5 Ancient Treasure Troves That Are Just Sitting There, Virtually Untouched

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by William A. Kuechenberg

If Lara Croft has taught us anything, it’s that you can hardly shoot a gun without a stray bullet hitting some yet-to-be-discovered, historical marvel. But we all know that’s not real life -- surely there aren’t a bunch of ancient wonders out there just patiently waiting to be explored. Are there?


The Ancient Greek City Of Bargylia (For Sale)

What Is This Place?

Bargylia is a 2,500 year old Greek city in modern day Turkey. According to legend, it was named for Bargylos, who was killed after being kicked by Pegasus. Which, now that we think about it, is one of the top five things we’d want to be remembered for on our tombstone.

In its prime, Bargylia was a bustling city. Today, the 330-acre site houses extensive ruins, including an amphitheater, a temple, a Roman bath, a Byzantine-era necropolis, and a tomb dedicated to the sea monster Scylla. And that’s just the stuff we can see. Knowing the ancient Greeks, there could be a fragrant body oil store or a sexodrome or something.

While there have been a few looters over the years, they didn’t have the equipment to dig deep enough to get to the good stuff. But if all of this is largely untouched, how is it that some enterprising young rogue hasn’t found their way to the place to uncover some sweet-ass Pegasus bones?


Well … besides this badass rogue cow.

So What’s The Catch?

If you’re like us, when you hear that a 2,500-year-old Greek city remains unexcavated, you assume that’s because it’s protected by a clandestine brotherhood sworn to ensure the malignant demigod entombed there remains undisturbed for all eternity. The reality, however, is much less sexy: It’s actually for sale, to the tune of $8.3 million, which is an amount you might recognize as being beyond the budget of your typical archaeologist.

Why is the price so high? You’d have to ask the owner, given Bargylia currently sits on private property and Turkey’s government doesn’t want to spend money on things like pesky historical sites. Oh, and because of the Greek ruins, Bargylia has been declared a Grade 1 archaeological site, meaning that no construction can be performed there. Which also means that this extremely expensive seaside property is all but useless for commercial development, so the only people who could afford it have no incentive to buy it.

Well, except for the potentially priceless artifacts that lie within.

The Albuquerque-Sized City That Was Forgotten About

What Is This Place?

Historians knew there were some ruins in northern Cambodia, but they didn’t know exactly what they were -- that is, until they decided to strap some lasers to a helicopter and shoot the absolute crap out of the jungle with them, because literally anything involving lasers is badass. In doing so, they revealed the 1,200-year-old lost city of Mahendraparvata.

And it’s freaking huge, being roughly the size of Phnom Penh, the current largest city in Cambodia. It was built along a complicated water network of dams, canals and dikes that historians didn’t think were even invented until hundreds of years later. At its height, it’s believed that Mahendraparvata was among one of the cities that made up the largest empire in the world. So the next time you feel dumb for losing the TV remote, don’t, and instead remember that people have also lost what was once the planet’s largest empire.

Since people just kind of forgot about it, there are apparently dozens of temples that historians believe remain unlooted.

Get out of there, man. That building is basically a snake piñata.

So What’s The Catch?

For starters, it’s in the middle of a sweltering deathjungle. To reach it requires days of travel by foot and motorcycle, cutting through the underbrush with machetes, and trying not to get eaten by tigers. Plus, there’s an obscene amount of unexploded landmines in Cambodia -- millions of them.

Mahendraparvata has another unique problem: its size. One expert said that “to excavate it all would take lifetimes.” And since it would be essentially impossible to dig a city larger in area than Chicago out of an explosive jungle full of man-eating jungle cats, archaeologists are trying a more surgical approach and only excavating what they believe to be the most important parts. Or maybe just throwing a dart at a map. Oh, wait! Laser darts!

Bulgaria Is Loaded With Treasure-Rich Tombs

What Is This Place?

Bulgaria is home to an area which archaeologist Georgi Kitov dubbed “the Valley of the Thracian Kings.” Specifically, it contains an astonishing 1,500 burial mounds from the ancient Thracian people, a culture that enjoyed things like mounted combat and terrorizing neighboring civilizations. The Greek historian Herodotus believed they probably would have been the most powerful people on earth if they could just stop murdering each other for like two goddamn seconds. Kind of like the Dothraki, but with one less Queen of Dragons.

Since the Thracians' language is poorly understood, these tombs give valuable insight into an otherwise little-known culture. And also physical valuables, like weapons, gold and murals. Hell, even a freaking chariot has been found. A chariot.

So all the good stuff must be gone, right? Since they’re not a secret, surely they’re not just sitting there, waiting for some wandering hero to come in and fight off the reanimated corpses of the warrior-dead to collect their riches. Oddly enough, it seems that of the 1,500 known “tumuli,” only about 300 have been professionally excavated. And that’s just in the Valley of the Thracian Kings -- in all of Bulgaria, there are about 15,000 of them.

Seriously, a CHARIOT. With horses and everything!

So What’s The Catch?

Liches. Just kidding, the reality is far more stupid: bureaucratic mismanagement.

Bulgaria doesn’t want to spend the money to excavate the tombs. And on the rare occasion that they do actually earmark some money for it, the funding often goes to criminals. The aforementioned Georgi Kitov was notorious for his “excavations,” which were done with the scholarly rigor of a Michael Bay biopic -- he liked to bulldoze down the mounds and worked with admitted grave robbers, which led to him being kicked out of several prestigious archaeological institutions.

Even if actual scholars do get funding to excavate, there’s still good old-fashioned corruption to deal with. Once, when Kitov found treasure inside a tumulus, the police that were supposed to be guarding the site ended up shaking him down and trying to take the artifacts for themselves. Kind of like the fox protecting the hen house, except the hens weren’t very good at their job anyway.

The World’s Largest Tomb is Just Chillin’

What Is This Place?

If you think Bulgaria’s 15,000 tombs are impressive, get a load of Japan’s more than 200,000. Known as kofun, these key-shaped mounds were built between 200 and 500 CE to serve as the final resting places for aristocrats, and the vast majority of them have never been opened.

The few that have been excavated have revealed some truly remarkable artifacts, including swords, mirrors, glassware, haniwa figures and even a mural. While finding ancient swords in forgotten tombs is what archaeologists refer to as “scientifically rad,” the kofun that have been explored provide something even more valuable: information on the relatively poorly-understood Kofun Period. As one can infer from the name, the giant burial mounds are pretty much all we have to go on. Studying the kofun might also shed light on the quasi-mythical origins of the Japanese Imperial House, the world’s oldest line of hereditary monarchs.

There’s one kofun that’s really impressive: the Daisen Kofun. Boasting three moats, this burial mound is the largest grave in the world, measuring 1,594 by 1,007 feet, making it wider and larger in volume than the Great Pyramid of Giza. It’s thought to be the tomb of the 16th emperor of Japan, but that’s impossible to verify since no one is allowed past the third moat except for the Imperial Household Agency -- and even they don’t go into the main part of the mound.

Weirdest of all, it’s just sitting in the middle of the city of Sakai. That nobody’s explored it for thousands of years proves definitively that curiosity isn’t nearly as strong as habituation.

“I found the secret trainer who teaches the final ultimate.”

So What’s The Catch?

Japanese culture has a lot of theo-political trappings around the Royal Family, who were in living memory regarded as gods. Extremely complicated codes for the treatment of the royal family and traditional taboos regarding disturbing the dead make excavating a royal tomb a pretty tough sell.

There are some alternate theories floating around out there, too. One is that the Imperial Household Agency, the institution preventing citizens and archaeologists from exploring the Daisen Kofun, doesn’t want to relinquish their hold on the tomb for fear that further exploration will reveal that it’s not actually the tomb of an emperor and thus out of their purview. Others have claimed that they don’t want to dig it up because, if it’s not an emperor, that could jeopardize its bid to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site -- and the accompanying tourism money.

We have our own theory, of course, which basically amounts to nobody having found all the giant keys yet.

The Lost Cities That Will Straight Up Murder You

What Is This Place?

In 2012, archaeologist Chris Fisher led a team that used LIDAR -- the same helicopter-mounted laser technology used to discover Mahendraparvata -- to investigate legends of a lost city in the depths of the Honduran rainforest. What they found was spectacular: an honest-to-god lost city that was abandoned in the 16th century and has remained untouched, no looters or European conquerors having found it. It was rumored to have existed, but no one knew exactly where it was, sort of like Atlantis or that place in the woods where your buddy says he found a bunch of issues of Playboy in fifth grade.

This unnamed city is of great archaeological importance, as it’s evidence of a civilization that was previously completely unknown. When Fisher’s team reached the city, they discovered the remains of buildings, stone carvings, finely-carved chairs, monuments, and a definitely-not-cursed carving of a man-jaguar hybrid that’s led researchers to dub the site The City of the Jaguar. And that’s just the stuff they found digging eighteen inches down in forty square meters of a city that’s over a mile square.

As exciting a discovery as that is, according to Douglas Preston, an author who was part of Fisher’s expedition, there’s another lost city that they discovered completely by accident. And besides the city, Preston also believes that the nearby unexplored caves have “major necropolises, ossuaries, and other archaeological treasures.”

So why hasn’t anyone gone there to claim the fame, fortune, and the hordes of archaeology groupies that come with exploring a lost city? Beyond the rumors of it being cursed, of course.

“If there’s an ancient pool table in there, I call dibs.”—Ed.

So What’s The Catch?

Preston sums it up pretty well: “It’s just too dangerous.”

And what he means by that is these lost cities of the Masquita Valley are in the middle of an impregnable jungle so dangerous that Fisher’s team hired three British SAS jungle warfare specialists to keep them alive. It’s full of jaguars, deadly snakes, and is occasionally patrolled by narcos, who aren’t exactly cool with people sniffing around their secret jungle cocaine labs.

Oh, and after days of macheteing their way to the city, two-thirds of the team contracted a flesh-eating parasite that consumes your face.

It’s interesting that the disease is so prevalent in the ruins, since archaeologists theorize the cities were abandoned due to an epidemic. Many of the artifacts found in the City of the Jaguar were found in a single grave -- not for an individual, but for the city itself. Even weirder, these artifacts were arranged around “an enigmatic sculpture of a vulture” and “some of the vessels had carvings depicting a strange humanoid figure with a triangular head, hollow eyes, and an open mouth on a withered-looking body” which chief archaeologist Chris Fisher thinks might be some sort of figure representing death.

So yeah, it’s probably cursed.

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