Heat, sand, and isolation make the desert a great place for treasure to hide.
1. A Fleet of Fighter Jets
During the 2003 invasion of Iraq, one of the things that seemed curious was the enemy’s lack of planes. The American military knew that the Iraqis had air squadrons and just assumed they had stayed grounded because they knew a win against American and British firepower was pretty much impossible. But a few months later someone noticed a tailfin sticking out of the sand near a military base.
After a lot of digging, they found about 30 brand new planes buried under ten feet of sand. While the government was quick to emphasize that the planes were not actually weapons of mass destruction, Donald Rumsfeld pointed out the fact that thousands of troops had been within a “stone’s throw” of giant aircraft for three months and not noticed, which meant the WMDs they were looking for could still be out there.
2. Treasure Maps
The world famous Dead Sea Scrolls were first discovered in 1946 by a local shepherd. Over the course of the next decade, archeologists joined in the search of the surrounding desert caves for more ancient documents. In 1952, one team found two rolled-up copper scrolls. It took them five years to figure out how to unroll the scrolls without destroying them, but in the end they managed to cut the copper into 23 thin pieces. The researchers then put them back together and set about translating the Ancient Hebrew writing. While it was impossible to decipher the entire thing, we do know that the scrolls are directions on how to find a huge stash of treasure, “a money chest and its contents, of a weight of seventeen talents,” estimated to be worth millions of dollars today.
Unfortunately, the directions have lost their usefulness in the last 2000 years, so unless you can figure out where the “gutter” of the water tank is, and from there find the tunnel under the “second enclosure,” this treasure may remain hidden in the desert forever.
3. A Priceless Library
In the 1500s, Timbuktu was a thriving city on the edge of the Sahara Desert, and for 30 years was home to the University of Sankoré. For three decades the university’s founder, Mohammed abu Bakr al-Wangari, purchased books on African and Islamic history, the sciences, religion, and literature. But after his death in 1594, the library he built up was divided among his relatives in the city and forgotten about for centuries.
It was only in the last decade that a project to recover as many of the books as possible began. So far dozens of these priceless, hand-written texts have been found in caves, derelict buildings, underground chambers, and hidden away in chests. Many of the books are water-logged or have been virtually destroyed by termites, but others are in surprisingly good condition thanks to the dryness and heat of the desert. A project is now underway to preserve the books, which are unprecedented in their coverage of medieval West African history.
4. The World's Oldest Pot Stash
David Potter/NBC News
Back in 2008, archaeologists found almost two pounds of marijuana in a 2,700-year-old grave in the Gobi Desert. "It could have been for pain control," according to Dr. Ethan Russo, who wrote about the discovery in the Journal of Experimental Botany. "It could have been for other medicinal properties. It could have been used as an aid to divination." The deceased may have been a man of status. In addition to the cannabis, researchers found equestrian and archery equipment in the tomb.
According to Discovery News, the ancient stash is now at Turpan Museum in China.
5. Incriminating Documents
In 2003, Shell Oil was in a bit of a pickle. During the 1990s there had been an oil spill from one of their pipelines. Shell had since sold that pipeline to another company, which was being sued over well water contaminated by the spill. The current owner needed documents from Shell. And since Shell had absolutely nothing to hide, they took 190 boxes full of accounting ledgers and environmental reports from that time and buried them 40 feet deep in the New Mexico desert.
The documents were only discovered when a former employee admitted he knew where they were. And this wasn’t a simple misunderstanding. There was no landfill in the area, and as the state’s Attorney General pointed out, “It's just very unusual to bury records in the middle of the desert.” Shell tried to claim it was just “office refuse.”