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What could be nicer than going on a treasure hunt? Read about a treasure hunt from the safety of your own home. You won’t get rich, but you will get a lot less dirt in your shoes. Perhaps that is why books like The Curse of Oak Island, about a bottomless pit in Nova Scotia that supposedly contains unspecified treasure, are so popular. So if you want more books like this, you’ve come to the right place!
How is it that a treasure is “lost” at all? As these books show, it’s not just about buried chests or strange holes in the ground. Most lost treasures were victims of the elements – perhaps an untimely storm, or the inevitable ravages of time – or the whims of greedy people who believed they had the right to take what they wanted from others. In the latter case, a “lost” treasure cannot be completely lost, but is only inaccessible to the rightful owner.
Let’s take a minute to examine what we mean by “treasure” as we define terms. Sometimes treasure is as simple as a pile of money, and sometimes it is rare items or works of art. If you are a history buff, the real treasure is the knowledge you gained along the way. Whatever it looks like, a treasure hunt can only begin if the treasure is valuable – or is believed to be valuable – to many people. You can think of your stuffed animal collection as treasure (and you are absolutely right), but if it’s not filled with gold or the pages of Blackbeard’s journal, no one is going to bother drawing a map of your house in the Declaration of Independence.
Now that we’ve got the pedantry out of the way, here are some exciting books like The Curse of Oak Island. Each one tells the story of a lost treasure and how (or if!) It was found. As a bonus / to provide better context on how treasure can be “lost”, I have also included books on the role of museums in helping looters and treasure hunters, as well as books by men who lost their lives in search of lost or lost Dedicated items left behind by others. (And I mean men: most treasure hunt books appear to be by the white guys. This is especially unfortunate as a lot of lost treasures have not been stolen from white peoples.) It’s like an extra piece of treasure buried right in this article. Go ahead and dig in!
Treasure hunt books like the Curse of Oak Island
A World Under the Sand: The Golden Age of Egyptology by Toby Wilkinson
The discovery of King Tut’s tomb in 1922 marked a turning point for the treasure hunt. But this amazing discovery didn’t come overnight or out of the blue: it was the culmination of over a century of European obsession and looting. A world beneath the sand tells of its most remarkable expeditions and finds / robberies.
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The expedition of Pedro de Ursúa and Lope de Aguirre in search of El Dorado and Omagua 1560-1 by Pedro Simón (translated by William Bollaert)
El Dorado, the famous (and nonexistent – sorry!) Gold city that is supposedly hidden in the South American jungle, has fascinated treasure hunters for centuries. This early report by the historian Pedro Simón follows two Spanish conquerors on their journey to Peru and fails spectacularly on their gold prospecting mission.
Pirate hunter: treasure, obsession and the search for a legendary pirate ship from Robert Kurson
Pirate booty is probably the first thing you think of when you hear the phrase “lost treasure”. Despite the golden age of piracy, which lasts a maximum of eighty years (or even just ten years), pirates continue to play an oversized role in pop culture. Pirate hunters tell the story of two men who risk everything to reconstruct the life of an obscure pirate and to locate his sunken ship.
The Tsarina’s lost treasure: Catherine the Great, a masterpiece of the Golden Age and a legendary shipwreck by Gerald Easter and Mara Vorhees
Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia, loved art. Hey who can blame her Art is neat. But when a ship with its latest achievements went down in the Baltic Sea, the priceless paintings on board were forever lost. The Tsarina’s Lost Treasure tells the story of this work of art as well as the efforts to recover it.
Gold ship in the deep blue sea: The story and discovery of the richest shipwreck in the world by Gary Kinder
When the SS Central America went under in 1857, it wore roughly All Of The Gold. His location could still be lost if a really determined man from Ohio doesn’t try. Originally published in 1998, a new edition of Ship of Gold will be released in the deep blue sea in July 2021.
The Victorio Peak Mystery: A Quest for America’s Largest Lost Treasure Cache by WC Jameson
The mountains of New Mexico are said to be home to one of the greatest treasures known to man. Think Scrooge McDuck’s vault, but in a cave. The man who claimed to have found it was later murdered, and the U.S. Army may or may not have escaped with it decades ago. Where did this treasure come from and what really happened to it? Nobody knows, but learning its bizarre story is reward enough (although the money would be cool too).
In pursuit of the thrill: Obsession, death and fame in America’s Most Extraordinary Treasure Hunt by Daniel Barbarisi
The hunt for Forrest Fenn’s Rocky Mountain treasure apparently ended in June 2020. However, there is still much to be said about the reasons wealthy (and most likely unscrupulous) art dealer Fenn started the hunt and why people are so completely out of our senses say goodbye to the slightest chance to find treasure.
Books about museums and lost treasures
The Medici Conspiracy: The Illicit Journey of Looted Antiquities from Italy’s Tomb Raiders to the World’s Greatest Museums by Peter Watson and Cecilia Todeschini
How do museums acquire the artifacts in their exhibits? Too often the answer is “not legal”. The journalist Peter Watson first investigated the case of antique Italian vases found in a smuggler’s swimming pool. He ended up tracking down countless stolen treasures in some of the most prestigious museums in Europe and America.
Priamos Gold: Schliemann and the lost treasures of Troy by Caroline Moorehead
Heinrich Schliemann made a name for himself by claiming to have discovered Homer’s Troy (known as the “Trojan Horse”). Whether he actually did that is up for debate. What is out of the question is the fact that he stole a few things straight from the construction site, which is now in the hands of Moscow’s Pushkin Museum. And they don’t share.
Museum Decolonization: Native American Representation in National and Tribal Museums by Amy Lonetree
Traditionally, museums have disregarded indigenous cultures and opinions, taken the desired artifacts, and depicted Indians in harmful ways. Decolonizing Museums explores how this has changed in recent years, as museums begin to survey indigenous communities about their exhibits, and indigenous groups open their own museums.
The Brutal Museums: The Benin Bronzes, Colonial Violence and Cultural Reparation by Dan Hicks
British colonial rule over Nigeria ended in 1960, but the British Museum still claims ownership of countless treasures stolen from there and other former colonies. These treasures include hundreds of the Benin bronzes, an extensive collection of metal sculptures and reliefs. Museum curator Hicks explains how British colonialists took the sculptures, how Britain continues to benefit from the thefts, and how the damage they caused will never heal until they return what their ancestors took.
Lost Lives, Lost Art: Jewish collectors, Nazi art theft and the search for justice by Melissa Müller and Monika Tatzkow
It is impossible to talk about lost treasure without mentioning the terrible, irreparable damage that the Third Reich did. This book tells the stories of fifteen Jewish art collectors whose works were stolen by the Nazis. Some were killed in concentration camps, others were able to find their paintings, and still others remain trapped in battles with museums and collectors who believe the art is theirs.
Books about treasure hunts
Finders Keepers: A Story of Archaeological Looting and Obsession by Craig Childs
Is the treasure hunt legal? More importantly, is it ethical? What would (and should) you do if you find lost treasure? Through interviews and personal stories, Finders Keepers reveals the complex, morally charged decisions archaeologists and treasure hunters make every day, and why “doing the right thing” isn’t as easy as Harrison Ford makes it look.
Priceless: How I Go Undercover to Save the Stolen Treasures of the World by Robert K. Wittman with John Shiffman
Wittman had the job we all want: traveling the world recovering all kinds of lost treasure, from stolen paintings to strands of hair from an American president. In Priceless he tells his most daring, exciting and amusing adventures.
The Shipwreck Hunter: A lifetime of extraordinary discoveries on the seabed by David L. Mearns
If you’re like me, you grew up thinking that the Titanic – both the story of its loss and its eventual rediscovery – was the coolest thing ever. Needless to say, such discoveries involve a great deal of risk and effort. A marine geologist who made his career looking for shipwrecks, Mearns takes readers behind the scenes and under the seas to show us landlubbers what it really is like.
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