The Copper Scroll

The Copper Scroll is part of a collection of 1st Century religious documents collectively known as Dead Sea Scrolls. These religious manuscripts, recovered in excavations between 1947 to 1956, are among the oldest Old Testament manuscripts discovered to date. Archeologists believe the scrolls were really a library belonging to a Jewish sect. The library was concealed during The First Jewish Revolt (A.D. 66-70).

Unlike the other Dead Sea scrolls that are religious in nature, the Copper Scroll is a treasure map. The only scroll made of metal, this scroll lists sixty-four underground caches. The contents of all but one contain gold, silver, and precious stones. These treasure deposits, believed to be worth in excess of 2 billion dollars, may date from the Second Temple. Some archaeologists believe the treasures were deposited prior to the Romans sacking the temple.

Despite several searches, no treasure listed on the Copper Scroll has yet been recovered. The problem is that the scroll gives only a vague set of instructions lacking tangible starting points. The instructions start with a general geographic location or a building as the starting point. From there the instructions lead to the cache.

“In the stubble field of the Shaveh, facing southwest, in an underground passage looking north, buried at twenty-four cubits: 67 talents.

In the salt pit that is under the steps: forty-one talents of silver. In the cave of the old washer’s chamber, on the third terrace: sixty-five ingots of gold.

In the Great Cistern which is in the Court of Peristyle, in the spout in its floor, concealed in a hole in front of the upper opening: nine hundred talents.

Which stubble field? What salt pit? Are the steps still there? And even if the location is known, is the Peristyle (a continuous porch formed by a row of columns surrounding the perimeter of building or a courtyard) still standing?

There isn’t a solid starting point to launch a search. In addition, how do you locate a 2000 year old salt pit? Are the stairs still there? And more importantly, did the Romans (or anyone else) already recover the treasures? These obstacles haven’t deterred would-be treasure hunters.

In 1962, John Allegro, a member of the scroll editing team, led an extensive search for some of the scroll’s treasures. Using information from the scroll combined with a best guess approach, Allegro located and searched several possible treasure sites. Despite his efforts, Mr. Allegro failed to recover any treasure.

Were the treasures listed on the Copper Scroll recovered by the Romans? Perhaps historians like Robert H. Eisenman are correct, and the treasure caches were recovered by Knights Templar during the First Crusade. It could be that over the last two millennia the caches have been discovered piecemeal.

Or maybe the caches still rest under the shifting sands of the Holy Land waiting to be recovered.

Who really knows.

Lost Mines

In the world of treasure hunting, lost mines hold a special place in my heart. Most usually start out the same. A grizzled prospector leading his overly burdened mule into the desert looking for riches. Months later, when the prospector returns sick or injured from his adventures, he makes a deathbed confession to finding a rich deposit of gold or silver. For proof, he offers a tattered map to the mine. In some cases, rich ore specimens are found in his possession.

Pushing aside literary and Hollywood imagery, there are several reasons why these mines, which are basically rich mineral deposits, are lost. The majority of lost mines were really just diggings. These are basically excavation sites worked with hand held equipment such as shovels and picks. These mines were not tunnels dug in the side of a mountain with little railroad tracks and ore cars. In some cases, such as the Lost Gunsight Mine of the Mojave Desert, the “mine” was loose rocks broken off an outcropping. Even with a map, finding a hole in a very large desert is almost impossible.

Also, these mines were deliberately concealed. If you had a secret gold mine, would you want everyone knowing about it? Prospectors working secret claims were careful about being followed when traveling to and from their diggings. Jacob Waltz of the Lost Dutchman fame is said to have changed his route when visiting his mine. Not only did miners not want others working their claims, they had to be alert to not getting waylaid for their valuable ore. These mines were intentionally concealed and, after even a relatively short period of inactivity, would soon completely blend with the landscape.

And finally, several lost mines are located in what was then inhospitable or dangerous areas. Indigenous peoples, bandits, and Indian Wars were constant threats to prospectors and miners. Three brothers evading hostile Indians found a limestone ledge covered with gold nuggets. The brothers took ore samples then headed across the desert. Only one survived, and he was unable to locate the limestone ledge, so the Whitman “Cement” Mine remains lost. Hundreds of lost mine stories played out like that across the American West.

The Miner’s Guide; A Ready Handbook for the Prospector and Miner, by Horace J. West (Los Angeles: Second Edition – 1925

Lake Toplitz’s Nazi Gold

High in the Austrian Alps, Lake Toplitz looks like a perfect setting for The Sound of Music. A high altitude deep water lake (338 ft) located sixty-one miles from Salzburg, Lake Toplitz is surrounded by cliffs and thick forests. At a depth of sixty feet, the lake water contains no oxygen. However, the lake bottom may hold Nazi treasure.

In May of 1945, 21-year-old Ida Weisenbacher helped S.S. soldiers dispose of the boxes. “It was five o’clock in the morning, we were still in bed when we heard the knock on the door,” says Weisenbacher. “Get up immediately. Hitch up the horse wagon, we need you.”

The truck carrying the boxes couldn’t reach the lake’s shore, so the S.S. used a wagon belonging to the Weisenbacher family. “A commander was there. He told us to bring these boxes as fast as possible to Lake Toplitz,” says Weisenbacher.

Three wagon loads of boxes were taken to the lake and dumped. Each was labeled and numbered. “When I brought the last load, I saw how they went on to the lake and dropped the boxes into the water. The S.S. kept shoving me away, but I saw the boxes were sunk into the lake.”

Since the end of World War II, several attempts have been made to locate those mysterious wooden boxes. In 1959, divers discovered boxes filled with counterfeit British currency. These banknotes, a mix of five, ten, and fifty pound notes, had a combined face value of seven hundred million pounds.

The counterfeit notes were part of Operation Bernhard, a German plan to flood world markets with forged British banknotes and destroy the British economy. The forged notes were produced at the Sachsenhausen concentration camp by Jewish prisoners.

Several searches have been conducted at Lake Toplitz, including an extensive mapping survey in 2000. This expedition used a deep water submersible. Several more boxes tied to Operation Bernhard were discovered and mapped on the lake bed. The expedition recovered some boxes, and preserved the contents.

Aside from the counterfeit British notes and normal wartime debris (bombs, artillery shells, guns), Lake Toplitz has yielded no gold. Maybe there is no Nazi gold for the lake to surrender. Maybe die hard Nazis or unknown treasure hunters secretly recovered the treasure. Or maybe the treasure still remains in Lake Toplitz, waiting to be found.

Who really knows?

The Shapwick Hoard

Discovered by metal detecting enthusiasts in September of 1998, the Shapwick Hoard consists of 9,262 Roman coins. The cache of 260 coins, found in Shapwick, England date from the reign of 30 BC to 224 AD. The Shapwick Hoard isn’t only the largest collection of silver denarii discovered in Great Britain, but also contains two ultra rare coins previously not found in Britain.

The hoard, valued at £265,000 was found, was discovered by Kevin and Martin Elliott. The cousins were searching for artifacts using a metal detector. After their initial discovery, archeologists soon began the painstaking work of excavating the hoard. These excavations showed the hoard had been stored in either small bundles or rolls. They were then stored in a large sack. The sack was then concealed in the corner of what was once a room in a Roman villa.

The coins, which date from Mark Antony’s reign to the reign of Severus Alexander, cover over 300 years. Of the 9,262 excavated coins, 5741 were minted during the reign of Emperor Septimius Severus (193–211 AD). The two rare coins feature Manlia Scantilla, the wife of Roman Emperor Didius Julianus. She had been declared Augusta (Empress) during her husband’s reign, which lased for nine weeks in 193 AD.

The Shapwick Hoard is currently on display at the Museum of Somerset, located in Taunton Castle.

The Hoxne Hoard

On November 16, 1992 Eric Lawes was searching for a lost hammer with his metal detector. Instead, he found the largest cache of fourth and fifth century gold and silver coins discovered anywhere within the boundaries of the former Roman Empire. The Hoxne Hoard (found in Hoxne, England) consists of 14,865 Roman coins. In addition the coins, archeologists recovered gold jewelry, silver spoons, and assorted silver table settings. The treasure, worth an estimated 4.3 million dollars, is currently on display in the British Museum in London.

The cache breaks down 569 gold coins,14,191 silver coins and 24 bronze coins. These coins date from AD 337 to AD 408, with the majority dating between AD 394 to AD 405. Historians believe the hoard was buried no later than AD 450. The coins originated from all over the Roman Empire. There are 14 mint marks in the cache, ranging from Gaul (France) to Athioch (Turkey).

In addition to the coins, the hoard yielded 29 pieces of gold jewelry. The jewelry pieces include a gold chain, six chain necklaces, three rings and 19 bracelets. The recovered tableware consisted of 78 silver spoons, 20 gilded ladles, five bowls, four pepper-pots, two vases, nine toiletry items such as toothpicks and ear-cleaners, and two small padlocks. Combined with the recovered coins, the Hoxne Hoard contains nearly eight pounds of gold and fifty-two pounds of silver.

The dates on the coins coincide with Rome’s declining influence in Britain. During this period, the western Roman Empire was crumbling under constant pressure from barbarian tribes. Barbarian invasions had already caused widespread devastation, and by AD 401 the majority of Roman legions in Britain were pulled back to Rome. This left only a few Roman troops and citizens to defend themselves.

Late Roman Empire hoards (AD 350–450) are fairly common. Like the Hoxne Hoard, most are recovered along the former Empire’s fringes. This is probably due to unstable political and security conditions. Although these caches do vary in content, many from this time include silver tableware (dishes, utensils, bowls and cups). What makes the Hoxne Hoard unusual is it consists mainly of coins.

Although we will never know who hid the treasure, the Hoxne Hoard illustrates the wealth that existed in Roman Britain. It also shows that no society is immune to radical change. Who knows how many hoards remain to be found and what stories they will tell.

Peter Guest, author of The Late Roman Gold and Silver Coins from the Hoxne Treasure

Catherine Johns, author of The Hoxne Late Roman Treasure: Gold Jewellery And Silver Plate