The ten undiscovered hidden treasures that will amaze the world

A century after the boy pharaoh King Tutankhamun was unearthed, what remains for archaeologists to uncover?

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“Can you see anything?” Lord Carnarvon asked Howard Carter as he peered through a crack in the tomb, illuminated only by the light of a single candle. “Yes,” Carter is said to have replied. “Wonderful things.”

It was 100 years ago this week that the pair were alerted to the tomb by a 12-year-old, who stumbled upon it. Carter and Lord Carnavon entered the tomb's interior chambers in November 1922, but opened the door to the last chamber only the following February, on the 16th.

It was a moment of archaeological history. Inside lay the boy king, untouched for more than 3,000 years, his face covered by a fabulous golden mask.

Since then, nothing like it has captured the public imagination in quite the same way. Children learn the story of Tutankhamun at primary school, and the artefacts from his grave will soon become the centrepiece of Cairo’s new Grand Egyptian Museum.

But there are other “wonderful things” still hidden around the world, many the equal of Tutankhamun’s treasures. All that remains is for archaeologists to find them.

1. The tomb of Emperor Qin

A Chinese historian wrote of the tomb of the Emperor Qin Shi Huang: “Palaces and scenic towers for a hundred officials were constructed, and the tomb was filled with rare artefacts and wonderful treasure.

“Craftsmen were ordered to make crossbows and arrows primed to shoot at anyone who enters the tomb.

“Mercury was used to simulate the hundred rivers, the Yangtze, Yellow River, and the great sea, and set to flow mechanically. Above were representations of the heavenly constellations, below, the features of the land.”

Qin Shi Huang was the first emperor of China, and when he died, in 210 BCE, was buried like no other. The fabulous treasures of his tomb will be, without question, one of the greatest archaeological discoveries ever.

And yet there is no mystery as to where the emperor lies. He is underneath an artificial hill outside the city of Xian. The thousands of life-size pottery solders, found in 1974, and better known as the Terracotta Army, are merely his army for the spirit world.

Chinese archaeologists are proceeding with extreme caution, fearing that the technology may not yet exist to excavate the tomb without destroying its contents. One proposal is to use subatomic particles, or cosmic rays, as a tool to see inside.

2. The tomb of Nefertiti

Famed for her great beauty, as represented in the painted limestone bust now held by the Egyptian Museum in Berlin, Queen Nefertiti was the Great Royal Wife of the Pharaoh Akehenaten and stepmother to the Pharaoh Tutankhamun.

She died in approximately 1330BC, about seven years before the premature death of Tutankhamun at the age of 19. Her tomb has yet to be found.

Most tombs of the pharaohs were looted by grave robbers many hundreds of years ago, but until Nefertiti’s can be identified, its fate remains a mystery,

Some believe it is intact, hidden in a secret chamber behind Tutankhamun. Evidence includes cartouches — wall paintings — which are said to show Tutankhamun burying Nefertiti, painted after the teenage ruler was buried there.

Nicholas Reeves, a former curator in the British Museum’s Department of Egyptian Antiquities, believes Tutankhamun’s grave is merely the first room in a much larger chamber for Nefertiti.

Scans of the room at first appeared to show a bricked-up entrance, although this is now disputed. Meanwhile, Zahi Hawass, the famous Egyptian archaeologist, claims to have found Nefertiti’s mummy, although he has yet to produce it.

If Tutankhamun was the discovery of the 20th century, the treasures of Nefertiti would mean the same for the 21st.

3. King John’s Crown Jewels

Nothing good can be said about Bad King John. One of England’s most unpopular monarchs, he was forced by the barons to sign Magna Carta, lost a French war, and, legend has it, was defied by Robin Hood.

Shortly before his death from dysentery in October, 1216, John was travelling north to Newark Castle in Nottinghamshire when he crossed an area of tidal flatland known as The Wash.

Historians now believe a freak tide, with water moving as fast as a horse can run, overwhelmed the king’s baggage train, sweeping away everything, including England’s crown jewels. They have never been found.

What this treasure might include is disputed, but as well as regalia, there was probably gold and silver taken from wealthy monasteries, now buried under the East Anglian mud.

Over the centuries, many have searched, unsuccessfully, for King John’s treasure. Now, two rival amateur archaeologists are claiming to have identified the spot where it is buried. One, Raymond Kosschuk, hopes to begin digging later this year.

4. The Amber Room

A chamber made of amber panels and gems, and backed with gold leaf, the Amber Room of the Catherine Palace near St Petersburg was considered an eighth wonder of the world.

First constructed in 18th-century Prussia, it was looted by Nazi troops in 1941 and taken to Konigsberg Castle, then part of Germany, for display as a spoil of war.

In the final months of the war, with the Russians closing in on Konigsberg, Hitler ordered the room to be moved again. It has not been seen since.

There are many theories about its whereabouts, including that it was destroyed in Allied firebombing in 1944. The castle was later razed to the ground on the orders of the Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev.

Other reports claim the panels were loaded on a German ship that was sunk by a Russian submarine. Hopes that it might be found in a silver mine or at the bottom of a lake were unfounded.

One clue suggests at least some of it survived the war. In 1997 a mosaic that formed part of the room was found in the home of a German soldier who helped to pack it up.

A replica of the room, costing millions of dollars, and which took 24 years to build, was opened in St Petersburg in 2003.

Meanwhile Polish divers are preparing to investigate crates spotted on the wreck of another German ship, the Karlsruhe, sunk by Russian warplanes in 1945 — and which may include at least some of the missing panels.

5. The Menorah of the Second Temple

In the year 70 CE, a Roman army stormed the city of Jerusalem and razed the Second Temple, the holiest site in Judaism, to the ground.

All that remains is the portion of the compound popularly known as the Western Wall, while the temple is now the site of the Dome of the Rock, a holy site for Muslims.

Among the treasures said to have been looted by the Roman legions that day was a huge menorah, a seven-branched candlestick of solid gold that has become a symbol of Judaism.

The menorah, and other treasures, were taken in triumph to Rome, the event depicted on the city’s first-century Arch of Titus. A detailed carving of soldiers carrying away the menorah can be seen to this day.

What happened to the menorah next is a mystery. For at least another three centuries, it was displayed alongside other treasures at the Imperial Palace in Rome or the Temple of Peace.

It was recorded as being there when the Vandals, a Germanic tribe, sacked the city in 455 CE.

The menorah was most likely moved to Carthage, then capital of the Vandal Empire, but was then taken by a Byzantium army, which captured the city in 533 and removed to it Constantinople, modern-day Istanbul.

Some say it was then sent back to Jerusalem, or broken up and melted down. But Jewish tradition says it is in Rome, possibly kept in secret by the Vatican, along with the Arc of the Covenant and the broken pieces of the tablets engraved with the Ten Commandments.

There are even modern claims that it has been seen, along with other treasures from the Second Temple, in a secret cave under the Vatican, which is built over a Roman palace. Needless to say, there is no proof.

6. Leonardo’s Battle of Anghiari

Fewer than 20 paintings by the great Renaissance painter Leonardo da Vinci are known to have survived. Perhaps the greatest of the lost works is his Battle of Anghiari.

Lost, but not unknown — the painting is on the wall of the Hall of the 500 in Florence’s Palazzo Vecchio. Or at least some think it is.

Leonardo was commissioned to make the work in 1505, with his great rival, Michelangelo, painting the opposite wall.

After making preparatory sketches, known as cartoons, he began work on a vast scene of cavalry trying to seize a flag during the 15th-century battle between Milan and the Republic of Florence.

Leonardo experimented with a new method of applying paint to the wall, but this went wrong and when some of the colours mingled, he abandoned the project.

What remained was seen and much admired for nearly 50 years, until the hall was enlarged in the late 16th century and new works commissioned.

Nearly 20 years ago, an Italian art expert, Maurizio Seracini, concluded that Leonardo’s work was, in fact, hidden behind a false wall used for the new works.

A potential clue was a flag held by a soldier on the later painting with the Latin “Cerca Trova” or “He who seeks, finds”. The artist, Giorgio Vasari, had previously praised Leonardo’s work.

After using surface penetrating radar and other non-invasive methods to prove the existence of a space behind Vasari’s painted, Seracini was given permission to drill small holes through the work.

Fragments of paint consistent with the glaze on Leonardo’s Mona Lisa and Saint John the Baptist were recovered in 2012, but permission to go further was never given because of the risk to the existing painting.

Two years ago a panel of art experts concluded that the Battle of Anghiari may never have existed beyond a sketch, with Leonardo defeated by the challenge of getting the paint to stick. Seracini disagrees.

7. Mallory and Irvine’s pocket camera

Even rare versions of the Kodak Pocket Vest, a popular camera made by Eastman Kodak between 1912 and 1935, can be picked up today for a few hundred dirhams.

But one in particular would be a priceless find in that it has the potential to rewrite the history of who first climbed Everest, the world’s tallest mountain.

Everest was officially conquered on May 29, 1953, by Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay,

Nearly 20 years earlier, two British climbers. George Mallory and Andrew “Sandy” Irvine were seen heading for the summit. The last sighting was on the evening of June 8, 1924, when a member of the expedition saw two black dots moving towards the final stage of the climb.

Mallory and Irvine were never seen alive again.

While it has been speculated that either one, or both men were the first to climb Everest, there is no proof they succeeded.

Then, in 1999, an expedition found the well-preserved body of Mallory at an altitude of 8,157m, less than 700m below the summit, and not far from where Irvine’s ice axe was discovered in 1933.

Most of his possessions were intact, but a photograph of his wife, which Mallory had said he would leave at the summit, was missing.

Both men must have been attempting to return down the mountain. But had they made it to the summit?

No trace of Irvine has yet been found, nor of the Kodak Pocket Vest camera he was carrying.

Experts believe that if it has survived, the film it contains could still be processed — potentially resolving the claim of who first climbed Everest.

8. Treasure of Lima

By the early 19th century, the Spanish still controlled much of South America, including Peru, but were increasingly facing revolt from a population seeking independence.

In 1820, fearing that the capital, Lima, was about to fall to rebels, its viceroy ordered the removal of all the city’s treasure, a vast haul of jewels, precious metals and church relics that included a 2.13m solid gold statue of the Virgin Mary.

The haul, said to be worth $200 million at today’s prices, was loaded on a ship destined for Mexico. At some point on the journey, the crew turned pirate, killing the soldiers and priests accompanying the treasure, and sailing to Cocos Island, off the coast of Costa Rica, where they buried it.

A Spanish warship later captured the pirates and put the crew on trial. All were hanged, except for two who, to save their lives, agreed to reveal where the treasure was buried.

Instead, they managed to escape in the Costa Rican jungle, leaving the location of the gold a mystery.

Many have searched for the Treasure of Lima, including the gangster Bugsy Siegel, but all have failed.

The Costa Rican government has now banned all treasure hunting over concerns that it threatens the island’s wildlife. It believes the treasure was buried elsewhere, with some suspecting the pirates named Cocos to throw the Spanish off track.

9. Treasure of Alaric

Before the Vandals, there were the Visigoths, another Germanic tribe who were the first to sack Rome in August 410 CE.

An army commanded by King Alaric rampaged through the city for three days, stealing everything they could find and taking many Romans as slaves.

Alaric lived for only a few months after the raid, dying of what historians think was malaria, and leaving behind a huge haul of gold and silver.

The sixth-century historian Jordanes wrote that Alaric was buried, with much of the treasure, below the bed of the Busento river near what is now the city of Cosenza in southern Italy.

Captive slaves were used to divert the river and build a burial chamber, after which the river resumed its course. Then all were put to death so as not to be able to reveal the location.

As a result, Alaric’s tomb has never been found. There is speculation that it lies at the confluence of the Busento and the Crati, but there is no firm evidence.

This has not stopped generations of treasure hunters looking for what is said to be 25 tonnes of gold. They included the Nazis, lead by Heinrich Himmler, head of the notorious SS, who commanded a team of archaeologists in an echo of the film Raiders of the Lost Ark.

None succeeded. The most recent attempt was in 2015, when a team of Italian archaeologists again failed. What they did find was a rune carved into a cave wall which resembled a Jewish menorah. Could this be a clue to not just Alaric’s treasure, but also the long-lost golden Menorah of the Second Temple?

10. The Great Bell of Dhammazedi

Dhammazedi was a Buddhist king of Hanthawaddy in what became lower Burma, modern-day Myanmar. In 1484 he ordered the casting of a giant temple bell, said to be the biggest ever made, but against the advice of his astrologers, who said it would not produce any sound.

When finished, the bell was found to have an unpleasant tone and was placed in a hall where it was described by a Venetian merchant, Gasparo Balbi, in 1583 as “a very large bell which we measured, and found to be seven paces and three hand breadths”.

The bell was later moved to the Shwedagon Pagoda, where it was captured by a Portuguese mercenary, Filipe de Brito e Nicole. Planning to melt the bell to make cannon, he ordered it rolled down a hill to a waiting raft on the Bago River.

Unfortunately for de Brito, the bell was heavier than anticipated, and the raft broke apart under its weight, somewhere around the confluence with the Yangon River.

It sank to the bottom, where it remains to this day. At least seven attempts have been made in the past 25 years to locate it, all without success. One major problem is that the rivers have changed course many times in the past 400 years — meaning everyone may be looking in the wrong place.

Updated: February 17, 2023, 6:00 PM