On Cocos Island in the eastern Pacific, a “treasure” consisting of works created by 40 modern artists is buried. The exact location is described in an encrypted message. To my knowlege, this cryptogram has never been published.

Stories about hidden treasures are well known among crypto history enthusiasts. Blog reader Dampier has recently made me aware of one that is not yet mentioned in the crypto literature: the Treasure of Lima.


The Treasure of Lima

Here’s the background story (for more information check Wikipedia):

When in 1820 the city of Lima, Peru, was on the edge of revolt, it was decided to transport the city’s most valuable items to Mexico for safekeeping. A Captain William Thompson was put in charge of transporting these riches on a ship named Mary Dear. Thompson and his crew couldn’t resist the temptation and turned pirate. They killed the accompanying priests and headed for Cocos Island in the Eastern Pacific, where the men buried the treasure.

Source: Wikimedia

Later, the Mary Dear was captured, and the crew went on trial for piracy. All but Thompson and his first mate were hanged. To save their lives, the two agreed to lead the Spanish to the stolen treasure. They took them as far as the Cocos Island and then managed to escape into the jungle. The two men and the treasure were never seen again.

Though it is far from clear whether this story is authentic, hundreds of treasure hunters have travelled to Cocos Island and tried to find the Treasure of Lima. Apparently, none of them was successful. Meanwhile, the local government has declared treasure hunting on Cocos Island illegal.


Treasure of Lima: A Buried Exhibition

In 2014, an art project titled Treasure of Lima: A Buried Exhibition was started. The project team buried a container with artworks created by 40 different artists in a secret location in Cocos Island. The coordinates of the hiding place were encrypted and sold in an auction.

Since 2014 nothing new seems to have been published about Treasure of Lima: A Buried Exhibition. So I ask myself:

  • Who purchased the encrypted coordinates?
  • Has this cryptogram ever been published?
  • Has the cryptogram ever been broken?
  • Has the buried container ever been found?

Does a reader know more about this nice story? If so, please leave a comment.

Further reading: Four cryptograms from a 1930s treasure hunt

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Kommentare (5)

  1. #1 Richard Bean
    29. November 2019

    There’s a picture of the text on p21 and p23 of https://issuu.com/tba21/docs/tresure_of_lima_divided

    “It took two trips to Cocos, plenty of research, swimming with large predator sharks, and twelve brave and determined people seven hours of concerted Fitzcarraldo-esque effort to ensure that it would never be found, at least not by accident! Their enthusiasm was met by our determination to ensure that no one would ever stumble on this treasure. The encoded GPS coordinates of the site are embedded in a unique 3-D printed scroll by the artist Constant Dullaart, who collaborated with a leading German security analyst [Michael Wege] to apply state-of the art encryption. The scroll contains more potential keys than there are molecules in the universe, thus rendering it even more unlikely that anyone can decode it. One would need the computing power of a massive global corporation, a small handful of highly experienced and determined cryptographers, and several patient years to break the code.”

    These adjectives “large predator”, “brave and determined”, “unique”, “leading”, “state-of-the-art”, “massive”, “highly experienced”, “determined”, “patient”, “nearly impossible” … they remind me of a comment about the second Beale cipher:

    The “vault” is “an excavation or vault”. It is not someplace, but has an “exact locality.” It is not “six feet down,” but “six feet below the surface of the ground.” It is not “lined”, but “roughly lined.” Things are not “packed”, but “securely packed.” Vessels rest not on “stone,” but on “solid stone”. (net.crypt 1984, Gillogly quoting Greg Mellen, BCA Newsletter, March 1980)

    So there are at least three levels of public codes …

    “Masquerade” by Kit Williams, where Williams encoded his message, Bamber Gascoigne verified it but told would-be solvers he thought it was impossible to solve and not to bother trying, then Williams released a clue which made it solvable (by two teachers)

    “Kryptos” by Jim Sanborn, where supposedly Sanborn encoded four messages, Ed Scheidt verified three of them, they both tell people it was designed to be solvable; but as yet Sanborn hasn’t released any clues which make it solvable; the difficulty with K4 lies in its short length and not knowing the algorithm …

    and this one, “Treasure of Lima”, arguably not even “public”, where they freely admit it’s impossible even if you did have the ciphertext 🙂 “We used the highest grade encryption available .. we inputted the data and burnt the paper. the system that we used was never on the Internet”

  2. #2 Richard SantaColoma
    29. November 2019

    I see that Cocos Island is a national park. I can only imagine they try to discourage people randomly digging around… although I admit it would be fun to at least do some hiking on the island. With a metal detector? Would be fun… If the code is not known, and unbreakable anyway, ground work would probably be the only way…

    Call it “brute force with shovel”? Pretty rugged island though….


  3. #3 Richard SantaColoma
    29. November 2019

    Interestingly… although I’m skeptical… this 1940 article claims the first treasure was found. They are very specific about the contents and value… but perhaps the “discovery: was a hoax:


  4. #4 Richard SantaColoma
    29. November 2019

    And here is a picture and description of the 2014 “modern art” container*…


    * “The contents of the container include works on paper, sculpture, vinyl LPs, digital video and audio files. The container is a truncated tetrahedron made of stainless steel that opens to reveal a second spherical container made of glass. Within this vacuum-sealed sphere there are a series of aluminium boxes housing the artworks.”

  5. #5 Dampier
    29. November 2019

    @Richard, thank you for the Newspaper article! There were so many rumours about Cocos Island in the newspapers especially in LA and SF. I think this one is also a rumour only.

    William Dampier is also mentioned there, although there is no proof he has ever been on Cocos Island. I wrote more about that here (in german):



    (This is slightly off topic though, sorry for that. I dont mention the code story there, but as I found it during my research, I had to write a mail to @Klaus of course. Thanks for the article :))