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Treasure of the Ancient Ones

By Land ~ Sea Discovery Group Staff

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Pyramid of the Sun, Tenochtitlan, Mexico.
Land ~ Sea Discovery Group Collection.

Chasing mist-veiled dreams is something I don't ordinarily do, but for years this particular dream would pop up whenever it so desired sometimes finding me gasping for air. It could occur sometimes in the middle of the night or on a lazy Sunday afternoon while dozing off in the easy chair. It was always the same and always left me with the feeling that I needed to investigate it further. After all, this dream contained a subject I was greatly interest in, namely treasure. They say a treasure hunter should follow all his possible leads. Do dreams count? Is this just a conglomeration of all the books I've read or movie's I've seen? The dream goes something like this.

Before entering a great, green valley, a multicolor robed shaman camps for the night with his band of followers. They are the bearers of a great treasure far from the south. Gold, silver and riches beyond belief accompany them on their trek that will soon be over. The shaman is leading them to the place where his ancestors came from. In the camp, light from the fire illuminates his face. As the sparks rise to meet his outstretched hands that reach towards the heavens he says, "Celebrate tonight my people for tomorrow we enter the village of our ancestors. I want to be ready. We will be treated with great honor."

Unfortunately on rounding the bed of the stream that led into the village an ominous feeling comes over them. Where are the sounds of the children playing? Where are the lookouts? Finally arriving at the village the shaman finds it empty. The cliff house, built into a massive hollow in the wall of the mountain is deserted, pots and mats lying strewn about where the people left them. All the rooms are searched to no avail. The people were gone.

"What nature of enchantment is this?" Thinks the shaman. "Where could my ancestors have gone?" Being the great leader that he is he decides to bury the treasure in a sub room of the village. Then he leads his people away in search of food and survival in this enchanted land.

This is usually where the mist comes into the dream, as I never seem to know why or where I am. I do recall however a series of rooms in a high place made of red sandstone blocks and a sign saying, "Stay on the Trails." I remember stepping off beyond the trail and then falling through a roof. In some of the dreams I fall into the room itself, out of breath and choking from the dust of centuries being stirred up by my fall. In others the fall wakes me up. But in both versions, as I'm falling, my eyes catch a glitter of gold in a corner of the room that the sunlight explodes upon, blinding me for a brief second. That's the dream, over and over again for years.

Surely there is nothing to it all, but the truth is, it nagged me to no end. I re-read some of the books I had read years ago looking for clues. Coronado's Children, Golden Mirages, books on the Anasazi, and stacks of Desert Magazines lay scattered across my office desk. As the legends came off the pages I rediscovered the Southwest as if for the first time. Legends of gold and treasure, I've found often have some basis in truth no matter how far-fetched the legend is. Man has been chasing dreams of gold and legends of treasure for centuries, why should I be any different? Even if I was just chasing a dream it would be a fun project.

There seems to be two main lines of thought. One stems from the legends of the Indians in the Southwest and the other comes from the Aztec people of Mexico. Although the legends of the southwest Indians are Older I'll start with the Aztec story.

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A serpent at the Temple of Quezacoatl. Quezacoatl was said to have sailed from Vera Cruz on a raft of such serpents, towards the east.

Prior to the landing of the Spanish conquistador Coronado, on the doorstep of Montezuma's homeland in the Valley of Anahauc, the great Aztec leader had a dream. Like my own dream it to was probably veiled in mist leaving the leader unclear as to the true meanings of the dream. His dream was of Quezacoatl, who was a great leader of the people in ancient times. Quezacoatl established the arts in the culture of the Aztec people. Conjuring doctors and magicians managed to relieve him of his power and Quezacoatl sailed away to the East on a raft of serpents. He promised to return to his people. Montezuma dreamed of his return. Not once but often.

When Coronado landed at the same site that Quezacoatl left from, now Vera Cruz, Montezuma thought for sure his dreams had come true. What a great thing this was for his people. But Montezuma was cautious. What if it wasn't Quezacoatl but an invader, an enemy of the people? Montezuma decided the best thing to do was to hide half of his vast fortune. He ordered a man named Tlahuicole to take the treasure far into the northern country and bury it. Within two days of Coronado's landing half of the treasure was safely underway to a new land. Montezuma prepared to meet his Quezacoatl and sent forth-extravagant gifts for the great god. What Montezuma then saw was not the goodwill of the god but the greed of Spaniards. Montezuma then sent runners to all parts of the country advising the people that this was not Quezacoatl and to bury all their gold and jewels.

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The Lomaki Ruin's remoteness affords the explorer an opportunity to contemplate his surroundings in privacy.

Followers of the legends of the Aztec Montezuma place the treasures in different places but all agree it's to the North. Some say the Ajo Mountains just east of Tinajas Altas and others place it as far north as the White Mountains of Utah. The books abound with variations with many agreeing on Arizona.

Now the Indians of the Southwest had their god too, and though in the beginning he didn't have the name Montezuma, somewhere along the path of time it was adopted. Perhaps after Indians crossed
paths with the Spanish explorers and heard of the great Montezuma from the South, they thought, our god is as great and as powerful and has as many riches, he is our Montezuma.

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An amphitheatre used for ceremonial gatherings at Wupatki.

Earlier it is believed the Indian gods' name was Pose-ueve or he who walks along strewing moisture in the morning. He was born to a virgin who conceived him after a pinon nut fell from a tree and landed on her belly. Growing up it was said he was a lazy youth and the butt of many jokes from his peers. One day a new leader was to be elected to the tribe and Pose-ueve was nominated as a cruel joke. For some unanswerable reason he was elected to be the tribes new leader. The people soon changed their tune about Pose-ueve as he at once became a great leader. Under his leadership the people began to prosper and crops grew increasingly better. His village became rich in turquoise, shells and other valuables. Pose-ueve or Montezuma as he became known, created many miracles. He could produce rain for his people at will.

At one point the Indian legends take several different turns.

One has Montezuma becoming a minister of the Great Spirit, one of such a high exalted rank that his name was not to be mentioned. This Great Spirit created everything and then put man on earth to enjoy it all. Montezuma was his minister and his powers were as great as the sun. In deed he is said to have the power to guide the sun.

The people wanting to provide him with a great place of lodging on his day off built a great and mighty building for him. This great building is to reach up to the sky. At some point in the legend, Montezuma goes to war with the sun and places all his riches in this building.

At Acoma, a town that claims the birthplace of Montezuma, Indians say the great house is in the far western mountains. They say the rooms reach into the earth, the lower room lined with silver and gold. In the room above, great piles of silver were stored to be used as decorations for the other rooms of the house. Some versions simply describe the building as holding great wealth and riches.

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The Wukoki ruins reach above the prairie to the clouds.

One legend tells of Indians assisting in burying a great treasure of placer gold from the nearby mines in Mexico, into a cave below a rock resembling an Indian's head and shoulders. Legend has it that Montezuma himself guards the cave. The treasure is worth millions they say. After the treasure was stored in the mountain, Montezuma climbed up the mountain and turned to stone.

There is another story told by the Indians that blends with the story of the Aztecs. Montezuma, the maker of miracles, was told by the Great Spirit that an eagle would appear to him which he was to mount and fly above the lands to find a new country for his people. A Zuni maiden was picked for his wife. When he was ready for the journey, he got on the eagle with his wife and flew to the South. The eagle finally landed on a prickly pear and at the same time seized a serpent in his beak. This happened on the shore of a lake and the place eventually became known as Tenochtitlan, or Mexico City. In this story the Indian god has gone to the South and becomes the same god as in Mexican legend.

The stories crisscross each other so much it would take a time machine to really straighten it all out.

Casa Grande, in Arizona, according to the evidence, was built during the reign of Montzuma the Aztec god. It's believed the Pima and Papago Indians built that structure. The Indians call the old house Casa Montezuma. Everything is dated from that monarchy. A Labyrinth was found on a wall at Casa grande. Similar labyrinths had treasures planted in them at the castles of Montezuma in Mexico.

There are many stories also of the fabled Seven Cities of Cibola. Cabeza de Vaca was shipwrecked on the coast of Florida and managed to trek his way far to the West. He survived savage Indians, starvation, and thirst. His journey took eight years. Along the way he heard of the great cites to the West. Cities where the natives wore civilized clothing and lived in palaces adorned with sapphires and turquoise. Gold was abundant everywhere. A Moor named Estevanico and eleven Indians accompanied Cabeza on the trip.

Later the Moor accompanied Coronado on his journey to find the fabled Seven Cities of Cibola. The legend was an old one but Cabeza's fresh accounting of it refueled the fires. After finding vast wealth in the New World, just about anything was believable to the Spaniards. Remember these early Spaniards even hunted for a fountain of youth. Coronado then set out with 300 Spaniards, 1000 Indians, 1000 extra horses, and herds of swine and sheep to sustain them along the way.

Coronado sent the Moor ahead with a message that if the cities were not as great as they heard they were he was to send back a cross two hands high. If the cities were as great or greater he was to send back a larger cross. Coronado received back a cross as large as a man. This fueled the army forward and when Coronado reached the supposed golden city he found mud and adobe buildings with naked savages toiling in the fields.

Who knows, perhaps to the Indian, the riches of which they spoke could have been the riches of power and wisdom or their great contacts with the spirit world. Riches to many are interpreted in many ways.

I decided that to enrich my overview of this treasure-hunting scenario, I needed to witness for myself some of these vanished civilizations of the Southwest. The area to the West as the Indians put it and the area to the North as the Aztec put it covered a vast area of land. With the limited time and resources the average person has at their disposal, I felt I had to go to an area that was very concentrated in ruin sites. I decided to start in the Flagstaff, Arizona area.

Just pick a place and start was the general idea. The main concentration was to investigate these ancient civilizations but you've got to be prepared for anything. This was to be a working vacation so I had to plan around that also. I brought my Spectrum detector and as a back up my Fisher detector. I took along long and short handled shovels, rock picks, and prodding tools and just in case I also brought my gold pan and classifier. My miners' light, whiskbroom, and books on buried treasures were added at the last minute.

We left from Los Angeles, crossed the desert and spent the first night at a motel on old Route 66. After dinner there was still enough light left to metal detect for a while.

On the morning of the 6th of May my hunting partner Susan and I headed out to the North of Flagstaff. Our first stop was at the Wukoki ruin. Wukoki in the Hopi language means 'big house.' The Sinagua Indians lived here roughly around 1100-1225 AD. The structure was built entirely of layered blocks of moenkopi sandstone. Sinagua means 'without water' in Spanish. The Indians lived and cultivated the land here north of Flagstafff for nearly four hundred years. In around 1064 or 1065 the people were forced to vacate the land because the Sunset Crater spewed lava, ash, and cinders several feet thick over their farmlands. A few decades later the Sinagua came back and discovered they could farm a previously uncultivated area. A thin ash coat actually helped in some areas to lengthen the growing season. The people again prospered until around 1150 when an extensive drought began. Sometime soon the people vanished.

This was my first visit to an Indian ruin and I was really amazed at the technology that went into the building of this site. The nice part of this area is that it is fairly unsupervised and gave me the freedom to explore to my hearts' content. I respected the laws of the land and kept all my investigations limited to photographic and eye observations.

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An explorer investigates a water drainage system at the Citadel.

Our next visit was to Wupatki, meaning 'tall house.' The first European-American documentation of these ruins was by Captain Lorenzo Sitgraves around 1851. The site was long since abandoned when he arrived. This ruin, which peaked around 1000 AD, was three stories high in places, contained almost 100 rooms, and housed perhaps 200 residents. This ruin lies along a major prehistoric trade route leading from Mexico to areas north and east of the ruins. The Sinagua and the Anazasi tribes occupied the ruins. This building is also made of moenkopi sandstone, a rock that breaks naturally into block shapes making it a natural for building material.

In the surrounding area there are other ruins, some on the trail and other off. The notable ones are the Nalakihu, Lomaki, and the Citadel. You need permission to get off the trail to look around, but to be honest with you a first time visitor to the area will have more than enough to keep themselves busy with the easily accessible areas.

The Citadel overlooks a vast amount of land. This one reminded me somewhat of a Moorish castle in Spain. Built high on a ridge overlooking the vast plains this site afforded the Indians the best of protection from their enemies. In the not so far distance are the snow-capped peaks of the San Francisco Mountains.

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On the path to the Lomaki ruins the author is greeted by the watcher of the pathways.

On the rock lined pathway to the Lomaki ruin I was greeted by the ancient watcher of the pathways, a beautiful green lizard. I sat on a rock and he on his. We spent a few minutes eyeing each other bravely and then he went into his pushup routine. I pushed on to the ruin.

The next day we headed to Montezuma's Castle perhaps misnamed by the early white settlers of the Verde Valley. These early visitors to the cliff house apartments thought this was a castle built for Montezuma. This site, though definitely more tourist oriented is definitely worth seeing. The park rangers give an informative tour and have an impressive display of artifacts to gaze upon.

The castle was occupied between 1100 and 1400. The twenty-room apartment housed as many as fifty people. The additions to the castle were added over a period of 300 years, the earliest being closest to the top of the complex. On and on for a week we trekked, stopping whenever we could to check out a new set of ruins. Tuzioot, Walnut Canyon, and Casa Grande were among them.

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A vintage photo of Montezuma's Castle in Arizona. The site was occupied between 1100 and 1400 AD.
Land ~ Sea Discovery Group Collection.

All of these ruins experienced a vanishing of their people. Many scholars blame severe droughts that occurred in the thirteenth century. There is evidence of this found in the study of tree rings and soil samples. Others say it was warfare amongst the tribes, evidenced by the architecture of the structures we encountered.

You might also consider communal living the culprit. These cliff dwellings and apartments housed many families and these families took to farming as a source of food. Their small plots of land were farmed close to their dwellings and were used over and over again for a period of 3-4 hundred years. This no doubt caused a soil depletion of minerals and organic material. The ancient farmers did not have the knowledge or the means to fertilize their fields to renew their mineral content.

Pathological evidence reveals that the hunters and gatherers in earlier times faired better in their heath and well being due to a more balanced diet of animal and vegetable products. As farmers the people relied on a high carbohydrate diet consisting mainly of corn. This led to nutritional deficiencies caused by malnutrition. Consider also the non-existent sanitary conditions of all these people living together.

The main source of fuel for cooking and warmth was wood and in most cases wood was gathered and carried on their backs since there were no horses or mules to carry the wood. Eventually great areas surrounding their homes experienced what we now call deforestation.

I believe that it was a number of these reasons that caused these people to leave their great homes. Perhaps they died out, perhaps they moved on, sometimes only the legends survive. Are these the Seven Cities of Cibola? Are they the home to the clouds of the Indian god Montezuma? Somewhere buried amongst the ruins, are the treasures of the Aztec, Montezuma buried? Perhaps we will never really know.

This article is being presented to you as a starting point. What you see and perceive will be different from what I did. Where I go from here remains at this point unknown. The possibilities are endless perhaps another dream will lead me on another adventure south of the border or across the seas. For me the real treasure of this trip was the knowledge I gained, the beauty I saw and a chance to explore our great southwest.


1 Phillip A. Bailey, Golden Mirages, The Macmillan Company, 1940
2. Ernest E. Snyder, Prehistoric Arizona, Golden West Publishers, 1987
3. J. Frank Dobie, Coronado's Children, Grosset and Dunlap, 1930
4. John D. Mitchell, Lost Mines & Buried Treasures Along the Old Frontier, Desert Press Inc. 1953
5. Personal experiences of the author

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