The True Story of Treasure Chests

Imagine uncovering an elaborately decorated treasure chest and lifting the lid to find an abundance of shimmering coins and jewels. Surely this scene would take place on a deserted stretch of beach after years of searching with a crumpled, yellowed map.

Unfortunately, these images only exist in dreams and movies. In reality, most treasure is recovered at the bottom of the ocean, not on land. The coins discovered were packaged in functional crates rather than fancy chests. However, there is unfound bounty from known shipwrecks hiding on the ocean floor.
1. As soon as ocean trade began, organized crime on the seas was born. Vikings, the early pirates, preyed upon merchants in the Atlantic Ocean. The Mediterranean Sea was home to the Barbary coastal pirates. No countries, with goods to trade, were safe from piracy. The European and Asian continents were especially vulnerable.

By the time Europeans began to explore what they called the "New World," pirates were bolder, with better vessels. Spaniards began pilfering from the Indians inhabiting the new lands, later called America. When they shipped gold and silver back to Spain, pirates were ready to relieve them of their treasures.

The idea of a treasure chest originated with the "tall tales" of pirates glamorizing their exploits at sea. The popular classic "Treasure Island" by Robert Louis Stevenson exemplified the myth with a fictional tale of buried treasure and the treasure map. The fantasy is kept alive through the years by movies.
2. The few researchers lucky enough to recover treasures say chests were not ornately detailed, glimmering chests. Treasure chests were functional, meant for safe voyage. An elaborate chest would call attention to the booty. Coins and other treasures were transported in "shipping crates," made of wood and securely nailed shut. The few treasures found were packaged in this manner without hinges or carvings on the crates.
3. A treasure chest contained crude, melted chunks of gold and silver. Though the treasure is referred to as "coin," it was oddly shaped, bearing little resemblance to the coins we trade today. Some gold and silver was melted into Spanish doubloons and pieces of eight. Ironically, the Spanish forced the Indians to melt down the gold and silver they stole from them, only to have the coins confiscated by pirates or lost in storms on the way back to Spain.
Time Frame
4. Evidence of lost treasure dates back to the 1500s. Spanish shipwrecks off the coast of Texas and Florida occurred from 1554 to 1733. Other ships, said to contain vast cargo, sank in storms through 1743. In addition to Spanish, there were British, Portuguese and Dutch treasures lost at sea. Evidence of these wrecks exists in coins that washed up on the coasts and litter the ocean floor.
5. Though tales of elaborate treasure chests are exaggerated, the treasure itself was bountiful. The Mel Fisher Maritime Museum in Key West Florida details recovered bounty from two wrecks.

In 1965, the recovery from the "1715 Nueva Espana fleet," provided a true portrayal of the functional treasure chest. A 1985 discovery referred to as the "motherlode" represented real bounty. The recovered wreck of the "Nuestra Senora de Atocha" yielded 52 chests of silver coins, bars and copper ingots as well as a realistic look at how treasure was