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Whether it's Indiana Jones, National Treasure, or the latest Dan Brown novel, popular culture has fallen in love with the idea of finding long-lost treasure, preferably in some elaborate underground vault forgotten by the passage of time. The hero typically has to find clues and solve puzzles in order to find out where the treasure is, or to open the hidden vault it's contained within.

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Of course, those are just movies, but I'm wondering: are there some real-life examples of long-lost treasure being found? Are there any cases where the discoverer had to solve a series of puzzles or riddles in order to find or access the treasure?

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Not sure about puzzles but I believe most of the Egyptian Royal tombs tended to be trapped. Not that it stopped many of the grave robbers though. – MichaelF Nov 30 '11 at 2:12
Yes, the real-life grail quest! – New Alexandria Nov 18 '12 at 6:05
up vote 16 down vote accepted

There are also plenty of finds of sunken ship treasures:

  • U.S. explorers find a shipwreck that may hold $240 million in silver from SS Gairsoppa

  • In Baltic Sea, they recovered 160+ bottles of 200-year-old Champagne.

  • Nuestra Señora de Atocha in 1985 ($450 million)

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The dead sea scrolls is certainly one.

Foreign devils on the skilk road by Hopkirk is full for cities buried in the sand, guarded by demons and undead containing long lost treasures and magic. Seriously, it reads like a bad D&D adventure set in Victorian times. But it's all true.

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How do the Dead Sea scrolls count as a treasure? In the sense of having high material value, I mean? – Felix Goldberg Jan 10 '13 at 2:17

There are plenty of examples of long-lost treasures being found, a viking silver hoard pops up in average once a year in Gotland, for example. I don't think there are any cases of anyone actually actively seeking one specific buried treasure finding the intended treasure, and definitely not involving any elaborate series of riddles, maps or traps. Who would be stupid enough to leave a trail when you hide a treasure? You know where it is. Lost treasures are instead generally found by pure luck, or by archaeological examinations of interesting features.

There are however several cases of people looking for sunken ships with large treasures on them, and finding those shipwrecks. No riddles or traps involved though, but lengthy searches. The biggest of the treasures is probably the Nuestra Señora de Atocha, found in 1985 after 16 years of searching.

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