Treasure map

Treasure map

A treasure map is a variation of a map to mark the location of buried treasure, a lost mine, a valuable secret or a hidden locale . More common in fiction than in reality, "Pirate treasure maps" are often depicted in works of fiction as hand drawn and containing arcane clues for the characters to follow. Regardless of the term's literary use, anything that meets the criteria of a "map" describing the location of a "treasure" could appropriately be called a "treasure map".

Treasure maps in history


Although buried pirate treasure is a favorite literary theme, there are very few documented cases of pirates actually burying treasure, and no documented cases of a historical pirate treasure map. One documented case of buried treasure involved Francis Drake who buried Spanish gold and silver after raiding the train at Nombre de Dios -- after Drake went to find his ships, he returned six hours later and retrieved the loot and sailed for England. Drake did not create a map. Another case in 1720 involved British Captain Stratton of the "Prince Eugene" who, after supposedly trading rum with pirates in the Caribbean, buried his gold near the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. One of his crew, Morgan Miles, turned him into the authorities, and it is assumed the loot was recovered. In any case, Captain Stratton was not a pirate, and made no map.

The pirate most responsible for the legends of buried pirate treasure was Captain Kidd. The story was that Kidd buried treasure from the plundered ship the Quedah Merchant on Gardiner's Island, near Long Island, New York, before being arrested and returned to England, where he was put through a very public trial and executed. Although much of Kidd's treasure was recovered from various people who had taken possession of it before Kidd's arrest (such as his wife and various others who were given it for safe keeping), there was so much public interest and fascination with the case at the time, speculation grew that a vast fortune remained and that Kidd had secretly buried it. Captain Kidd did bury a small cache of treasure on Gardiner's Island in a spot known as Cherry Tree Field; however, it was removed by Governor Bellomont and sent to England to be used as evidence against him. [ [ The Pirate Hunter: The True Story of Captain Kidd, pg. 241] , [ The Pirate Hunter: The True Story of Captain Kidd, pg. 260] ] Over the years many people have tried to find the supposed remnants of Kidd's treasure on Gardiner's Island and elsewhere, but none has ever been found.

Over the years many people have claimed to have discovered maps and other clues that lead to pirate treasure, or claim that historical maps are actually treasure maps. These claims are not supported by professional scholars.

El Dorado

In 1595, the English explorer Sir Walter Raleigh set out for the legendary city, El Dorado.*Miles Harvey (2000). "The Island of Lost Maps: A True Story of Cartographic Crime". ISBN 0-375-50151-7.] Naturally, the city was never found but Raleigh wrote at length about his venture to South America in which he claims to have come within close proximity of "the great Golden Citie of Manoa (which the Spanyards [sic] call El Dorado)."*Miles Harvey (2000). 'The Island of Lost Maps: A True Story of Cartographic Crime". ISBN 0-375-50151-7.] Despite the fact that his narrative was quite unrealistic—it described a tribe of headless people—his reputation commanded such respect that other cartographers apparently used Raleigh's map as a model for their own. Cartographer Jodocus Hondius included El Dorado in his 1598 map of South America, as did Dutch publisher Theodore de Bry.*Miles Harvey (2000). 'The Island of Lost Maps: A True Story of Cartographic Crime". ISBN 0-375-50151-7.] The city remained on maps of South America until as late as 1808*Miles Harvey (2000). 'The Island of Lost Maps: A True Story of Cartographic Crime". ISBN 0-375-50151-7.] and spawned numerous unsuccessful hunts for the city.

Treasure Maps in Fiction

Treasure maps have taken on numerous variations through literature and film, such as the stereotypical tattered chart with an over-sized "X" (as in "X marks the spot") to denote the treasures location, first made popular by Robert Louis Stevenson in "Treasure Island" (1883), a cryptic puzzle ala Edgar Allan Poe's "The Gold-Bug" (1843), or a tattoo leading to a dry-land paradise as seen in the film "Waterworld" (1995).


The treasure map may serve several purposes as a plot device in works of fiction:

* Motivation, causing the characters to begin a quest
* Plot exposition, explaining in a concise way where the characters must go on their quest
* To illustrate, at various points in the story, how far the quest has progressed.
* To provide conflict where, for example, evildoers attempt to capture the map from the protagonists

While Robert Louis Stevenson is associated with popularizing the treasure map—and the archetypal "X" to mark the spot—with pirates in his book "Treasure Island" (1883),*David Cordingly (1995). "Under the Black Flag: The Romance and the Reality of Life Among the Pirates". ISBN 0-679-42560-8.] he is not the first. Author James Fenimore Cooper's earlier 1849 novel "The Sea Lions", is a tale that begins with the death of a sailor who has left behind "two old, dirty and ragged charts" which lead to a seal-hunting paradise in the Antarctic as well as a location in the West Indies where pirates have buried treasure, a plot similar to Stevenson's tale.


In the 1985 film "The Goonies", an old treasure map leads to the secret stash of a legendary 17th century pirate, an almost exact imitation of Stevenson's plot in "Treasure Island". In the 2004 film "National Treasure", a treasure map becomes the source of the quest itself. In the 1994 comedy "", a treasure map is made by criminals who are analogous to modern day pirates. In the film "Waterworld", an extremely vague and cryptic treasure map has been tattooed on the back of the child character Enola. This map leads the characters to dry-land, which in the context of the film, was a treasure.



*David Cordingly (1995). "Under the Black Flag: The Romance and the Reality of Life Among the Pirates". ISBN 0-679-42560-8
*Miles Harvey (2000). "The Island of Lost Maps: A True Story of Cartographic Crime". ISBN 0-375-50151-7

See also

*Buried treasure

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