When people think of deserts, the adjectives of hot, dry, and endless typically come to mind. And while some people will go to the desert for adventures, 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 miles of sand and dunes and uncover some of the world’s greatest treasures.
And 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 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 games 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
The Shell Documents That 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 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.
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.
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 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 origins 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 in-tact 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.
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.
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.