Jun 18 2015 11:00am

Five Fascinating Lost Treasures of the World

Treasure is a wonderful word. It conjures up images of jewels and gold and coin of the realm. It adorns classic novels like Treasure Island and classic movies like Treasure of the Sierra Madre. And if we add a second word to create the evocative phrase “treasure hunt,” then heroes, heroines, and the Walter Mitty’s among us just might throw ourselves into an adventure.

And with reason. Our atavistic selves are drawn to hunts; our higher functioning brains like challenges, especially if a secret is involved. In fact, for some folks, the payoff to finding lost treasure can be greater than the riches involved – besides the loot, they win the psychological prize of doing something no one else has ever done.

I love this stuff. I write spy thrillers, which means I also write about geopolitics, culture, romance, secrets, and, whenever I can, missing treasures. Here are five of my favorites lost treasures:


The Amber Room

It was said that when the afternoon light shone through the tall windows of the Amber Room, the walls shimmered and glowed as if alive. The reason? A fortune in amber mosaics and carved amber figurines blanketed every square inch, while gold-encrusted mirrors reflected the lush beauty back upon itself. Created in the early 1700s in Prussia, the Amber Room grew politically important in 1716 when Prussian King Frederick William I gave it to Peter the Great of Russia to memorialize their alliance against Sweden. Some 200 years later, the room became prize World War II plunder, stolen by the Germans and shipped off to Königsberg Castle. It was at the war’s end that it disappeared. Some believe the room was destroyed when the Allies bombed the castle, while others think it was dismantled and hidden in a salt mine or cave, where appropriate humidity and temperature would preserve it. Today the Amber Room remains one of the world’s most significant and stunning vanished treasures.


The Treasure on the Mary Dear

In 1820, Lima, Peru, was a rich city boasting treasures valued at some $60 million, including a life-size gold statue of Mary holding baby Jesus. But the city was near revolt. The Spanish viceroy hired William Thompson, captain of the merchantman Mary Dear, to transport the city's wealth to Mexico for safekeeping. Instead, once at sea, Thompson ordered the viceroy’s guards killed and thrown overboard. Sailing on to the Cocos Islands, the crew anchored and buried the treasure. Not long afterward, the Mary Dear was captured, and the crew was convicted of piracy. All but Thompson and his first mate were hanged. To save their lives, the two promised to reveal where the treasure was buried and led their captors back to the island. But once in the jungle, they escaped. Since then, more than 300 expeditions have tried to locate the lost treasure of the Mary Dear, but to no avail.


Ivan the Terrible’s Library of Gold

Known for his horrific temper and paranoia, Ivan the Terrible of Russia had another side: He built the eternal St. Basil’s Cathedral, introduced the printing press, and kept artists, craftsmen, and poets on staff. He allegedly also inherited from his grandmother Sophia some 800 illuminated manuscripts covered with gold and gems. Sophia was an heir to the last Byzantine emperor, and her priceless collection was all that remained of the legendary Constantinople Library, saved before the Turks routed the city. Over the years, Ivan invited luminaries from Europe to view it, and they returned home to spread word of its magnificence. But when Ivan died in 1584, the library disappeared. Although there has been debate whether the library ever existed, historians and notables have searched for it for centuries. Among those were Peter the Great, Napoleon, Vatican emissaries, and even Vladimir Putin.


The Secret Grave of Genghis Khan

When the fabled warrior died in 1227, his body was returned to Mongolia, probably close to his birthplace near the Onon River. According to legend, the funeral escort killed anyone who saw the body being transported, and when the tomb was finished, the slaves who built it were murdered, too. Nothing was left to mark the grave, even though Genghis Khan had founded the Mongol Empire and conquered most of Eurasia. For centuries he’s been eulogized in myth, poetry, and song, and the hunt for his tomb has long attracted those fascinated by his remarkable life and accomplishments. One was Maury Kravitz, the famous Wall Street commodities trader, who financed and led four excursions into Mongolia. Still, the Great Khan’s final resting place is likely never to be found. If legend is to be believed, the soldiers who had murdered everyone who might know about the tomb also killed one another, the last man taking his own life.


Saddam Hussein’s Missing Billions

Few people know that Saddam Hussein’s first job in politics was as an assassin for Iraq’s Baath Party. He was only 20 years old but soon was known as a shaqawah, a man to be feared. By the time he was 42 years old, he was president. He quickly nationalized the banks and oil companies and began skimming profits. His wealth grew more from bribes and kickbacks on contracts to build superhighways, hospitals, schools, hotels, shopping malls, and office complexes. At the time of his execution, his fortune was estimated to be between $40 and $70 billion, but the United States and its allies have been able to recover only a few billion. Sources believe the money is hidden in dummy corporations in Switzerland, Japan, and Germany, and as cash and diamonds in numbered bank accounts in Europe and the Middle East. The search for Saddam’s vanished billions is considered by some to be the greatest treasure hunt since the post–World War II pursuit of Nazi gold.


And there you have my choices of favorite lost treasures. Through them we see peace and war, adventurers and rulers, the meaning of relentless power, times of wealth, and times of deprivation. The treasures may be missing, but their stories remain with us, and all are rich in culture and history.

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Comment below for a chance to win a copy of Gayle Lynds's The Assassins where six master killers team together to steal a fortune from the middle of a war zone!

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The Assassins Comment Sweepstakes: NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN.  A purchase does not improve your chances of winning.  Sweepstakes open to legal residents of 50 United States, D.C., and Canada (excluding Quebec), who are 18 years or older as of the date of entry.  To enter, complete the “Post a Comment” entry at http://five-fascinating-lost-treasures-of-the-world-gayle-lynds-the-assassins beginning at 12:00 p.m. Eastern Time (ET) June 18, 2015. Sweepstakes ends 11:59 a.m. ET June 29, 2015. Void outside the United States and Canada and where prohibited by law. Please see full details and official rules here. Sponsor: Macmillan, 175 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10010.

Gayle Lynds is the bestselling, award-winning author of ten international espionage novels, including The Book of Spies, The Last Spymaster, andMasquerade.  Library Journal calls her “the reigning queen of espionage fiction.”  She is a member of the Association for Former Intelligence Officers and cofounder (with David Morrell) of ITW (International Thriller Writers).


Subscribe to this conversation (must be logged in):
Tatiana deCarillion
1. decarillion
I didn't know about all of the six treasures you noted above. It is just amazing what people with too much money conceive to do with it. That Amber Room sounds just amazing!
Sally Schmidt
2. bigcootie
Interesting history, didn't know most of this.
3. DebP
I love these stories. I find them more fascinating than fiction.
Mildred Deas
4. madeas
IMO, this book needs a link in this thread to where an interested reader can purchase it. There is no link to "The Assassins" in this thread as of the time that I posted this comment
Clare 2e
5. clare2e
@madeas Gayle Lynds' new thriller, The Assassins, will be released on June 30th. Until then, you can pre-order it from your favorite bookseller, and very good luck!
Karen Barnett
7. kpbarnett
Love the history! Book sounds fascinating.
Francis Cardosi
8. stridr222
Enjoyed the story of the "Lost Treasures".
Carol Kubala
10. ckubala
After reading The Amber Room by Steve Berry (fiction) I had to visit Russia to see the restored room. It was magnificent. I later read The Amber Room: The Fate of the World's Greates Lost Treasure by Cathy Scott-Clark (non-fiction) which was very interesting. Like all missing treasure of this nature they are many theories as to its final location.

I did not know about all of these. You always have interesting articles.
Peter W. Horton Jr.
12. mosaix
Assassins do not need this book but I do! Yes!
David Steele
13. dastidle
Oak island! The search continues for the worlds greatest treasure.
Janice Santillo
14. themommazie
Very interesting. I would like to know more about these treasures.
Jeffrey Malis
15. bravejam
Fascinating topic... Thank you for the article and the opportunity!
Linda Knowles
16. strigoivii
Cool article, I had never heard of the Amber Room or Ivan the Terrible's Library of Gold before.
Irene Menge
17. Goldenmane
The search for lost treasures is always fascinating. I wonder how many lost treasures exist that we don't even know about.
daniel thornton
21. greatrase3
The book looks interesting. I want to read it.
lynette thompson
Well this is different, but looks good to read this summer
Chris Noe
24. ezmerelda
This should be a fascinating read. Who doesn't like a missing treasure.
26. Shannon Baas
I would like this.
Benita Glickman
28. Benita
The stories are indeed fascinating. Thanks for the opportunity.
32. Cindi
Hi, I actually knew nothing about any of these
treasure troves! I have read; recently, that they may have found The City of Atlantis, underwater, somewhere.
Many thanks for the chance to win your book!
Cindi ????
Faye Gates
33. ClickClick
I hope I win! This is a great giveaway. Thanks for the chance.
Beth Mills
34. bethmills
Lost or buried treasure will always be fascinating--didn't know about the Library of Gold
Jeffrey Tretin
35. jtretin
Can't wait to read it! Love the Amber Room.
Caren Luckie
36. czluckie
Fascinating! Can't wait to read the book.
Dave Cohn
39. davecohn
Fascinating. I had heard of some of these, but not all of them.
40. LStirling
Who doesn't love the idea of lost treasure, waiting to be found. Loved learning about these six, which I'd never heard of before. Your book sounds very interesting, as well!
Lori Provenzano
42. Mountainesque
You only have to have watched the news to see brazen example after brazen example of outrageous thefts in war zones or elsewhere. I'd have to figure out who the good guys are in "The Assassins" so I can root for them.
Janice Milliken
44. msjiva
Looking forward to reading "The Assaaains" especially ater reading a sample of Lynds work on the lost treasures.
45. LabRat517
I'm looking forward to reading this one. Love the premise. I had never heard of the lost grave of Genghis Khan. I love stories that combine history and fantasy.
Tammy Brasic
46. burkhata
Wow! That was very interesting. I didn't know about most of these treasures that are missing. I was especially interested in Saddam Hussein's billions. I can't believe how hard it is to find it now.
Marie-Louise Molloy
47. Wezzie
Sounds like a fascinating read, would love to have!
alyce poalillo
48. alycep
Love books based on history and facts and this sounds like a good read.
susan beamon
49. susanbeamon
I love reading about lost treasures. It shows somethimes things about lost cultures. My treasures are books.
Jackie Wisherd
50. JackieW
Enjoyed reading about these treasures. The book sounds interesting.
Doward Wilson
51. Doward
What is better than treasure hunts?
rob riffe
53. itsrob
sounds like a good read. thanks for the chance to win it and find out
Cindy Hipolito
54. mysuccess
Enjoyed the facts about the other bits of history listed above. Thank you for the giveaway of 'The Assassins' by Gayle Lynds.
Lynn Jarrett
55. OkieReader
All of these sound interesting. I look forward to reading them.
57. Josh Atkins
The Amber Room is one of my favorite lost treasures of history.

Thanks for the opportunity to win Gayle's book!
Donna Jacoby
59. Donna Jacoby
This sounds fascinating. Thank you for the giveaway!
Kathy Fannon
60. Kathy F
Fascinating stuff. Now I know what to do for our summer vacation!
Marjorie Manharth
62. mmanharth
Have never read Gayle Lynds - but sure would like to.
63. tiac35
Seems like an interesting read. I hope I win.
Melissa Keith
64. melly801
I've been reading Gayle's books for years and enjoy them immensely! They're all gems. I like reading about treasure and ships. I'm feenin' for BLACK SAILS. lol! Would love to win ASSASSINS. IT'S PROBABLY GOLDEN!
Carl White
65. CarlWhiteEntry
True story, I was in the running to be one of the six master killers but I just missed. They told me I was their 7th pick, gave me a nice lunch and wished me well in finding a fortune to steal before sending me on my way.
74. Edd
I would like to read the work of Gayle Lynds.
kent w. smith
77. bodacious
Hooked on treasures ever since I read the Count of Monte Cristo! Please pick me. Thank you.
80. nukstreasures
This looks like a real interesting read. I reminds me of Ocean's 11.
Linda Pence
83. lljpence
I love history, especially the things not widely known or discussed.
Buddy Garrett
84. garrettsambo
The article was fascinating. It is unbelievable that the stories are true.
85. ErinCook
Sounds like an interesting read. Would love to read it
Heather Cowley
86. choochoo
Ah, people and their material things! You can't take it with you! lol
Jack Przybylski
88. jackpfoto
This is the kind of things that fascinate me
Kathleen Gereg
90. kgereg
Intrique, the stuff that entertains me!
Susan D
92. sdeas
It is the summer reading season. This Gayle Lynds book sounds like a good one to add to the beach bag of books to read....
94. Barrett Newsom
I loved your novel about the amber room. Never heard of it before. All of these are incredible mysteries. Thanks for bringing them to light. This article should be the basis of some documentary or TV show. I'd love to see more pics. Thanks, Gayle!
Andra Dalton
95. andra77
Definitely need to add this to my books to read list!!! Can't wait to dig into this one!!! Thanks for the opportunity to win & good luck to all those who enter!!!:)
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