1. Yamashita's treasure
Yamashita's treasure is the name given to war loot stolen in Southeast Asia by Japanese forces during World War II supposedly then hidden in caves, tunnels and underground complexes in the Philippines. It has been claimed by some American military intelligence operatives that they located some of the loot in the late 1940s, using it to help finance the USA’s covert operations during the Cold War. These claims, and the temptation of still more undiscovered riches, continue to draw treasure hunters to the Philippines to this day.
2. Awa Maru treasure
Japanese naval ship the Awa Maru was torpedoed and sunk in the Taiwan Strait on the 1st of April 1945 by US submarine The Queenfish. Onboard the Awa Maru is alleged to have been an estimated £3 billion in gold and diamonds. Some say that the priceless skull fragments of Peking Man – the prehistoric human ancestor "homo erectus pekinensis" unearthed in the 1930s – may also have been onboard.
Peking Man skull fragments
Image by Ryan Somma from Occoquan, USA [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
The wreck of the Awa Maru was located in the late 70s but, despite an expensive five year salvage operation carried out by the People’s Republic of China soon after, none of the treasure has yet been recovered.
3. The Treasure of Lima
In 1820 the Spanish controlled city of Lima in Peru was on the edge of revolt. It was decided that the city’s jewels, gold, and other treasures should be sent to Mexico for safekeeping. Captain William Thompson, commander of the Mary Dear, was put in charge of transporting the riches to Mexico but the temptation of the treasure proved too much for him. Thompson and his crew turned pirate, sailing to Cocos Island off the coast of present day Costa Rica where they buried their loot. Apprehended by a Spanish warship soon afterward, all except Thompson and his first mate were executed for piracy. The two said they would show the Spaniards where they had hidden the treasure in return for their lives but instead escaped into the Cocos jungle. The £35 million worth of treasure remains buried somewhere on the island.
4. The 1715 Treasure Fleet
Rare 8 Escudos Lima dated 1710 recovered from the 1715 Fleet
Image by Augi Garcia [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0), via Wikimedia Commons
On the 30th of July 1715, twelve Spanish ships carrying gold and silver from the New World were lost in a hurricane off the coast of Florida, USA. Much of the treasure was salvaged immediately by quick-thinking sailors from the region but the storm scattered the fleet wide and the boats sank swiftly. Although goods have been recovered and exhibited over the last few decades, artefacts from the lost fleet, including gold coins, still wash up on Florida beaches today. The treasure fleet is still out there somewhere, buried in the sand beneath the waves.
5. Bloody Sword’s treasure
Benito "Bloody Sword" Bonito began his career as a pirate sometime around 1818. His story – or legend as the case may be – is often conflated with that of Captain Thompson’s so that the treasure of Lima is said by some to have actually been buried on Cocos by Bonito. Australian folklore states that Benito hid the “captain’s cut” of his ill gotten gains in a cave near Queenscliff, Victoria which he then sealed with the use of explosives. The story goes that Bloody Sword died – some say by the rope, some by his own hand rather than face execution – before the treasure could be recovered and that it remains entombed within the cave to this day.