While some people go to the desert looking for adventure, they usually come back with nothing to show for their travels other than a nice sunburn. Then there are the lucky ones who explore the sand and dunes and end up uncovering some amazing treasures.
While not every artifact found in the desert has a price tag, like the priceless Copper Scroll, some are worth millions. Keep reading to learn about some objects people have found in the desert that turned out to be worth a lot of money.
The Boot of Cortez Is Worth $1.3 Million
As the story goes, in 1989, a prospector from Senora, Mexico, bought a cheap metal detector from Radio Shack and, to his surprise, unearthed a massive gold nugget. That nugget is now known as the Boot of Cortez. Weighing in at 389.4 troy ounces, the gold piece is said to be the largest nugget that exists in the western hemisphere.
Pieces such as the Boot of Cortez are highly sought-after collector's items. Initially, it was purchased from the local man for $30,000. After switching hands a few times, the last public auction took place in January 2008. The Boot of Cortez sold for $1.3 million.
The Gibeon Meteorite Is Prehistoric And Worth Thousands
First discovered in Great Namaqualand, Namibia, Africa, in 1836, the Gibeon Meteorite is thought the be an assortment of asteroid fragments of an exploded star that dates back four billion years. The prehistoric meteorite is composed of iron, small amounts of cobalt, and nickel, weighing between 200 and 1,100 pounds!
Because of the hard exterior of the space rock, natives would use it to construct tools and various weapons. Since then, around 100-150 various fragments have been discovered, some of which are displayed in Post Street Mall in Namibia. Today, the fragments are worth around $383,806.
The James Ossuary May Or May Not Be A Hoax
In 2002, The James Ossuary was found in a cave in the Silwan region of Jerusalem. In its entirety, the ossuary is a limestone box that is meant to hold the bones of the deceased. This particular box is of significant importance because of the Aramaic inscription in the Hebrew alphabet cut into the side that says, "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus."
Unfortunately, there was widespread skepticism regarding the authenticity of the ossuary. While it is an artifact of the time, there is a chance the finder, Oded Golan, forged the inscription. Because the authenticity couldn't be proven, the ossuary is only worth $50,000.
Winchester Model 1873 Has An Estimated Value Of $15k
The weapon known as the "gun that won the west" was discovered in The Great Basin National Park within the Great Basin Desert in 2015 by park workers. It was found leaning against one of the trees in the park, and no one knows how long it was there. The Winchester Model 1873 was popular, with over 760,000 made between 1873 and 1916.
At the time of its making, this model typically ran around $35-$50. Now, 100 plus years later, this particular Winchester Model 1873 is worth approximately $15,000. Tourists traveling to Nevada can see this artifact at the Lehman Caves visitor center within the park.
A Ferrari Enzo In The Dubai Desert
Wealthy people owning supercars in Dubai is nothing new, but when one of those expensive vehicles is found abandoned in the middle of the desert, it raises some eyebrows. In 2011, a Ferrari Enzo was found rotting in the 115-degree heat of the Dubai desert. The car originally sold for $600,000, and there were only 399 sold to the public.
And due to recklessness on the owners' parts, only a few remain. The Enzo has since been impounded and moved to an indoor facility. But with so few remaining, the price of this Ferrari model has skyrocketed to around $1.1 million.
An Opal Called "The Fire Of Australia" Sold For Less Than It's Market Value
Discovered in 1946 by Walter Bartram in Coober Pedy, South Australia, the Fire of Australia is a 998-gram uncut opal. The stone is said to be just under 5,000 carats, rough-cut but polished on two sides to show the rainbow of color opals are known for. It has remained in the Bartram family since it was mined until they sold it in 2017.
The opal was sold for $500,000 to the South Australian Museum. Although the Fire of Australia's estimated value is around $900,000, the family wanted to be sure it would remain un-cut as well as in Australia. So, they compromised and took a lower payout.
The Rare Mineral Libyan Glass
The origin of Libyan Dessert Glass is uncertain, while some believe the glass is formed after lightning strikes sand (think Sweet Home Alabama), others believe the glass is from a meteorite that hit the border between Libya and Egypt. Either way, a high-pressure-high-heat event occurs for the glass to be formed.
Although there is estimated to be over a thousand tons worth of the yellow glass strewn throughout the desert, it is extremely rare and hard to find. Depending on the weight of the mineral, Libyan Desert Glass is estimated to be worth $750-$1,000. Now multiply that by all of the fragments not yet found in the sand!
The Ten Commandments Film Set Found In Sand Dunes
The film The Ten Commandments was groundbreaking in 1956. Hollywood's use of special effects and props in the movie were never before seen on the big screen. So, when it was time to wrap up filming, director Cecil B. DeMille's ordered the 12 stories high 800-foot wide set designed by Paul Iribe to be buried.
Then, in 2017, one of the 21 sphinx heads buried in the Guadalupe-Nipomo sand dunes was uncovered by archaeologists. The Hollywood artifacts were able to stay intact even though they were buried for decades, speaking to the designer's craftsmanship. The Ten Commandments film set is estimated to be worth around $1 million.
A Shipwreck In The Namibian Desert is worth over $13 Million
In 2008, the Portuguese ship called the Bom Jesus was discovered in the Namibian Desert. The ship went down in 1533 en route to India, never to be seen again. And while there have been many wrecks found in the desert, the Bom Jesus is considered to be the most valuable.
The ship was filled with priceless artifacts, including ivory tusks, 44,000 pounds of copper, and $13,000,000 worth of gold coins. On top of the other materials such as old muskets and cannonballs found aboard the ship, it's safe to say the total haul is worth a large sum.
Incriminating Shell Documents Were Buried In A 40-Foot Hole
In 1992, the Shell Oil-owned Texas-New Mexico Pipeline Co. had a massive oil spill underneath a development. Not wanting to be associated with the spill, Shell sold their rights to the pipeline and buried the documents in a 45-foot hole in the New Mexico desert. EOTT then bought the rights to the pipeline, unaware of the spill.
In 2003, 190 boxes full of documents and records were found regarding the incident. Considering the files were in a hole meant to cover up criminal activities, they were worth a substantial amount of money — more than $60 million, to be exact.
The Atari Landfill Is Full Of The Worst Video Game Ever Released
In 1983, there was a mass burial in a New Mexico landfill. The contents? Around 700,000 unsold video game cartridges, computers, and gaming consoles manufactured by the company Atari, Inc. The burial was considered to be an urban legend, until 2014 when the contents were finally unearthed. When the contents were excavated, workers were pleased to find many E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial cartridges.
The game is known to be one of the worst video games ever to be released. Now, it's worth thousands! Aside from that one game, other vintage cartridges were discovered, such as Pac-Man. The entire landfill is estimated to be worth around $108,000.
The Ptolemaic Coin Is Very Rare
The Ptolemaic Coin was discovered by archaeologists working in Tel Kedesh, Israel. The coin dates back 2,200 years and is thought to be one of the rarest coins found in the Israeli desert. The engraving on the coin is believed to depict either Queen Arsinoe II Philadelphus or Cleopatra.
Dr. Donald T. Ariel, head of the Coin Department of the Israel Antiquities Association, says, "The coin is beautiful and in excellent preservation. It is the heaviest gold coin with the highest contemporary value of any coin ever found in an excavation in Israel, weighing almost an ounce." The Ptolemaic Coin is estimated to be worth around $10,000.
Prada Marfa Is Worth $120k
Prada Marfa isn't the typical artifact one would find in the desert. Instead, it is a sculpture art installation that was erected in 2005 by artists Elmgreen and Dragset. The sculpture depicts a Prada storefront and even has actual merchandise from the high-end chain. Alas, the door does not actually function, so there is no way to get into the "store."
The storefront is located just off of U.S. Highway 90, right outside of Valentine, Texas. Due to all of the designer handbags, shoes, and other wares, Prada Marfa is estimated to be worth around $120,000. It is considered a popular tourist destination.
A Chinese Aluminum Hoard Is Estimated To Be Worth $2 Million
In 2014, a large pile of aluminum was found in central Mexico. The stock weighed around one million metric tons and is said to account for six percent of the world's aluminum supply. Jeff Henderson, a trade representative, believes billionaire and aluminum magnate Liu Zhongtian sent shipments through Mexico to avoid US tariffs.
The scheme is thought to have started as early as 2008. Zhongtian has since been indicted on charges pertaining to him smuggling large amounts of aluminum into the United States. The total cost of tariffs he avoided is estimated to be around $2 million.
Iraqi Fighter Jets Found Buried In The Sand
In 2003, US troops discovered multiple Iraqi MiG-25 Foxbat fighters and SU-25 Frog Foot fighter-bombers buried in the sand at the al-Taqqadum Air Base in Iraq. Porter Goss, the former Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Porter Goss, said, "Our guys have found 30-something brand new aircraft buried in the sand to deny us access to them."
It's believed that Saddam Hussein wanted to hide the jets from the United States military, coming back to unbury them at a later time when he could attack. That day never came. The Iraqi fighter jets are estimated to be worth around $300 million or more.
The Copper Scroll Abacus Is A Priceless Artifact
The Copper Scroll Abacus was found in 1952 in one of the caves near Khibet Qumran. Unlike the other Dead Sea Scrolls, the Copper Scroll is written on copper mixed with one percent of tin, instead of papyrus. When it was uncovered, the scroll was split into two separate pieces, instead of its complete eight-foot length.
This particular scroll also isn't a literary work but rather a treasure map illustrating various locations of gold and silver. The Copper Scroll has been on display since 2013 in the Jordan Museum in Amman. Due to its historical significance, the scroll is said to be priceless.
The Hidden Library Of Timbuktu
Timbuktu sits on the edge of the Sahara Desert and was home to the University of Sankoré for 30 years. At that time, university founder Mohammed abu Bakr al-Wangari built a library with books on African and Islamic history, religion, sciences, as well as literature. Unfortunately, after his death in 1594, the works were split among his family and lost.
It's just been in the last decade that some of the manuscripts have been uncovered. While some are destroyed due to water and termites, others are still willfully intact thanks to the desert heat. Like many artifacts, this book collection is said to be priceless.
The Death Mask of Tutankhamun Is Worth $2 Million
In 1922, the burial chamber of the young Egyptian Pharaoh Tutankhamun (King Tut) was found in the Valley of the Kings. It wouldn't be until a year later when archaeologists would open the chamber and another two for the sarcophagus. It was on October 28, 1925, when Howard Carter, an English archaeologist, opened the coffin and revealed the golden death mask.
The mask is composed of high-karat gold, lapis lazuli, quartz, obsidian, as well as other precious stones, and weighs 22.6 pounds. As of 1925, the mask has found a permanent home in the Egyptian Museum in Cario. The Death Mask of Tutankhamun is worth $2 million.
The Hoax Of The Death Valley Mother Lode
In 1999, Jerry Freeman uncovered a wooden chest in the Panamint Mountains in Death Valley. The Death Valley Mother Lode was thought to contain artifacts dating back to the 1850s, including 80 coins, a hymnal, baby shoes, pottery bowls, a pistol, and a letter written by William Robinson, a Gold Rush pioneer.
Freeman valued his find at around $500,000. Unfortunately, a few days after the find, the Western Archeological and Conservation Center and the Smithsonian Institute deemed the letter fake. It was also determined that a number of the artifacts came from a later period, not 1950.
The Delta Treasure Was Never Cashed Out
Scott Taylor of Utah presumably found a treasure trove in 2005. His bounty included 280 gold bricks with "U.S. Cavalry" stamped on the top, a six-shooter, a few boxes of age-old dynamite, and two Civil War-era rifles. The thing about what is known as the Delta Treasure is that Taylor won't tell anyone where it is located.
He refuses to tell the government where the treasure is because he believes they won't give him a fair share. A Brigham Young University professor says that Taylor's finders fee should be about 40 percent. Altogether, the Delta Treasure is worth around $100 million.
An Egyptian Goldsmith's Tomb Had More Than Just Gold
In 2017, archaeologists discovered the ancient tomb of an Egyptian goldsmith named Amenemhat. His grave was located in the Dra' Abu el-Naga' burial ground, an area not far away from the iconic Valley of Kings.
Being a gold worker, Amenemhat would have been a man held in high regard both for his skill and for working with such precious metals around 3,500 years ago. His grave consisted of elaborate jewelry, as well as 150 small statues to watch over him in death.
A Precious Mineral Can Be Extremely Valuable
One of the lesser-known minerals that can be found in the desert and is worth a lot of money is borax. This is the chemical compound that is used to extract boron, which is a significant component for a number of manufactured goods ranging from glass to pharmaceuticals to cosmetics.
One place that has an abundance of borax is around California's Searles Lake. Since its discovery, miners have extracted more than $1 billion worth of borax, with some claiming it's more valuable than gold.
The Tomb Of The Silver Pharoah
In 1939, the grave of Pharaoh Psusennes I was discovered, who is assumed to have ruled the kingdom of Egypt around 3,000 years ago. He reigned for more than half a century.
Unsurprisingly, the former pharaoh's tomb was also packed with gold artifacts such as his death mask, sandals, rings, and other clothing all made from gold. Considering the amount of precious gold and jewels found, some argue that his tomb is even more lavish than Tutankhamun's.
A Lucky Prospector Found A Massive Gold Nugget In Australia
While out exploring with his metal detector, Australian prospector Kevin Hillier discovered an enormous gold nugget. The giant piece of gold weighed in at a whopping 960 ounces, and was uncovered in a desert gold field near the town of Kingower, Victoria.
After discovering the massive lump of gold in 1980, he was quick to sell it to the Golden Nugget Casino in Las Vegas for $1 million. Of course, a casino with that name couldn't pass up the opportunity!
A Can Full Of Valuable Coins
In 2013, a couple, whose names still remain unknown, were walking their dog on land they owned in Saddle Ridge in California's Sierra Nevada mountains. While walking, they spotted an old can. Upon picking it up, they discovered that the can contained gold coins.
They continued to find even more of these cans with the total number of coins found being 1,427. The coins dated from 1847 to 1894, and in 2014 were estimated to be worth $10 million in total.
250 Mummies Discovered In Just A Few Digs
In 1996, while excavating at the Bahariya Oasis in Egypt's Western Desert, a team of researchers stumbled upon something incredible. After a series of digs, they had managed to uncover around 250 mummies from the Greco-Roman era around 2,000 years ago.
While not all of the mummies were buried with riches, many of them had decorated death masks, waistcoats, and more. On top of that, many of the mummies were in excellent condition. The site was given the name the Valley of the Golden Mummies.
Someone Claimed To Have Found A Lost Treasure
In 1965, a mysterious package arrived at the offices of Desert Magazine. Inside the parcel was a letter, some other papers, and most notably, two gold nuggets. The anonymous letter claimed that the sender had discovered the location of Pegleg's "burned black gold."
Thomas "Pegleg" Smith was a real person, a prospector, who died in 1866. The writer claimed to have removed $300,000 from the site and said that there was much more left. However, they never revealed the location.
There's More Than Buried Treasure In The Desert
When most people think of treasure, they imagine gold, silver, and jewels, but that's not always the most valuable. Uranium can be found in the desert, and in modern society is an incredibly precious commodity.
The radioactive element can be used to make devastating weapons, among other things, and can even be used for power. One of the world's largest uranium mines is located in the Namib desert, which runs along the coast of Namibia for over 1,200 miles.
Ancient Cylinder Seals Were Used By Ancient Kings
Back in the time of the Mesopotamians, around 3,500 years ago, cylinder seals were used. They were about an inch in length and would be rolled across clay to create impressions with symbols and figures.
Typically, they were used as royal or official signatures, and at times were even worn as pieces of jewelry. Although many of the cylinders in the best condition can be found in museums, they can be sold for quite a bit of money either to collectors, researchers, and even on the black market.
Spanish Coins Unexplainably Found In Utah
In May 2019, a man hiking in the desert of Utah's Glen Canyon National Recreational Area came across a peculiar pair of coins. Understanding that there was something unique about them, he brought them to experts who identified them as being of Spanish origin, with one dating from the 1660s and the other the 13th century.
However, there is no record of the Spanish reaching that part of the United States until the 1700s, so where could the coins have come from?
A Town In The Namib Desert Became A Hotspot After The Discovery of Diamonds
Kolmanskop was a rather unmentionable town in the Namib Desert in Namibia until 1908, when Zacharias Lewala came across a diamond lying in the sand.
From then on, the town exploded in population, with an endless stream of people flooding into the area of hoping to find their own fortune lying in the desert sands. The town of Kolmanskop was wealthy for over 40 years until the early 1950s, but by 1954 was no more than a ghost town.
Buddhist Treasure Found In Mongolia Was Hidden From Communists
Mongolia's Gobi Desert is regarded as one of the most remote and desolate places on planet Earth. Not many people go out there searching for treasure; nevertheless, in 2009, Buddhist treasures were discovered.
Over 64 crates of Buddhist artifacts had been buried in the desert in the 1930s by a monk named Tudev, with the goal of protecting them during the communist purge. He left the secret of the treasure to his family, who uncovered some of the crates until the rest were discovered in 2009. The artifacts included manuscripts, statues, artwork, and more.
The Rosetta Stone Is One Of History's Greatest Discoveries
In 1799, the Rosetta Stone was discovered by a member of Napoleon Bonaparte's army during his campaign in Egypt. The stele is inscribed with three different translations of a decree that were issued in Memphis, Egypt, in 196 BC on behalf of Ptolemy V Epiphanes.
The top and middle texts are in ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs and Demotic scripts, with the bottom being ancient Greek. The stone became the key to deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphs, therefore beginning the real study of Egyptology.
A Rare Meteorite From Mars
A 75-ounce meteorite was discovered in the Western Sahara near the Moroccan city of Smara. Its official designation is Northwest Africa 7397, usually shortened to NWA 7397.
While meteorites aren't all that uncommon, what makes this particular one special is that it comprises 75 ounces of the total 300 pounds of Martian meteorites that have ever been found on Earth. You can buy pieces of the meteorite on the Internet in small amounts for around $500.
One Gold Hunter Scored In Western Australia
There are a lot of people who go searching for gold in the deserts of Australia, with an estimated 20,000 people looking for their fortune in 2019 alone. However, out of all the thousands of people, at least one person struck gold, literally.
One gold hunter was searching near the old mining town of Kalgoorlie-Boulder when fortune smiled upon him. He unearthed a gold nugget weighing in at around 50 ounces and worth roughly $70,000.
Don't Forget About Silver!
If you're on the hunt for silver, look no further than the deserts of the U.S. America has been known for its quantity of silver coming from the deserts dating back to 1859.
That was the year when miners found mass amounts of the metal in Nevada, giving it its name, the "Silver State." During the mid-19th century, the mines in the Nevada deserts alone yielded $225 million worth of silver. If you're lucky, you can probably still find some out there!
The Dead Sea Scrolls
While this discovery may not be treasure or precious gems, the Dead Sea Scrolls are considered to be one of the most valuable pieces of information ever found in the desert.
Found in a cave system in Israel, the Dead Sea Scrolls are a series of parchments that are thousands of years old, that contain some of the earliest passages of texts that are found in the Hebrew Bible and other major religious texts. They are a priceless piece of history that you can't put a number on.
Ancient Greek Treasure Found In Israel
In 2015, a group of Israeli cave explorers came across a small collection of ancient Greek treasures. They found two silver coins, jewelry, and a necklace. The items proved to be over 2,000 years old and would fetch a pretty penny if they weren't considered to be priceless artifacts.
The silver coins have the image of the Greek god Zeus and are assumed to be from Alexander the Great. Another incredible aspect of this find is the great condition the treasures were in.
Microorganisms That Can Cure Deadly Diseases
While finding jewels, treasures, and lost information is incredible, there are other things found in the desert that can save lives. One example of this was in Chile's Atacama desert, where some potential life-saving organisms were discovered.
One of the strains of the microorganisms has potential use to treat the human immunodeficiency virus. This particular strain contains a specific enzyme that could allow for it to reproduce itself inside the human body.
A Fully-Functioning Pool
It's no secret that artists enjoy constructing art installations in questionable places, which is exactly what one Austrian artist did in the Mojave Desert. Although installing a fully-functioning pool is impressive enough, this pool is the top of the line.
It's a cool-water pool that sports many of the same features you would expect to see in a million-dollar mansion. While it might not exactly be a treasure at the moment, it might be for someone wandering the desert.