When you think of the desert a few words come to mind: hot, dry, and barren. It’s where people go to get away from it all, and when it comes down to it, those who do brave the sand and heat usually come back with just a sunburn and an empty water bottle.
But sometimes, these dryland explorers return with much more than they could’ve ever hoped for. For a lucky few, these 20 valuable items found in the desert would make their days of suffering in the sun worth every sweaty step. The treasures these people found beneath the sand are some of the rarest finds in history…
1. Prada Marfa ($120,000): This art installation makes its permanent home just over a mile from Valentine, Texas. The lone store, which is inaccessible, is fully stocked with high-end Prada wares, shoes, and handbags. Even Beyoncé has visited!
2. Winchester Model 1873 ($15,000): This rifle, manufactured in 1882, was discovered resting against a tree in Nevada’s Great Basin National Park, over a century ago. Its value is still astronomically greater than the $35-$50 it was worth back in the 19th century.
Las Vegas Review-Journal
3. The James Ossuary ($50,000): Said to have contained the body of James the Just, brother of Jesus of Nazareth, this religious artifact was discovered in a cave in the Silwan area of Jerusalem. Since its authenticity was never verified, it’s valued at a shockingly low price.
4. The Atari Landfill ($108,000): Following the video game crash of 1983, gaming company Atari decided to bury its unsold games in the New Mexico desert. When the landfill was excavated, the surviving cartridges were auctioned off.
5. Libyan Glass ($110,000): Formed only by lightning strikes, volcanic activity, and meteor impacts, Libyan glass is considered one of the rarest minerals on Earth and can only be found in the deserts of Libya.
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6. Ptolemaic Coin ($10,000): Discovered in Israel in 2010, this coin was dubbed by researchers as the most valuable ever discovered. The 2,200-year-old coin is believed to have been worth a half-year’s salary during its circulation.
7. The Gibeon Meteorite ($383,806): This meteorite formed fragments after it struck the Earth during prehistoric times. Bits of it were used by natives to craft tools and weapons.
8. Death Valley Mother Lode ($500,000): In true treasure-hunting fashion, a pair of archaeologists discovered a large wooden chest in California’s Death Valley. The chest contained 80 coins, a hymnal, baby shoes, a pistol, pottery, and a letter from a lost pioneer.
9. The Fire of Australia ($675,000): Considered one of Australia’s greatest treasures, this otherworldly opal was found in 1946 in the small desert town of Coober Pedy, South Australia. The rough-cut gem weighs in at just under 5,000 carats and is roughly the size of two cricket balls.
10. The Ten Commandments Film Set ($1 million): The set for the 1923 film was destroyed and buried shortly after production. However, in 2014, a large sphinx head emerged from the sand in Santa Barbara, prompting a recovery effort to completely excavate the “lost” city.
11. Ferrari Enzo ($1.1 million): In a land of wealth like Dubai, million-dollar cars are about as expendable as Hot Wheels. This Ferrari Enzo was abandoned in the middle of the desert. Locals believe the vehicle’s owner may have actually been on the run from the law.
12. The Boot of Cortez ($1.5 million): This gold nugget was discovered in 1989 by a prospector using only a cheap RadioShack metal detector. Weighing in at 389.4 troy ounces, it remains the largest surviving gold nugget in the western hemisphere.
13. The Death Mask of Tutankhamun ($2 million): The story of the young King Tut is one of the most well-known in history, and the treasure trove he left behind is no less legendary. Tut’s mask and sarcophagus alone are worth more than any archaeological find in history.
The History Blog
14. Peg Leg’s Black Gold ($3 million): In 1965, an anonymous prospector claimed to have discovered Peg Leg Smith’s stash of black gold. This prospector’s find, valued at around $3 million today, has inspired countless other treasure hunters to search for Peg Leg’s legendary lost mine.
15. The Bom Jesus ($13 million): In a strange turn of events, a group of De Beers miners inadvertently found an even greater treasure at the bottom of a dried lagoon: a 500-year-old sunken ship. The ship, once belonging to the King of Portugal, was loaded with gold, tin, ivory tusks, and nearly 44,000 pounds of copper ingots.
16. Shell Documents ($60 million+): Following a 1992 pipeline oil spill in Midland, Texas, the Shell Company sold off the rights to that pipeline and quietly buried the proof in a nearby desert. The documents were discovered, however, and Shell was forced to pay some hefty litigation costs.
17. Delta Treasure ($100 million+): In 2005, Scott Taylor discovered a massive fortune but was unwilling to reveal its location to the U.S. government. As a result, Taylor never cashed in on a find of 280 gold bricks, two Civil War-era rifles, a six-shooter, and a load of dynamite.
18. Chinese Aluminum Hoard ($2 billion): A U.S. aluminum executive chartered a plane over the Mexican desert after hearing the country had a tremendous aluminum stash. So, what did this executive find? Nearly 6% of the world’s aluminum supply, enough to make 77 billion beer cans.
19. Iraqi Fighter Jets ($300 million+): During a sweep for weapons of mass destruction in the Iraqi desert, American troops stumbled upon 30 Iraqi fighter jets buried in the sand.
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20. The Copper Scroll (Priceless): One of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Copper Scroll is said to be a treasure map to riches. This includes a trove of 65 tons of silver and 26 tons of gold hidden away by the Essenes during the Roman conquest of Jerusalem.
21. A fully functional swimming pool: Artists seem to have developed quite the penchant for making art in the desert. This fully-functioning pool has everything a person wandering in the desert could want, all courtesy of one quirky artist! Talk about an oasis!
22. 800-pound emerald: In the summer of 2017, a 50-year-old father of one—identified only by the initials FG—made a startling discovery. He’d been working in a Brazilian mine about 656 feet underground when he happened upon something that would change his life forever.
This mine, to be more specific, was the Carnaiba mine in Bahia, Brazil, and it was known for being particularly gem-rich. FG, along with his employer, the Bahia Mineral Cooperative, had the legal authority to mine in the region.
For those reasons, it shouldn’t have come as too much of a surprise when FG made his discovery, tucked away in a wall of mica schist at the end of the mine’s intricate tunnel system. But the find was just that impressive…
Hidden in the rocks was a gemstone laced with emerald beryls. The entirety of the gemstone weighed 794 pounds, as FG would later find out, and it stood just over four feet tall. The thing was massive—and impressive.
About the emeralds, FG said, “their quality is superb and by far the best I’ve ever seen and I’ve been in the industry for nearly 30 years.” In other words, this stone would make FG rich beyond his wildest dreams! But there were some complications…
For starters, as mentioned, FG’s find weighed a whopping 794 pounds. To put that into perspective, that’s about the size of two silverback gorillas or a little smaller than a fully grown racehorse. In other words…
Joe Hogarty / flickr
FG wasn’t able to lug that stone 656 feet back to the surface on his own. He was going to need help, but to invite help would be costly—literally. He could no longer consider himself the sole owner of the yet-to-be-priced gemstone.
WION / YouTube
That was a sacrifice FG felt he could make, however. He explained the retrieval process this way: “Extracting the stone was extremely difficult. It took 10 of us more than a week to get it out because it was 200 meters down in the ground.”
The stone “was cut out of the area, where it was embedded, in one piece and all hands were needed to lift it to the mine shaft where it was raised to the surface by a winch.” So, did that mean there are now 11 people claiming ownership of this stone?
Instead of trying to work with 10 others to determine the gemstone’s fate, FG paid each helper, making himself the sole owner of the emeralds. But now for the (possibly) million-dollar question: how much was this thing actually worth?
FG couldn’t surmise an exact value for the emeralds. “Personally, I don’t know what the value of this piece is,” he said, “because it will be led by market demands.” But the experts ventured a few guesses…
While finding a gemstone that large is already rare, FG’s find was particularly rare because of “considerable size and the quality of its gigantic crystals.” So, how did that affect the price of this 800-pound stone?
Estimates suggested the stone would fetch a payday close to $319 million! To put that number into perspective, that’s the net worth of country singer Toby Kieth or famed basketball star Kobe Bryant. But would anyone pay that?
According to FG, he’d already fielded calls “from interested parties including potential buyers from Europe, Arab Emirates, America, India, and China, who are keen to open negotiations.” The future payday, though, had serious consequences…
When your $319 million gemstone makes national news, it can put a bit of a target on your back. FG knew it—and it terrified him. He had to come up with a plan to protect the gemstone—and more importantly—his family.
Public Radio International
With visions of gun-wielding Brazilian gangs blowing a hole in a wall to get his gemstone—as they’d done in another heist, seen here—FG kept his treasure under the watchful eye of armed guards for 24 hours a day, seven days a week. He didn’t stop there, either.
FG took extreme measures to protect the stone’s location. “I can’t reveal anything about the whereabouts of the stone,” FG said, or “how it’s being kept and how much I paid for it.” FG even had the stone moved regularly between different secure locations. He took one more precaution, too…
FG’s use of a pseudonym was intentionally done in order to hide his real name. He also only spoke to the media through his lawyer (pictured). He didn’t want anyone tracking down him or his family to obtain the gemstone’s location. It was a wise move!
But despite the target on his back, FG didn’t rush in his decision-making. “For now,” he said, “I’m keeping the rock heavily guarded and out of sight until I reach a decision on whether to sell it or display it in museums here in Brazil.”
Whatever his decision, the stone would likely end up not as jewelry, but on display, because of the high quality of the gemstones. While we’re so accustomed to seeing rocks everywhere, we can often forget that they’re more special than they initially let on.