Thursday, June 21, 2012

6 Insanely Valuable Real Treasures (And How to Steal Them)

From Cracked:
Heist movies such as Ocean's Eleven and The Italian Job like to present the world as a loose network of heavily guarded treasures, just waiting for you and your ragtag yet likeable bunch of henchmen to pocket them.

And you know what? The real world is exactly like that, too. There's loot scattered all over the world, just begging for a charming gentleman thief and his plan that is so insane that it just ... might ... work.

#6. The Great Pyramid's Secret Chambers

The Great Pyramid of Giza is easy to brush off as old news when it comes to heisting. After all, it's been there for a long time, and almost every chamber has already been emptied 10 times over.

There are still some interesting discoveries to be made. For instance, there are two tiny shafts that climb up from the queen's chamber. They are far too small for a person to climb up and end in strange blocks with metal rings embedded in them. A secret treasure chamber, perhaps?
New Scientist
Or a sex dungeon.

Researchers drilled through the block at the end of the shaft in 2002 and indeed found an honest-to-goodness secret chamber. Treasure hunting wise, though, it was the most disappointing Easter egg in the history of ransacking cultural landmarks -- it boasted some ancient red graffiti, a dummy door and absolutely nothing worth stealing whatsoever.

However, the other secret chamber is a different matter. There's another secret passageway behind the king's burial chamber, and this one is big enough for a man to go through:
Talking Pyramids
Not much of a man, but still.

Those four stones in the center are carefully placed in a zigzag pattern to take the load of the stones above off them. Experts are fairly certain there are hidden chambers behind this portico structure, and radar probing seems to back this up.
What's more, what we currently think of as the King's Chamber of the pyramid might have been just a dummy, and that hidden room may be the actual inner sanctum. Who knows what riches it might contain?
New Scientist
According to this inscription, armless stick figures.
However ...
Apart from the usual warnings about the curse of the mummy and how really unbelievably bad the Egyptian prisons are should you get caught looting, there's a much more practical problem: sand.
When the wall in the King's Chamber was examined with a microgravity probe in 1986, they found that, although there likely is a secret chamber, it's completely filled with sand. It makes sense, really -- as anyone who's ever been in a sand desert can testify, that shit gets everywhere.

So unless your heist plan includes an army of DustBuster-wielding French maids, pyramid raiding might end up being more trouble than it's worth.

#5. The Vatican Library and Secret Archives

Take one of the oldest, most historically wealthy global forces in existence. Add in uncountable numbers of history-obsessed minions, centuries of time and a heavy penchant for hoarding.
The end result is a collection of artifacts and valuables so big, it takes the basement level of an entire country to store. You store your change in a piggy bank, they store theirs in every piggy bank that has ever existed.

The Vatican Library is one of the oldest museums in the world, and probably the most extensive in existence: It holds 1.6 million books, 180,000 manuscripts, 300,000 rare coins and medals and 150,000 assorted prints, drawings and engravings. We're not talking about paperback copies of The Hobbit and the novelization of Air Bud here; these are rare and valuable items from all corners of history. Even discounting the scholarly value, a whole lot of this stuff would be enough to keep the black market in a bidding contest for years.
Above: Jesus' medical records, ages 8-14.

And if you need more than mere money to float your boat, there are always the Vatican Secret Archives.
Founded in 1610, it's a historic library chock-full of documents, church records and intrigue. The Secret Archives span a cool 52 shelf miles of records. Only a handful of researchers are allowed (limited) access, and only a laughably tiny fragment of the material is available to the public. Nobody but a handful of specially selected clergymen truly know the contents of the archives.
"It's almost all fan fiction."

So what lost secrets do the archives hold? Apocrypha that hold secrets capable of changing the world as we know it, Dan Brown style? The recipe for a Highlander serum? A bitchin' collection of solid gold pope hats? The world may never know ... unless, of course, someone sneaks in and helps reveal everything.
However ...
Two words: Swiss Guard.
Otherwise known as "the only thing keeping the halberd industry in business."

The Swiss Guard is the oldest standing army in the world, with a 500-year tradition of service to the Vatican. To apply for a position, a prospect needs to be (obviously) Catholic and Swiss, have military experience and pass a rigorous interview and evaluation process. These hard, hard men volunteer to protect the most important physical part of their religion and, if necessary, sacrifice their lives for it.
And they do it despite knowing full well that they're required to dress like this:
"Hey, can I get a new outfit? Mine's made out of one of those tents they put over houses during fumigation."

So, by all means, go liberate a few documents from the Vatican. All that stands between you and newfound riches is a battalion of expertly trained, determined, halberd-wielding Rambo clowns.
#4. J.D. Salinger's Secret Book Vault