X Marks the Spot: Hidden Treasures Found in the Middle of the Desert

When I think about the desert, hidden treasure isn’t the first thing that pops into my imagination. The words that come to mind are hot, dry, sandy, and barren. It’s where people go when they want to take a break and get away from everything. Those who manage to make it through a hot desert journey usually come back hungry, thirsty, tired, and sunburned.

5,655-Carat 'Lion Emerald' Unearthed in Africa
This 2.5 pound (1.1 kilograms) “lion emerald” is one of the single largest crystals ever unearthed in Africa’s Kagem mine — the most productive emerald mine in the world. Source: livescience.com

But that’s not always the case. For some folks, exploring the drylands brings valuable surprises. These lucky few have found some expensive items in the desert that certainly made their sweaty travels worth it. That’s right; you don’t have to be a pirate to find a hidden treasure! Check out some of the rarest findings in history that were discovered beneath the desert sands.

Get ready, were going on a treasure hunt!

Prada Marfa ($120,000):

The Prada Marfa is a permanent sculptural art installation designed by artists Elmgreen and Dragset. They described their work as a “pop architectural land art project.” It’s located just one mile from Valentine, Texas, in the form of a freestanding building. It was inaugurated in 2005 and looks like a Prada storefront.

Beyonce jumping up in front of the Prada store in the desert
Source: iam.beyonce.com

If you are ever in Texas, you should definitely, stop by. This Prada looking masterpiece will make you feel fancy in the middle of an island. Even though it is inaccessible, the lone store is fully stocked with high-end Prada clothes, shoes, and purses. Even Beyoncé took a visit!

Winchester Model 1873 ($15,000):

A Winchester Model 1873 is part of a series of lever-action repeating rifles that were manufactured by the Winchester Repeating Arms Company. Winchester rifles were modeled after the 1860 Henry rifle. The 1873 Winchester rifle was extremely successful and has been called “The Gun That Won the West.”

Eva Jensen holds the 1882 Winchester rifle
park archaeologist Eva Jensen holds the 1882 Winchester rifle she found leaning against a trip in Great Basin National Park in 2014 near Baker, Nev. Source: thegardenisland.com

The rifle was found resting against a tree over a century ago, in Nevada’s Great Basin National Park. These days, the historical rifle is worth thousands! An astronomical amount, higher than the 35-50 bucks it was worth back in the 19th century.

The James Ossuary ($50,000):

The James Ossuary is a 1st-century limestone box that was used to hold the bones of the dead. On one side of the box, there is an Aramaic inscription cut out in Hebrew letters, which means “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus.” This obviously led historians to assume that the box contains his bones.

James Ossuary Viewing, Toronto, 2002.
James Ossuary Viewing, Toronto, 2002. Source: jamestabor.com

Due to its association with the Christian Holy family, the box received scholarly attention. Although the Ossuary is authentic to the time period, there is speculation that the actual inscription is a possible modern forgery. The religious artifact was found in a cave in Jerusalem. The shockingly low price is because its authenticity was never verified.

The Atari Landfill ($108,000):

The Atari Landfill is an interesting one. In response to the video game crash in 1983, the Atari gaming and computer company decided to bury all their unsold games in the New Mexico Desert. From 1983 to 2014, it was rumored that the company buried unsold copies of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, which was an epic video game fail and was dubbed “one of the worst video games ever released.”

Landfill excavation unearths years of crushed Atari treasure
Source: arstechnica.com

The whole burial was dismissed as a legend for a long time. But when it was finally discovered in 2014, it reminded the world of the North American video game crash of 1983. It was speculated that millions of copies of E.T. were buried there, but it was later confirmed that it was just 700,000.

Libyan Glass ($110,000):

Libyan Desert Glass (also known as Great Sand Sea glass) is an impactite made mostly from Lechatelierite. It was discovered in the eastern Sahara in the deserts of eastern Libya and western Egypt. This incredible artifact is made entirely out of lightning strikes, volcanic activity, and meteor impacts.

Mysterious Glass Found in Egypt's Western Desert
Libyan glass. Source: cairoscene.com

Libyan glass can only be found in the deserts of Libya and is considered one of the rarest minerals on the planet. Look how cool it looks. Interestingly enough, the origin of desert glass is unclear; some of the glass is estimated to have been formed 29 million years ago!

Ptolemaic Coin ($10,000):

In 2010, Ptolemaic Coinage was found in Israel, and researchers dubbed it as the most valuable item that has ever been discovered. The Ptolemaic coins weigh about 14.2 grams- an amount that is known as Ptolemaic weight. However, Ptolemaic coins are actually smaller than other Hellenistic coinage. Coinage was introduced to Egypt by the Ptolemaic dynasty, whereas pre-existing native dynasties made very little use of coins.

Ptolemaic Coin
Source: csmonitor.com

From the artistic side, the coins were made from silver and were based on Greek currencies with dynastic or royal individuals typically portrayed. During its circulation, the 2,200 year-old coin is thought to have been worth half a year’s salary!

The Gibeon Meteorite ($383,806):

Gibeon is a meteorite that fell in Namibia in prehistoric times and was named after the closest town: Gibeon. After striking Earth, it formed fragments that were useful back then. The meteorite was initially discovered by the Nama people, who used it to make weapons and other tools.

The Gibeon Meteorite
Source: namibiaselfdrive.com

English captain, J.E. Alexander, gathered samples of the meteorite from the vicinity of the Fish River in 1836 and sent them to London. They were analyzed by John Herschel, who confirmed the extraterrestrial nature of its components. The fragments were collected, and they weighed between 195 and 509 kilograms (430 and 1,116 pounds) when they were first displayed at Zoo Park.

Death Valley Mother Lode ($500,000):

A couple of archaeologists discovered a large wooden chest in California’s Death Valley, in true treasure hunting fashion. Although it was an unburied chest, it contained a treasure trove from the West’s golden past. According to Jerry Freeman, the archeologist who found the chest revealed that it contained 149-year-old artifacts belonging to a party of 49ers headed to the California Gold Rush.

Chest Discovered in Death Valley
Source: sfgate.com

Inside the fascinating chest was a mother lode from the past: 80 coins (with a total face value of $50), baby shoes (perfectly preserved), a hymnal, a pistol, pottery bowls, and a letter from a lost pioneer named William Robinson. The gold mine pioneer died a few weeks later, trying to find his way out of Death Valley.

The Fire of Australia ($675,000):

This stunning opal is considered one of Australia’s greatest treasures. The shimmering stone is absolutely beautiful and was discovered in southern Australia in 1946 in the small desert town of Coober Pedy. Walter Bartram mined the 998-gram uncut gem, and it weighs a little bit less than 5,000 carats, and it’s about the size of two cricket balls.

opal found in Coober Pedy
Source: onestopadventures.com.au

Since it was discovered in 1946, the opal has remained in the Bartram family up until 2017. At that point, it was sold to the South Australian Museum. Despite its estimated market value of $900,000, the gem was ultimately sold for $500,000 to ensure that it remains uncut.

The Ten Commandments Film Set ($1 million):

Iconic film-maker Cecil B. DeMille created a legendary dreamscape on California’s Central Coast for the silent black-and-white film The Ten Commandments. Well, shortly after production wrapped, the 1923 movie was destroyed and hidden- as the director wished.

The Ten Commandments Film Set
Source: livescience.com

Left buried beneath the shifting sands of Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes is a story of biblical proportions in the form of a silent film. But in 2014, archeologists dug up a huge plaster sphinx head out of the Santa Barbara sand, which led to a recovery effort to excavate the “lost” city completely. Twenty more sphinxes were discovered. The second one to be found reportedly weighs 300 pounds!

Ferrari Enzo ($1.1 million):

Cars have always been fascinating to mankind. They have become way more than just a mode of transportation. Sure, they were originally designed to take you from point A to point B, but nowadays, folks pay attention to the speed, engine, and comfort of a smooth ride. Naturally, that comes at a high cost.

Ferrari Enzo found in Dubai
Ferrari Enzo was found in Dubai. Source: forthecars.com

That’s why it’s shocking to see this expensive Ferrari Enzo abandoned in the middle of the desert. People pay so much money for fancy sports cars, especially this model. It is unclear how exactly it got there, but locals believe the owner of the car was running away from the law. Sounds like a possible explanation.

The Boot of Cortez ($1.5 million):

In 1989, this gold nugget was discovered by a guy using a cheap metal detector he bought at RadioShack. It looks like that medal detector ended up being money well spent. The “Boot of Cortez” is 389.4 troy ounces and is the largest surviving gold nugget that has ever been found in the Western Hemisphere.

The Boot of Cortez
Source: treasurenet.com

We have all heard the chronicles: A rich deposit of gold or silver is found, only to be lost through tragedy, betrayal, or political disorder. Each story is different, yet basically the same. The “Boot of Cortez” saga keeps up with the mode of the tales of discovery and loss. Except this one is true!

The Death Mask of Tutankhamun ($2 million):

The mask of Tutankhamun is a golden funerary mask that belonged to the ruler of the 18th dynasty of ancient Egypt, Pharaoh Tutankhamun, who reigned from 1332-1323 BC. The story of King Tut is legendary, and so are the treasures he left behind. The mask is one of the most famous things that was discovered in his tomb.

The Tutankhamun Exhibition at the British Museum, London, Britain
The Tutankhamun Exhibition at the British Museum, London, Britain. Photo By Evening News /Shutterstock

“The mask is not only the quintessential image from Tutankhamun’s tomb, but it is also perhaps the best-known object from ancient Egypt itself,” revealed Egyptologist Nicholas Reeves. Just his mask and sarcophagus alone are more valuable than any other archeological discovery in history. Interestingly, research suggests that the mask was originally intended for Queen Neferneferuaten Nefertiti.

Peg Leg’s Black Gold ($3 million):

Back in 1965, an anonymous prospector claimed that he had discovered Peg Smith’s hidden stash of black gold. Thomas Long Smith, better known as Peg Leg Smith, was a mountain man who got lost in a sandstorm and climbed up on a hill on his wooden leg to collect his bearings. He claimed that he found walnut-sized rocks that he later found out contained gold, silver, and manganese.

Peg Leg’s Black Gold
Source: treasurenet.com

As the legend goes, Peg Leg was chased away by Indians and never found his lost gold. Some thought there was buried treasure out there, but others wrote it off as a myth. As it turned out, what the prospector found is worth about $3 million today! It inspired numerous treasure hunters to search for Peg Leg’s lost mine.

The Bom Jesus ($13 million):

In an interesting turn of events, a crew of De Beers miners accidentally found an even grander treasure at the bottom of a dried lagoon: a 500-year-old sunken ship. The Bom Jesus was a ship that set sail back in 1533, but it took until 2008 to discover its fate. This discovery was of the oldest and most valuable shipwrecks ever discovered on the coast of sub-Saharan Africa.

The Bom Jesus Gold
Source: CNN

The miners were simply looking for diamonds when they inadvertently discovered something even more precious. The ship used to belong to the King of Portugal and was filled with gold, ivory tusks, tin, and almost 44,000 pounds of copper ingots.

Shell Documents ($60 million+):

In 1992, after a pipeline oil spill in Midland, Texas, the Shell company sold off the rights to that pipeline before secretly burying the proof in a desert nearby. When these documents were recovered, a lot was revealed. Included in the discovery was a “CONFIDENTIAL” 1988 document titled “The Greenhouse effect.”

Shell Documents
Source: yalalla.com

That specific document detailed Shell’s extensive knowledge of the impact and implications of climate change. It also revealed an internal Shell climate science program which began in 1981, way before the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was even founded. Once these documents came to light, Shell was required to pay some hefty litigation costs.

Delta Treasure ($100 million+):

A man named Scott Taylor claimed to have discovered an immense fortune but refused to reveal its location to the US government. Apparently, Taylor found gold and antique guns worth millions of dollars in a desert cave. But his family claimed that he is sick and tired of dealing with the federal government and would rather leave the riches there.

Delta Treasure
Source: Pinterest

Therefore, he never cashed in on the treasures he found, which included 280 gold bricks, two Civil War-era rifles, a six-shooter, and a load of dynamite. Reportedly, he was hiking in Utah on public land when he stumbled across this lost fortune. Since he is the only one who has seen it, nothing can be verified until he shares the exact location with someone.

Chinese Aluminum Hoard ($2 billion):

After hearing about a tremendous aluminum stash, a US aluminum executive named Jeff Henderson charted a plane over the Mexican desert. This guy was either extremely clever or extremely lucky. After following his intuition, he discovered about 6% of the planet’s aluminum supply. To put this into perspective, that’s enough to make 77 billion cans of beer!

An aluminum stockpile
Source: dailymail.co.uk

Naturally, this revelation led to tensions between US trade authorities and China. The US industry maintains that the metal got there as part of a scheme to avoid trade restrictions and is associated with Liu Zhongtian, who runs China Zhongwang Holdings. Liu denied these allegations, but an investigation has cast doubt on his claims.

Iraqi Fighter Jets ($300 million+):

American troops discovered 30 Iraqi fighter jets buried in the sand during a search for weapons of mass destruction in the Iraqi desert. After American forces found the Jets, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld gave a statement: “We heard a great many things had been buried, but we had not known they were, and we’d been operating in that immediate vicinity for weeks and weeks and weeks… 12, 13 weeks, and I didn’t know they were there.”

Iraqi fighter jets buried in the sand
Source: wearethemighty.com

He explained that there is no way to know until someone tells you where to look “because you don’t run around digging into everything on a discovery process.” But he added, “the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.”

The Copper Scroll (Priceless):

The Copper Scroll is one of the Dead Sea Scrolls, which is rumored to be a treasure map to riches. It contains 65 tons of silver and 26 tons of gold hidden away by the Essenes during the Roman conquest of Jerusalem.

The Copper Scroll
Source: Wikimedia.org

The Copper Scroll was discovered in Cave 3 by Khirbet Qumran, but it’s significantly different from the other Dead Sea Scrolls. All the other scrolls were written on parchment or papyrus, while this one was written on metal: copper combined with 1% tin. Also, unlike the other scrolls, this was not a literary work but a list of 64 different locations where gold and silver are hidden. Who doesn’t love a good treasure hunt?

A Fully Functional Swimming Pool:

In 2014, artist Alfredo Barsuglia revealed that he installed an eleven by five feet wide pool in the middle of the Mojave Desert. This incredible swimming pool is fully functional and perfect for anyone wandering in the hot desert sun. But there is another reason. The little pool hidden in the desert is called the Social Pool and there for an extended experiment until some jerks destroyed it.

Swimming Pool in the Mojave Desert
Source: getamericas.com

The artist wanted to see the lengths people would go to for luxury, and if they would respect it. The artist explained, “I don’t think that someone takes the effort to visit the pool to destroy it. Yes, I trust the participants but as I mentioned before if someone comes to destroy the work, it’s sad but part of the project- of letting the project develop by itself without my or anybody’s influence.”

800-Pound Emerald ($309 million):

On a beautiful summer day in 2017, a 50-year-old father, identified as FG, made an astonishing discovery. He was working 656 feet underground in a Brazilian mine when he came across a startling discovery that would change his life forever: A stunning emerald weighing almost 800 pounds!

Emerald Weighing More Than 800 Pounds
Source: geologyin.com

It was exactly 794 pounds if you want to get technical. This fascinating emerald specimen is 4.3 feet tall and is worth an estimated $309 million! It was found in an area in Brazil famous for producing magnificent gems. FG owns the stone and chose not to reveal his identity to protect him and his family.

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