ship, and was returned to the Spanish government in 2012.

22 The SS Gairsoppa Was Carrying Thousands Of Silver Bars And Made One Salvage Team Very Rich

Via Daily Mail

The British merchant ship, SS Gairsoppa, was traveling from India when it was hit by a German U-boat torpedo in 1941, and sank around 300 miles off the coast of Ireland, Daily Mail reports. According to the publication, the ship sank in just 20 minutes from a single torpedo, and only one crew member survived.

Years later, it made headlines for another reason;  a salvage mission by an American company turned up thousands of silver bars, estimated to be worth $37 million. The company was under contract with the British government, which would get 20 percent of the findings for the British Treasury.

21 The Belitung Shipwreck Contained The Single Largest Amount Of Tang Dynasty Artifacts Ever Found

Via Wikipedia

The Belitung Shipwreck is known by various names, including the Tang shipwreck, or Batu Hitam shipwreck, but the one thing that can be agreed upon when referring to this shipwreck is that it was one of the most valuable shipwrecks to ever be found. According to UNESCO, in 1998, the wreck was found by local fishermen off the Belitung Island in Indonesia, but it dates back to the 9th Century AD.

The ship was believed to be Arabian in origin and traveling between Oman and China when it sank on its return voyage. It was carrying thousands of ceramics, most of which were Changsha ware. The publication notes this discovery produced the largest amount of Tang Dynasty artifacts ever discovered in one location.

20 A Couple Found A Box Of Gems In The Backyard Of Their Home -- And They Returned It To The Rightful Owners

Via ABC News

Not all treasures are buried in the depths of the ocean or in the middle of the wilderness, some can be found in your backyard, as one American couple discovered. Although their loot was not worth billions, a New York couple found a rusted metal box buried in the ground of their Staten Island home. The box contained various gems and bills, and according to News.com.au, the loot was estimated to be worth more than $52,000.

The goods had been stolen from the couple’s neighbors seven years earlier, and the couple who found the treasure was good enough to return it to them.

19 Divers Found More Than 2,000 Gold Coins Off The Coast Of Caesarea

Via BBC

When divers were exploring an area near the harbor of the Caesarea National Park in Israel, they found something they never expected to see, a gold coin glimmering on the ocean bed. And it was not just a single coin, as BBC notes the divers turned up more than 2,000 coins.

Instead of taking the coins for themselves, the divers went about the correct legal procedure and contacted the Israeli Antiquities Authority (IAA) to report their find. Working together, the divers recovered thousands of 24-karat gold coins that had been laying on the surface, undisturbed, for 1000 years.

18 The Atocha Was Carrying An Impressive Collection Before It Was Sunk By A Hurricane

Via Wall Street Journal

The Nuestra Señora de Atocha was a Spanish vessel that sank to the ocean floor during a hurricane in the Florida Keys in 1622, The Guardian reports. The ship had been headed back to Spain and was carrying an impressive treasure of various pieces, including gold bars.

The wreckage was found in 1985, by American treasure hunter Mel Fisher, and the publication notes that the loot recovered was worth $450 million. But it was not easy to come by and the wreckage is reported to have taken Fisher 15 years to find.

17 Valuables Were Found When The Royal Hanuman Dhoka Palace Was Being Renovated

Via Pinterest

The Hanuman Dhoka, Kathmandu's royal palace, was hit by an Earthquake in 2015, and according to Lonely Planet, the damage done to the structure was substantial. But four years before this incident, the palace made headlines for another reason; a treasure that was uncovered.

According to The Independent, when workers were renovating a part of the 16th-century palace, when they uncovered a treasure of coins, as well as gold and silver ornaments (weighing more than 300 kgs) believed to be more than 500 years old.

16 Art Dealer Forrest Fenn Has A Fortune Hidden Away That Has Attracted Many Treasure Hunters

Via Wired

Not all treasures that exist have been found, and some, like art dealer Forrest Fenn’s treasure, are still shrouded in mystery. According to All That’s Interesting, a poem in Fenn’s memoir, The Thrill of the Chase, hinted at the location of where he buried his treasure (a small chest of collectibles) in the Rocky Mountains.

The treasure is believed to be worth millions, and because of this, many people have tried to find it, unfortunately resulting in several losing their lives.

15 The Discovery Of The Tomb Of Emperor Qin Shi Huang Was Of Great Historical Importance

Via National Geographic

Emperor Qin's tomb (Qin Shi Huang Di, the First Emperor of Qin) was found by workers outside of the city of Xi'an in China, in 1974. And the contents that lay inside were priceless because it was one of the “greatest archaeological discoveries in the world,” National Geographic reports.

Among the objects that were included in the Emperor’s tomb was a terracotta army -- thousands of clay soldiers positioned to rank, all with unique details -- as well as chariots, and weapons such as swords and arrow tips.

14 The Lost Dutchman Gold Mine Continues To Mystify (And Remains Hidden)

Via REI

There is a legend about the Lost Dutchman’s gold mine and it has been talked of for centuries. The Lost Dutchman is a nickname given to a man named Jacob Waltz, who Daily Mail notes was actually a German. He is believed to have had a secret mine in the mountains of Arizona, and there are theories that the mine is either guarded or cursed.

Although it remains unfound, that hasn’t stopped people from looking, and has resulted in tragedy for some, Daily Mail notes.

13 The Harrogate Hoard Uncovered Viking Valuables In Great Condition

Via BBC

The Vikings plundered many countries, leaving with their riches. One of the biggest discoveries of their loot was found in a Yorkshire field by a father and son who were hobby metal detectorists. The loot is known as the Harrogate Hoard, The Guardian reports.

The treasure had been packed into a silver pot, beautifully decorated and complete with a solid gold inside. Within the pot, there were many different pieces, including a gold arm ring, coins, silver rings and brooches, and even dress ornaments, many of which were in fantastic condition.

12 The Saddle Ridge Hoard Was The Discovery Of Almost Mint Condition Gold Rush-Era Coins

Via Time

Although most treasures are found by dedicated treasure hunters, salvage teams, and hobbyists, sometimes normal people stumble across hidden loot. An example of this is the Saddle Ridge Hoard, which was found by a Californian couple when they were out walking their dog, Reuters reports.

What the couple found was a number of rare coins, in near-mint condition, from the Gold Rush-era. The coins were estimated to be worth more than $10 million, and is considered to be one of the largest treasures found in the United States.

11 The Hoxne Hoard Was One Of The Most Valuable Treasures To Have Ever Been Found

Via Wikipedia

According to Mental Floss, the Hoxne Hoard was one of the “biggest treasure troves ever found,” and it was discovered in 1992. The discovery happened quite by chance after a farmer lost his hammer in his field and asked a friend with a metal detector to come and help him locate it. What they found was far better, and the publication notes that they uncovered an oak chest filled with valuables, including jewelry, coins, and silver spoons.

The collection is believed to date back to the 4th or 5th century CE and had an estimated worth of $3.8 million.

10 A Man With A Metal Detector Came Across The Staffordshire Hoard (Worth More Than $4 Million)

Via Birmingham Museums Trust

The Staffordshire Hoard was found by a man using a metal detector in a field near Hammerwich in Staffordshire, England, Mental Floss reports. What he found was an impressive Anglo-Saxon treasure, consisting of more than 3,500 pieces, with an estimated value of around $4.1 million.

These pieces included weapons, decorative pieces, and religious artifacts, and are believed to date back to the 8th century.

The finding later made headlines for a different reason, the feud between the farmer whose land it was found on, and the man who found the valuables. The feud resulted in the farmer banning the treasure hunter from his land, Daily Mail reports.

9 Imagine Buying An Old Tank And Finding Millions Hidden Away? This Is What Happened To This Man

Via Daily Mail

You don’t expect to find gold bars hidden in a tank, but then again, you also don’t expect to stumble upon treasure while searching for your missing hammer. But both of these things have happened, and the tank treasure was discovered by a military vehicle enthusiast named Nick Mead, who had recently bought the Russian T54/69 for $40,100, MSN reports.

He got his investment back, and then some because the publication notes that hidden within the fuel tank of the model was $2.5 million of gold bullion.

8 The Largest Collection Of Roman Coins Weren't Found By A Pro, They Were Found By A Hospital Chef

Via British Museum

Near the English town of Frome, the largest single collection of Roman coins were found in 2010, Daily Mail reports. This collection became known as the Frome Hoard, and the collection consisted of a rounded pot containing 52,503 silver and copper alloy coins (only five are silver denarii of the emperor Carausius, while the rest are copper alloy).

It wasn’t a professional company that came across the collection, dating between AD253 and AD293, rather it was a hospital chef named Dave Crisp.

7 One Of The Rarest Ferrari's Was Gathering Dust In A Barn In Japan

Via CNN

In 2017, a rare 1969 Ferrari 365 GTB/4 Daytona was found in a Japanese barn, and this discovery was made especially exciting for car enthusiasts because according to CNN, only “one street version of its Daytona with a full aluminum body” had ever been made by the Italian car company.

As for how it came to be in Japan? The publication notes that it had been shipped out in 1971 to a Japanese dealership, and in 1980 ended up in ownership of a man named Makoto Takai, whose barn it was later found in. The sports car had been gathering dust for years and was sold in this condition (unrestored) for $2.17 million.

6 The Knights Templar Treasure Has Never Been Found, But That Hasn't Stopped People From Looking

Via Beardy History

Yet another treasure that is believed to exist, and would turn up millions in loot if it were to be found, is the treasure of the Knights Templar. According to Ancient Origins, the Knights Templar were a secret society, although the missions that these individuals carried out remain shrouded in mystery.

What we do know, is that the society is believed to have been one of the most powerful organizations of their time, and there have been hundreds of their former Templar sites located around the world, which the publication notes are a testament to their strength and reach at the time.

Their treasure is believed to have been hidden, but no one knows the exact location.

5 The Lost Treasure Of The Alamo Remains Hidden, Despite Excavation Attempts In The Area

Via Wikipedia

There are stories of lost treasure that are meant to be buried in The Alamo. According to RoadTrippers, Colonel Jim Bowie and Davy Crockett are believed to have hidden gold that was meant to fund the new state of Texas, but no buried treasure has ever been found, despite multiple attempts to locate it and the areas surrounding the grounds being excavated, with no success.

Treasure Tracer notes that the treasure is believed to have been buried somewhere in The Alamo grounds, but was lost during a fierce battle. Could this be one lost treasure that is worth a fortune that is yet to turn up?!

4 The Ringlemere Gold Cup Is A Solid 20-Carat Gold Artefact Found On A Farm In England

Via Picssr

Sometimes all you need is a metal detector, and a lot of dedication, to unearth something truly magnificent. A man by the name of Cliff Bradshaw was searching a field at Woodnesborough in Kent, England when he came across something special; a gold ceremonial cup from the Bronze Age, The Telegraph reports.

The cup was a solid piece of 20-carat gold, and archaeologists believed it to be one of the “most important Bronze Age finds in Britain,” the publication notes. So, how much is this single cup worth? According to BBC, it was valued at around £250,000.

3 A Woman And Her Metal Detector Uncovered A Single Rare Coin Lost In Battle In 1485

Via Daily Mail

In comparison to many of the other treasures featured on this list, a coin dating back to Richard III’s brief rule was not worth quite as much (after all, it was only a single coin) but it did sell for £34,000 at auction (around $44,000). According to Express, the Richard III Half Angel piece was found by a metal detectorist near the site of Bosworth Field in England. The piece is believed to have belonged to one of the king’s soldiers who was fleeing in battle in 1485.

One of the reasons why this piece is so valuable, apart from its age, is that the king was only on the throne for two years before his passing, and very few coins from his rule have been found.

2 The Beautifully Detailed Thracian Beverage Set Was Found By Three Lucky Brothers On A Regular Day Of Work

Via The Vintage News

In 1949, near the town of Panagyurishte in Bulgaria, three brothers, Pavel, Petko and Michail Deikov, were working at a tile factory when they came across the Panagyurishte Gold Treasure, Archeology In Bulgaria reports. The treasure is a “Thracian beverage set made of 24-karat gold,” and according to Visit Bulgaria these detailed pieces have a ritualistic function and were used in ceremonies and feasts.

The pieces date between the 4th and 3rd century BC.

There is some confusion as to how the treasure came to be buried in this location, but it was a find of great archeological importance.

1 One Of The Most Valuable Baseball Card Collections Were Lying In An Old Box In An Attic

Via CBS News

In 2012, a man made an extraordinary discovery in the attic of his grandfather’s home. In the attic was a wooden box, with some of the most valuable contents inside; hundreds of rare baseball cards. According to Fox News, the cards came from a rare series dated around 1910, and unlike other cards of this time, these were in exceptional condition.

Experts noted that this was a great find for sports card collecting, and the collection was estimated to be worth more than $3 million.

References: LiveScience, Daily Star, The Guardian, Reader's Digest, Daily Mail, UNESCO, News.com.au, BBC, The Guardian, Lonely Planet, The Independent, National Geographic

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