30 of the World's Most Valuable Treasures That Are Still Missing

Lost treasures

Ark of the Covenant

(Image credit: Alamy)

Throughout history, fantastic treasures from various cultures have been stolen or otherwise gone missing. Often their theft or disappearance happens during times of war or disaster, when they cannot be protected or when a military force decides to take treasures back home as a trophy. Sometimes these treasures are recovered, but many are still missing. Here, Live Science takes a look at some of these lost treasures that may never be found. Some of these treasures are now likely destroyed — most scholars believe the Ark of the Covenant is long gone — but some may still exist and be recovered — such as the crown jewels of Ireland, a 333-carat pink diamond and mysterious treasure depicted in a Dead Sea Scroll.

The Amber Room

Amber Room

(Image credit: Alamy)

Constructed in the Catherine Palace in the 18th century in Tsarskoe Selo, near St. Petersburg, the Amber Room contained gold-gilded mosaics, mirrors and carvings, along with panels constructed out of about 1,000 pounds (450 kilograms) of amber. Tsarskoe Selo was captured by Germany in 1941, during World War II, and the room's panels and art were disassembled and taken to Germany. They haven't been seen since, and it's possible, they are now destroyed. A re-creation of the Amber Room can be seen today in the Catherine Palace.

Sarcophagus of Menkaure

Sarcophagus of Menkaure

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The pyramid of the Egyptian pharaoh Menkaure is the smallest of the three pyramids that were constructed at Giza around 4,500 years ago. In the 1830s, English military officer Howard Vyse explored the Giza pyramids, at times using destructive techniques (his use of explosives being the most notorious) to make his way through the structures. Among his discoveries at Giza was an ornate sarcophagus found in Menkaure's pyramid that Vyse tried to ship to England in 1838, aboard the merchant ship Beatrice. The Beatrice sank during its journey, taking the ornate sarcophagus along with it. If the Beatrice is ever found, it may be possible to retrieve and the sarcophagus. 

Ark of the Covenant

Ark of the Covenant

(Image credit: Alamy)

According to the Hebrew Bible, the Ark of the Covenant was a chest that held tablets engraved with the 10 Commandments. The chest was kept in a temple said to have been built by King Solomon. This temple, sometimes called the First Temple, was the most sacred site on Earth for the Jewish people, but it was destroyed in 587 B.C. when a Babylonian army led by King Nebuchadnezzar II conquered Jerusalem and sacked the city. It's unclear what happened to the Ark of the Covenant and its location has long since been a source of speculation. 

Honjo Masamune Sword

Honjo Masamune

(Image credit: Wikipedia)

The Honjo Masamune is a sword said to have been created by the swordsmith Gorō Nyūdō Masamune (lived A.D. 1264 to 1343), who is considered by many to be the greatest sword maker in Japanese history. It is named after one of its owners, Honjo Shigenaga, who took it as a prize after a 16th-century battle. The sword came into the possession of Tokugawa Ieyasu, a leader who became the first shogun of Japan, after winning a series of wars in the 16th century.

The sword would be passed down through the Tokugawa family until the end of World War II, when, during the American occupation of Japan, the sword had to be turned over to American authorities who were concerned that this sword, and others like it, could be used as weapons against the Americans. The sword never re-appeared again. It's possible that American soldiers destroyed the sword, along with other captured Japanese weapons; or they may have brought the sword to America, meaning it could be re-discovered.

Lost Library of the Moscow Tsars

Lost Library of the Moscow Tsars

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The Library of the Moscow Tsars supposedly contained a vast collection of Greek texts dating to ancient times, as well as texts written in a variety of other languages. The rulers of the Grand Duchy of Moscow supposedly built the library, which became a large facility by the 16th century.

There are claims that Ivan IV, better known as Ivan the Terrible, who lived from A.D. 1530 to 1584, somehow managed to hide the library's texts. There have been many attempts over the centuries to find this "hidden library," but so far the searchers have come up empty-handed. Whether or not this "hidden library" existed, a number of ancient texts written in Greek and other languages are located in archives in Moscow and St. Petersburg, said historian Patricia Kennedy Grimsted in her book "Archives in Russia: A Directory and Bibliographic Guide to Holdings in Moscow and St. Petersburg" (Routledge, 1997).

Crown jewels of Ireland

Irish Crown Jewels

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Stolen in 1907 from Dublin Castle, the "crown jewels of Ireland" were "not connected with any coronation ceremony and included no crown. Rather, they comprised a jewelled star of the Order of St. Patrick and a diamond brooch and five gold collars of that order, all Crown property," wrote Tomás O'Riordan, a historian and project manager at University College Cork, in an article published in History Ireland. "[The] Order of St. Patrick was founded in 1783, to reward those in high office in Ireland and Irish peers — referred to as Knights' companions — on whose support the government of the day depended," O'Riordan wrote. Britain controlled Ireland at the time the crown jewels were created.

The jewelry was made from 394 stones taken from Queen Charlotte's jewelry and an Order of the Bath Badge. The jewels also held rupees from a Mughal emperor and possibly precious stones provided by a Sultan of Turkey, O'Riordan said.

Lax security (the jewels were kept in a library) were blamed for the robbery. Who stole the jewels and what happened to them remain a mystery. A wide range of people including Francis Shackleton, brother of the famous explorer Ernest Shackleton, have been suspected of pulling off the heist.  

Sappho's lost poems

Sappho's lost poems

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In the seventh-century B.C., the Greek lyric poet Sappho was the Shakespeare of her day. She was highly regarded among the ancient Greeks who considered her to be one of the finest poets. Unfortunately for us, few of her poems still survive. Recently, however sections of two never-before-seen poems by Sappho have been revealed by University of Oxford papyrologist Dirk Obbink. One poem talks about her brothers, while the other tells of unrequited love. They were purchased by an undisclosed anonymous collector off the antiquities market. At one point, the poems were used to make cartonnage for Egyptian mummies. Concerns have been raised that the papyri may have been looted and taken out of Egypt; however, Obbink says that they have a legal, documented, collection history.

Dead Bishop's Treasure Stolen by Pirates

Dead Bishop's Treasure Stolen by Pirates

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In A.D. 1357, the São Vicente set sail from Lisboa (also called Lisbon) to Avignon, in France, carrying a treasure acquired by Thibaud de Castillon, a recently deceased bishop of Lisboa. The treasure included gold, silver, rings, tapestries, jewels, fine plates and even portable altars. While sailing near the town of Cartagena, in modern-day Spain, the São Vicente was attacked by two heavily armed pirate vessels whose crew seized its treasure. One pirate ship, commanded by a man named Antonio Botafoc (a name that means fire blast or fire fart) was later captured after it ran aground. However, the other pirate ship commanded by Martin Yanes, appears to have to have made a clean getaway. What happened to Yanes, his pirate crew and the stolen treasure is unknown.

The Just Judges

The Just Judges

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The "Just Judges" is a panel that is part of the Ghent Altarpiece, a 15th-century work of art painted by Hubert and Jan van Eyck that is located in the Saint Bavo Cathedral in Ghent, Belgium. The panel shows a number of characters on horseback, their identity uncertain. Philip the Good, who was Duke of Burgundy at the time the altarpiece was created, is likely one of the characters on horseback. The panel was stolen in 1934 and has never been found.

However, despite the passage of time, new tips continue to come in and the case file is still active with the attorney general's office still updating the 2,000-page file, wrote art historian Noah Charney in an article published in the Guardian in 2013. Before the Just Judges was stolen in 1934, there were numerous other attempts to steal it and other parts of the Ghent Altarpiece. 

The Florentine Diamond

Florentine Diamond

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Boasting 133 carats, the Florentine Diamond was "reputed to be the largest pink gem of its type in the world," wrote historian Gordon Brook-Shepherd in the book "Uncrowned Emperor: The Life and Times of Otto Von Habsburg" (Bloomsbury, 2007). The diamond's origins and present-day whereabouts are unclear.

In November 1918, it was in the possession of the Habsburg royal family who had just been deposed after the empire that they ruled, Austria-Hungary, found itself on the losing side of World War I. The family deposited the pink gem in a bank vault in Switzerland, entrusting it to an Austrian lawyer named Bruno Steiner, who was supposed to help the deposed royal family sell it and other royal jewels, Brook-Shepherd wrote in his book. It's unclear what happened next. A news report published in 1924 indicates that Steiner was arrested, charged with fraud and acquitted. It's possible that the Florentine Diamond was recut sometime after World War I and is now a series of smaller diamonds.