Treasure hunting: we’ve all thought about dropping everything and pursuing it full time. For me, it was mostly during my Indiana Jones fantasies as a kid. (He was an archaeologist, I know, but I think he managed both.)
It’s wonderful to know that bits of the ancient past are still out there, buried underground or tucked behind unbroken walls. They are still finding rooms in Tutankhamun’s tomb—and presumably going inside even though it means death by shaving.
I don’t run through the forest playing Indiana Jones anymore (well, rarely). But once a year or so, the story of a new treasure-hunting find gets my brain spinning again.
The most recent was this wonderful Roman shipwreck full of bronze statues and sculptures. Being an ancient Rome/Greece geek, I got to have my treasure hunting thrill AND my history thrill all in one. As much thrill as you can get reading an article from a coffee shop, that is.
Treasure hunting falls into that category of fantasy occupations that are vastly more fun in one’s head than in reality. Also in this category: spy, Olympian, and ice-cream taster.
Professional hunters spend 99% of their time finding nothing, 1% finding something, and everything after in courts trying to keep it.
The best stories come from amateur hunters. An unassuming person takes their metal detector out into a field, searches in their spare time, and has a very good day.
My favorite is the Staffordshire Hoard, discovered in an English field in 2009 by an amateur treasure hunter. It yielded over 3,500 pieces of Anglo-Saxon implements of war, including more gold and silver than any other find in Europe.
The UK has quite nice laws governing this. Whoever takes ownership of the discovery must pay the market price to the finder and landowner in equal parts.
I also like that no one involved with the Staffordshire discovery had to get wet or breath air through a tube. I’m not a strong swimmer.
The idea of buried treasure—particularly Dark Ages and earlier—fits a primal need of mine: to know that there are still wonders out there to be found.
Wanna know what kind of kid I was? I can actually remember being stressed out—at the age of 10—by the realization that there were no new places left to explore.
The stories I wrote back then usually involved Amazon exploration that ended in death by giant snake, so I’m not sure what I thought the payoff would be.
We still have outer space to explore, but that is faaaaar off in the future, and robots will be the only ones traveling. Humans don’t even go to the moon anymore.
We have the bottom of the ocean, but those deep-water submersibles look claustrophobic.
My own adult world exploration goes something like this:
Walker tries to navigate without google maps, ends up driving through an adjacent neighborhood he’s never been in. Spots a restaurant.
“What? There’s a restaurant over here? I never knew that. Neat.”
As a North American continent-dweller, ancient tombs are not on my menu. But I like knowing that I could fly to the Old Country with a metal detector and have a chance of discovering the distant past.
I need to hurry. Robots are already in on the treasure-hunting game. Meet Ocean One from the Stanford Robotics Lab, here to snatch that golden dagger right out of your soft biological hands.
Did they really have to make it look human? Sigh.
All drawbacks noted, I’m still willing to try my hand at professional treasure hunting. I just need a $75 million up-front investment to get the boat, equipment, diving lessons, crew, and a team of lawyers. You can PayPal me the amount now.
If I don’t have the full $75 million by the end of next week, I’ll consider making a Kickstarter. But I’d rather not—those require rewards for contributors. A gold doubloon at the $500k level, a priceless Greek sculpture at the $1,000,000 level.
I’d much rather keep it all to myself.
Who’s with me?