The earliest appearance of treasure hunting is in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. Published in 1883, it was the first time that the concept of treasure maps, hidden pirate’s gold and x marks the spot appeared in the public domain.
More recently, Dan Brown has been assaulting our senses with his Da Vinci Code series. They are all based on ancient unsolved or undiscovered puzzles permanently installed in the landscape and architecture.
In the late 1970’s and early ’80’s before the takeover of computers, there were a huge variety of Choose Your Own Adventure books. These series of puzzles allowed you to choose your own path through the books and to a satisfactory conclusion (treasure). Key components of this were Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone. Both of whom crop again in gaming circles, both board and computer based, significantly with Tomb Raider.
If you search online, there are quite a few treasure hunts floating about in print. The “World’s Greatest Treasure Hunt” is a bit better than most as it is built on twelve separate factual stories of treasure hunting history. The prize is one of the emeralds from Mel Fisher’s Atocha mounted in a Golden Eagle. All you have to do is answer some trivia questions. This particular hunt purports to be all for charity but has not featured too highly in the media recently since it was launched earlier in 2010.
The book of all treasure hunting books is this, Masquerade by Kit Williams. He sold hundreds of thousands of copies of the book when it was launched in 1979. It was a legendary success. Williams buried a golden hare that he made in a metal-detector proof ceramic cast. In the book is a rhyme which tells you how to solve the riddle. The rest of the text is all just misleading. Connect the right eye to the right pointing digit on all creatures, reveals letters on each page – stringing them together gives the location. The prize was located by Ken Thomas in 1982. Legend has it, that at the same time two teachers worked it out, dug it out without realising it for Thomas to recover from their discarded soil. Thomas then went bankrupt trying to profit from the hare and it was auctioned off. It later turned out that an old housemate of Williams’ was married to Thomas’ business partner, and that Thomas had sent in a copy of a map that he had already known about – and was announced the winner. We mustn’t feel sorry for Kit as he was so relieved to be out of the limelight and not to have to open all of his post or answer the telephone any more. Previously he received 100’s of letters a day had to read every one just in case they had answered it.
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The definition of treasure hunting nowadays has evolved from archaeological digging up of lost treasure to solving a series of puzzles to reveal a final answer or reward. There is a cult activity in Seattle called The Game that is a treasure hunt but has no treasure at all – the winners, who are the first to solve a series of diverse challenges, instead claim nothing more than bragging rights over fellow participants.
Going back to it’s original meaning, allow us to introduce you to the grandaddy of treasure hunting. The gentleman to your left is Mr Heinrich Schleimann. He analysed and dissected Homer’s Illiad to discover the lost location of Troy in Turkey in 1873.
Ten years later Robert Louis Stevenson published Treasure Island. The significance of this is that it is the first time we see the glamorisation of pirates, treasure maps, buried treasure and X marks the spot.
Advances in technology resulted in a couple more finds far more recently, especially in the field of diving. In 1985, Mel Fisher recovered $450m of gold and silver from the 1622 Spanish ship, Nuestra Senora de Atocha. The discovery, consisting of pieces of eight, emeralds (the source of the emerald city) and jewellery is more commonly known as the Atocha Motherload. Over two decades after the death of Fisher, they are still recovering articles from the site – so far they’ve got less than half of the recorded payload.
In the very recent history, Dave Crisp using a metal detector uncovered a hoard of 52,000 Roman coins in Frome, Somerset. He has been hunting for over 24 years without great success and in one week discovered two.
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