These 12 Real Life Treasures Yet to be Found Will Surprise You
These 12 Real Life Treasures Yet to be Found Will Surprise You

These 12 Real Life Treasures Yet to be Found Will Surprise You

D.G. Hewitt - March 8, 2018

These 12 Real Life Treasures Yet to be Found Will Surprise You
In 2014, historians found this Masamune sword. But where is the Honjo blade? Japan Today.

The Honjo Masamune

Masamune is widely regarded as Japan’s finest ever swordsmith. Between the late-thirteenth and early-fourteenth century, his workshop, located in the Sagami Province, crafted countless weapons for discerning samurai. None, however, quite matched the Honjo, believed to be one of the finest swords ever crafted, not just in Japan, but anywhere in the world. Quite how remarkable a weapon it is, however, is hard to tell, since it’s been missing for more than half a century.

Due to a lack of historical records, it’s not known who the sword was originally made for. What is known, however, is that one of the first men to wield it was a samurai warrior called Honjo Shigenaga, for whom the weapon is named. But, according to legend, he wasn’t the first. Indeed, the story goes that Honjo was engaged in battle and at the mercy of another warrior. His enemy hit dealt him a normally-fatal blow to the head, slicing his helmet clean in two. Miraculously, Honjo survived, got back up and killed his foe, taking his weapon for himself.

Over the centuries, the Honjo passed through many hands. Sometimes it was taken as a spoil of war, at other times it was simply sold by warriors needing some short-term money. Eventually, it became a prized possession of the Tokugawa Shogunate, who ruled over Japan for 250 years. Even after their rule came to an end, the sword continued to be passed down through the generations, the weapon’s reputation growing all the time. By the twentieth century, the Honjo had come to be seen as a symbol of the nation’s past greatness and it was declared a Japanese National Treasure in 1939.

This status didn’t save the sword from being taken from the country. With the end of the Second World War, the victorious American forces declared that all Japanese families surrender their weapons, including historic samurai swords. The Tokugawa family duly complied with the decree, perhaps hopeful that the unique and priceless nature of the Honjo would be recognized and respected. The sword, however, was simply taken and lost for good.

Researchers believe that the Honjo was taken as a souvenir by an American soldier, unaware of what treasure he was taking home with him. To complicate matters, Masamune was one of the few master swordsmiths who refused to put his signature on the hilt of his weapons. As such, the Honjo Masamune could be lying in an attic somewhere in the United States. Should it be found and identified, it will become just one of a handful of his weapons to be known today. What’s more, it will be worth a small fortune, though whether the money would go to the Tokugawa family or the family of the American solider who took it out of Japan is another matter.

These 12 Real Life Treasures Yet to be Found Will Surprise You
The Amber room has been recreated but the original is still missing. Wikimedia Commons.

The Amber Room

It’s got everything a good missing treasure tale should have: royalty, rumor and conspiracy, Nazis and untold riches. What’s more, the case of the Amber Room is no legend. There really was an entire room decked out floor-to-ceiling in amber, gold and precious stones, it really did belong to the rulers of both Germany and Russia, and it really was lost to time during the Second World War. Quite simply, it’s one of the greatest stories ever told, and one many believe will have a happy ending one day. But first, let’s start at the beginning…

In 1701, King Frederick I of Prussia commissioned two of the greatest craftsmen of their generation to build a new room for his Charlottenburg Palace. The German sculptor Andreas Schluter, along with the Danish amber artisan Gottfried Wolfram, conceived an entire room decorated with lavish panels. Once installed, these panels would give the impression of being inside an amber shell, amazing any visitors and emphasizing the wealth – and the good taste – of the Prussian king. The whole work took eight years to complete, with the Amber Room finally open in 1709.

King Frederick’s successor, his son William I, however, placed greater store on international relations than on art or luxury. As such, when he wanted to make a peace offering to Peter the Great of Russia, the Amber Room seemed ideal. So, in 1716, the whole room was disassembled and transported all the way to the Winter Palace in St Petersburg. There it stayed for 40 years, until, in 1755, Catherine the Great decided she wanted it moved to her own official residence, the Catherine Palace. There, under the acclaimed Italian architect Bartolomeo Francesco Rastrelli, it was expanded, ultimately covering 180 square feet.

In 1941, with Nazi Germany at the gates of the city, Stalin ordered the Amber Room to be protected at all costs. Deemed too delicate to move, the Soviets tried to fool the enemy by covering the ornate panels with simple wallpaper. The ruse was uncovered and the enemy took the room apart and moved the panels back to Germany. Under the expert eye of Alfred Rodhe, the room was re-assembled in Koninsberg Castle, though what happened next is a mystery.

According to some historians, the Amber Room was destroyed by Allied bombing. Others, however, are convinced it survived. Could it be that Rodhe put the panels on a train or a boat that was then either lost in a cave or sunk? Clues to the fate of the treasure are few and far between, though in 1997, a fraction of a mosaic from the original room did turn up. Until the full masterpiece is discovered, a full-scale replica can be seen in St Petersburg.

These 12 Real Life Treasures Yet to be Found Will Surprise You
Could these Polish tunnels be hiding a train full of Nazi gold? CSMonitor.com

Nazi Gold Train

In 2015, representatives of the world’s media flocked to a small, unassuming town in south-west Poland. The reason? A pair of amateur treasure hunters announced that they were on the verge of finding the so-called Nazi Gold Train, a locomotive laden with treasure that was hidden in the closing stages of the Second World War, never to be seen again. However, despite making use of the latest radar technology, the intrepid duo went home empty handed. The Nazi Gold Train – if indeed it exists – is still out there, waiting to be found.

The idea that the Nazi would hide looted valuables in remote caves is far from fanciful. In fact, it was common practice. As they pillaged their way through Europe, many top officials of the Nazi regime looked for secret but secure locations to stash away treasures ranging from gold bullion to precious artworks. In most cases, they hoped they would be able to return to retrieve their loot once the war was over. So it’s no surprise that stories of an entire train filled with treasure being hidden in a network of secret tunnels in Poland’s Owl Mountains, emerged after the war and have failed to go away.

According to the legend, in 1945, when it was apparent to all that Nazi Germany was going to lose the war, a group of soldiers in Poland decided to hide their gold and other treasures, to keep their loot safe from the advancing Soviet forces. The train left the city of Breslau (now modern-day Wroclaw) and driven into the elaborate system of tunnels that had been dug into the mountains as part of a top-secret wartime plan. Whether the so-called Project Riese (or Project Giant) was aimed at building a new underground headquarters for Adolf Hitler or even a huge underground armaments factory, is not known. However, a large section of the tunnels were indeed completed, and it’s here that treasure hunters believe the train and its valuable cargo were taken.

Unsurprisingly, the victorious Soviet Army, upon learning of the story, set to work trying to find the train. However, despite numerous searches of the Owl Mountains, they never even came close. Neither have the treasure hunters who came after them, which leads us to the ill-fated 2015 attempt, which left its leaders looking foolish with the whole world watching. That most recent treasure hunt only helped support the argument, put forward by some academics and other local historians, that the train never existed in the first place. However, the legend refuses to die down, much to the delight of the small towns and villages situated alongside the mountains as tourists and amateur sleuths continue to head there hoping to strike gold.

These 12 Real Life Treasures Yet to be Found Will Surprise You
Some of the biggest jewels from the Patiala Necklace are still missing. Indian Television.

The Patiala Necklace

The House of Cartier is synonymous with ostentatious, though tasteful, displays of wealth. So it’s no surprise that when they set about making a necklace for Bhupinder Singh of Patiala in 1928, they spared no expense. As the ruling Maharaja of the state of Patiala, India, Singh was used to the finer things in life, so making a piece of jewelry that would be the centerpiece of his collection was no easy feat. Nevertheless, the House of Cartier did it, and the Patiala Necklace was soon regarded as one of the most exquisite pieces ever made.

In all, the necklace contained an incredible 2,930 diamonds. But that’s not all. Its centerpiece was the De Beers Diamond, the seventh largest in the world, with a pre-cut weight of 428 carats. That in itself was worth a small fortune. Alongside this huge stone, the necklace was adorned with seven other large diamonds and several Burmese rubies, again all worth huge sums of money.

As is customary, Bhupinder Singh passed the necklace onto his son, Maharaja Yadavindra Singh, who was last seen wearing it in 1948. Then, it simply vanished. It’s possible the family knew what happened to it but preferred to stay silent. Indeed, it could well be that the family fell on hard times and needed money so desperately that they decided to break the necklace apart and sell off its individual jewels on the international market. However, nobody knows for certain what led it to vanish from the Patiala royal treasury in April of 1948.

In a strange twist, the De Beers diamond reappeared some years later. It turned up at a Sotheby’s Auction in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1982. Despite the strange circumstances surrounding the stone and its sudden re-discovery, it was sold for $3.16 million, a significant sum at the time but only a fraction of what it’s likely to fetch today. But that’s not all. In 1998, a representative of the House of Cartier unexpectedly came across the remains of the Patiala Necklace in a London antiques shop. Surely the story of lost treasure was over? Not quite.

Cartier may well have been able to reconstruct the necklace, complete with a replica of the De Beers Diamond, but many of the original jewels remain missing. In fact, all seven of the other large diamonds, the biggest 73 carats, are unaccounted for, as are the striking Burmese rubies. Could it be that they too are waiting to be discovered in an obscure antique shop, laying the mystery of one of India’s greatest treasures to rest once and for all? Only time will tell.

These 12 Real Life Treasures Yet to be Found Will Surprise You
The Menorah was taken from Jerusalem to Rome. But where is it now? Wikipedia.org.

The Menorah of the Second Temple

While some missing treasures are often described with reference to the many millions of pounds they would be worth if they were found today, there are some you simply can’t put a price on. This is surely true for the Menorah of the Second Temple, a religious artifact that has been missing for centuries. A lack of historical evidence or even clues as to its whereabouts hasn’t stopped the ultimate fate of the Menorah being the subject of countless theories, some significantly more plausible than others.

In the Bible, the Menorah is described as a candelabra with seven arms. While it may originally have had a practical purpose, with olive oil burned on each of its lights to illuminate the Second Temple in Jerusalem, it has long since had a huge symbolic value for the Jewish people. Indeed, the Menorah had served as a symbol of Judaism itself for centuries and these days appears on the coat of arms of Israel. Its potency is only made greater by the fact that it hasn’t been seen for more than 1,000 years, the ultimate lost treasure of an entire people.

The Book of Maccabees in the Old Testament describes how a second Menorah was crafted after the First Temple of Jerusalem was attacked and its treasures pillaged. This replacement didn’t last long, however. In 70AD, with the Roman conquest of Jerusalem, the Menorah was taken to Rome and, according to the writings of Josephus, displayed triumphantly by the returning generals. The records also show that it was then placed in the Temple of Peace, an ancient Roman temple whose construction was funded entirely by the spoils of campaign against Jerusalem, and there it remained for several centuries.

When the Vandals took Rome in 455AD, the Menorah was still on display in the temple. But after that? Nobody knows for sure, and this is the point where academic historians, amateur sleuths and conspiracy theorists start to disagree. The first group believe the simplest explanation is the most likely: as with many treasures of the time, it was melted down or just broken up by the Vandals. Alternatively, the conquerors may have taken it out of Rome and to their own capital. Carthage, though what happened to the Menorah after that is another question.

More colorful explanations include the theory that the Menorah was lost in a shipwreck just outside of Rome. In fact, this idea got such support at one point that in 1919, archaeologists had the River Tiber dredged in a bid to find the lost treasure. Alternatively, some theorists even maintain that the Vatican has the Menorah secreted away in its vaults, or – in a twist that would make Dan Brown proud – that it’s hidden in the vaults of Rome’s Catholic cathedral, with successive Popes keeping the secret safe.

These 12 Real Life Treasures Yet to be Found Will Surprise You
King John of England lost his crown jewels, never to be recovered. Kirton in Lindsey Town Hall.

King John’s Treasure

King John of England was known as ‘Bad King John’ for good reason. As well as being generally regarded as hugely incompetent, he was something of a tyrant and also hugely greedy. The mad monarch would routinely rob from his enemies and even his allies, enriching himself with gold coins, gold plates and jewelry. Some, he gave away to his bodyguards and closest allies, more for self-preservation than due to any sense of generosity. The vast bulk, however, John kept for himself, though it is believed he lost much of his treasure, and it’s yet to be found.

The background to the legend of King John’s Treasure is a matter of historical record. By the end of the twelfth century, the major landowners of England had had enough of their crazy king. The barons rebelled, seeking to reverse John’s fiscal reforms and negotiate better conditions for themselves. While both sides laid down their arms with the Magna Carta peace treaty of 1215 – a treaty that is still seen as a major milestone in British history – neither the king nor the barons stuck to their word and fighting recommenced soon after.

In October 1216, while out waging war in the east of England, the king fell ill and started to head westwards back to his castle. While the monarch made it safely back to Newark Castle, his men tried to take a short cut over the large expanses of marshes and mud flats known as The Wash. They, and the wagons they were transporting, became trapped in the mud as the tide started to rise. The men were drowned and the wagons, containing all of King John’s crown jewels, were lost.

Eight centuries on, the treasure has yet to be found. But that’s not due to a lack of trying. Over the years, everyone from professional archaeologists to mystics have headed to The Wash in a bid to find the jewels. But what will they find if indeed they do uncover the wagons? According to some historians, John was only carrying with him some panels for his own private chapel or, at most, a single crown. But others believe that a huge hoard of treasure is there to be found, with the whole stash possibly even worth as much as $70,000,000 in today’s money. However, until the mud gives up its secret, what Mad King John lost that day in 1216 will remain a mystery.

These 12 Real Life Treasures Yet to be Found Will Surprise You
Flor de le Mar. Wikimedia.

The Treasure of the Flor de la Mar

When the Flor de la Mar (or ‘Flower of the Sea’) set sail from Malacca, a commercial hub in the East Indies, one night in November 1511, it is reputed that she was carrying the largest treasure ever assembled by the Portuguese Navy. On the face of it, this was a straightforward journey. After all, the frigate had been successfully sailing the Indian Ocean for nine years and, despite her bulk, was known for her agility. What’s more, her captain the nobleman Alfonso de Albuquerque, was an experienced skipper. As well as being a decorated knight and respected explorer, he was a veteran of runs between the East Indies and his native Portugal. Surely, he could be trusted to deliver the precious cargo to his king?

Along with four other ships, the Flor de la Mar got caught up in a violent storm in the Straits of Malacca, just days after leaving port. On the night of 20 November 1511, it hit the infamous reefs of Sumatra and broke in two. The captain was saved from the waves, though others weren’t so lucky. Several of his crew, as well as a number of slaves he was transporting back to Portugal, were drowned. And, of course, the vast treasure he was carrying, much of it a gift from the King of Siam to his Portuguese counterpart, was lost beneath the waves.

While an exact itinerary has yet to be found, it is believed that the Flor de la Mar was carrying several tonnes of gold, as well as many other precious items. In all, the collection is believed to be worth somewhere in the region of $2,6 billion in today’s terms. It’s hardly surprising, then, that, ever since the ship went under, its whereabouts has been the subject of much fasciation and numerous attempts have been made to locate the doomed vessel and, more importantly, recover its precious cargo.

Frustratingly for treasure hunters, the maps the Portuguese sailors of the time used were far from accurate. As such, the exact location of the shipwreck is the subject of much debate. That’s why several well-financed missions have ended up in failure. But even if a treasure hunter was lucky enough to beat the huge odds and find the right spot of the sea bed, perhaps with the help of underwater drones, it’s unclear who would get to keep the loot. Not only Portugal, but Indonesia and Malaysia too, claim salvage rights for the shipwreck.

These 12 Real Life Treasures Yet to be Found Will Surprise You
Illustration of the Knights Templar. Wikimedia.

The Treasure of the Knights Templar

Thanks to the novels of Dan Brown, as well as the blockbuster movies they inspired, most of us are familiar with the Knights Templar. The religious order was established in 1119AD to protect Christian pilgrims on their journeys through the Middle East, with a network of castles and other fortifications built to offer shelter to those in need. Their work was supported by rich benefactors, meaning that over the centuries, the Knights Templars were able to amass a veritable fortune, not just in gold coins, but also in jewels and other precious objects such as artworks. Could it really be that a huge stash of this treasure was hidden away, never to be found?

Some Templar researchers certainly believe this to be the case, and a handful have even dedicated their lives to finding this lost treasure. They argue that, in the confusion and turmoil that surrounded Pope Clement II’s 1307 decree that all Knights should be arrested, and their possessions seized, not only did many Knights escape, but a large proportion of their wealth could have gone missing too. But that doesn’t solve the biggest question of them all: where are the vast riches accumulated by the Knights hidden?

According to most Templar historians, the Paris Templar members succeeded in loading up a wagon full of their treasure and leaving France just before that fateful day in 1307. Many believe they fled to Scotland, taking their wealth – and even maybe the Holy Grail – with them. However, no concrete evidence has ever been found of this happening, so quite what became of the riches of the Paris temple remains a mystery.

Recently, speculation has been mounting that the so-called Oak Island Treasure – a stash believed to be buried on this island in Nova Scotia – could, in fact, be the lost loot of the Knights Templar. Perhaps its lying here waiting for the Order to rise up again…

 

Where did we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“Did Archaeologists Uncover Blackbeard’s Treasure?”. Abigail Tucker, The Smithsonian, March 2011.

“Where are the Romanovs’ Missing Faberge Easter Eggs?”. Allison McNearney, The Daily Beast, March 2016.

“British Explorer Closes in On Legendary ‘Treasure of Lima'”. Jasper Copping, The Daily Telegraph, August 2012.

“Town under siege as missing ‘Kruger gold’ is found on farm”. Christopher Munnion, The Daily Telegraph, June 2001.

“Is This Famous Samurai Sword Missing in America?”. Allison McNearey, The Daily Beast, July 2016.

“Amber Room: Priceless Russian treasure stolen by Nazis ‘discovered by German researchers;”. The Independent, October 2017.

“Nazi gold train search abandoned – but brings in £150 million for Polish town”. Benjamin Kentish, The Independent, August 2016.

“Discovery Channel to air mystery of ‘The Patiala Necklace'”. Sandeep Unnithan, India Today, February 2004.

“The lost jewels of Bad King John”. Theodora Sutcliffe, BBC, September 2017.

“Sunken Portuguese galleon sighted in Java Sea”. The Malaysian Star, April 2014.

Advertisement