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Explorers Search For Cocos Island Treasure



The idea of a pirate’s buried treasure seems to have been hatched in a movie director’s imagination or by some fabulist 19th century sailor drunk from rum and sun. Nevertheless, the idea persists in fiction as well as in real life. Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island is said be based off an almost two-century-old story about a rogue British trader carrying enough booty to warrant the killing of the men escorting the impossible-to-fathom cargo to Mexico. The story or myth or historical non-fiction is the impetus behind a modern day treasure hunt, using contemporary technology and all the advantages in 3D mapping and pinpoint drilling for hidden cavities in the earth and surrounding bay.

In 1821, a ship, the Mary Dear, carried its Captain, William Thompson, the men of Lima’s viceroy, Jose de la Serna, and a cargo of great wealth towards Mexico for safekeeping. There were 113 gold religious statues, 200 chests of jewels, 273 swords with jeweled hilts, 1,000 diamonds, solid-gold crowns, 150 chalices and hundreds of gold and silver bars. All told, the Mary Dear plunder has an estimated worth of around $200-250 million.

With so much wealth on board, Captain Thompson and his crew murdered the viceroy’s men and absconded with the treasure towards Cocos Island. It was here where the treasure was buried. Not long after the Mary Dear set sail again, Thompson and his men were caught by a Spanish war ship. Everyone was killed except Thompson and his second-in-command, under the pretension they would lead the Spanish ship to the treasure.

Back on Cocos Island, Thompson and his second mate escaped and, after a year’s time, they were picked up (sans treasure) by a passing ship. Since Thompson’s turn-about on his way to Mexico, there have been a series of 20th century explorations to the uninhabited island, 350 miles off the coast of Costa Rica, but none of have been successful in locating the loot.

Names that have tried, and failed, to locate Thompson’s murderous spoils, include President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Errol Flynn, Sir Malcolm Campbell and August Gissler, who, after spending more than 19 years living on the island, returned with just 6 gold pieces.

Now a British archaeologist, Shaun Whitehead, believes he can find the mysterious treasure, according to Telegraph, with the latest in modern technologies. Whitehead has previously explored unmapped shafts in Egypt’s Great Pyramid of Giza.

According to Whitehead, “it is not a case of following a map and “X” marking the spot. It is about using a bit of logic to establish the likelihood of some areas where it could be.” Some of those technologies include an unmanned helicopter that will fly over the nine-mile long island and help map the territory in 3D. A robot will follow whose radar can penetrate up to 60 feet deep for discrepancies in the terrain. The ensuing map will hopefully reveal cavities, as yet unfound, that could point the way to the treasure. The research will concentrate on three of the island’s four bays and the surrounding area adjacent to them. The full ambit will criss-cross the places most used by visitors, like the steeped-in-lore Thompson visit 190 years prior.

After locating a concealed opening with the 3D map, Whitehead’s group will use a keyhole drill to open a tiny crevice after which they’ll stick a one-inch camera into the opening to see if they’ve struck gold. It’s a humble deference to the beauty of the largely untrammeled island that Whitehead and his crew would go to such lengths to spare the land the crude diggings that could wreck it’s fragile, cloistered ecosystem.

The Cocos Island is protected by UNESCO World Heritage, which means it took some finagling and discretion when Whitehead and his team applied for their expedition. It took 18 months of negotiations, to be exact. The team, composed of University of Costa Rica scientists and Germany’s Seneckenberg Institute, will also be studying geology and wildlife on the island. It’s the first such expedition permitted by the Costan Rican government in 25 years.

“This is a scientific survey, including archaeological, geological and biodiversity aspects,” said Mr. Whitehead about his group. “Unlike previous trips we are not going to dig vast holes or do anything destructive at all. The real treasure of the island is its natural beauty. Anything else we find there is simply a bonus.”

Their 10-day journey is planned for late November and the group expects to go above and beyond their more famous predecessors.

You’re probably wondering by now what they’ll do with the fortune if they’re lucky enough to find the long-buried treasure? They’ve vowed to return whatever they find to the Costa Rican government for a token salvage fee. In real life, a real adventuring hero goes on a quest for the adventure and not the material wealth gained. That’s a pretty good definition of an Adrenalist.

Cover Photo Credit: Stephane Enten /

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