From the Treasure Hunter’s Express…

In the past I’ve talked about Paul Tainter, his Treasure Expo’s and his Treasure Hunter’s Express. It’s a quarterly publication that is always filled with information that’s useful and often intriguing. The following is just a small sampling of the types of articles featured in the Express, information that is not readily available to modern treasure hunters but is still very much applicable and timeless information. Thank you Paul (and Joan) for allowing me to share this ….

Paul & Joan Tainter

Paul & Joan Tainter

For more information:

Treasure Hunters Express, 335 N. William Ave., Fremont, NE   68025   (Published quarterly, $20.00 per year/Free sample issue is available on request). You can also email Paul at

PS: I would give my left arm for Paul’s research library


from the Archives ……

Treasure Hunting with Symbols

Ninety percent of the work involved in finding a treasure trove is in pure research. Without research, making a discovery for the most part becomes luck. Some points that should be considered involve the individual responsible for burying or concealing the treasure. He had two basic thoughts involving the treasure.

  1. The method of concealment.
  2. The prospects of being able to recover the treasure in the future.

Concealment in most part was a matter of secrecy coupled with camouflaging techniques. Whether he chose burying it under a rock, in the ground, in a cave, or etc, he realized that his memory must be kept refreshed with the location in the years to come. Perhaps he was a traveling priest who wanted his colleagues to also be aware of the location. Whatever the reason may have been, his personal symbols played an important part. Symbols represented either his personal identification, identification of the treasure, directions to the treasure trove, distances, landmarks, time, the geographical characteristics of the land and even perhaps the superstitions involved with the trove.

Where do symbols appear? Well, they may appear practically anywhere. They may be on maps, documents, carved on metal plates, or on stones, rocks, trees, even on wood planks and shells. These symbols represent a pictorial story surrounding the trove. It should be made clear at this point that all symbols cannot be identified. There remains and will always remain those symbols which represented a personal meaning to the individual responsible for the symbol. Unless one knew a great deal about this individual, his special symbols may not have a logical meaning to us. When following a group of treasure symbols especially those involving directions, be aware of trickery. At times the directions, although apparently clear to us, actually meant the opposite direction. At other times the treasure may actually be located halfway between the beginning and ending of symbolic directions. Nevertheless, with a little logic and a great deal of patience, the symbols may usually be interpreted.

Indians were great for drawing symbols which actually involved no treasure but merely were made to give warnings, pure directions, or to tell others of an event. Sometimes individuals would merely “doodle” to waste time or to help develop artistic talents.

Treasure symbols come to our attention basically in two ways…

  1. In our research work.
  2. In our field explorations.

Depending in what form the symbols are present will tell us the next step. If the symbols are on a map, then usually we can assume we have a complete location to work with. On the actual location, there may or may not be landmarks containing the identical symbols. If the symbols are on trees then we can safely say we are in the “area”. Symbols or markings on trees can indicate directions to treasure trove as well as directions to other signs, to missions, water, forts, settlements, or to warn of danger or trouble. The Spanish, Jesuit priests and the pirates used trees commonly.

On the other hand early white pioneers going west would carve trail markers of wood or blaze trees with a slice of the bark and wood off. The Indians of the west used rock and stone for their symbols quite commonly. The Indians of Florida carved symbols onto conch shells and even ornaments made from pieces-of-eight hammered out thin. Other times trees were planted in an arrangement to represent a symbol. The pirates who carved their symbols on trees are usually found close to the water’s edge. The pirates favored masonry, witchcraft, astrological and zodiac signs and symbols. Often times the pirates of certain groups or ships would utilize a common symbol, much like the early stone masons and family symbols of European families.

Symbol Classes

Symbols may be classed into very broad and loose categories.

  1. Indian symbols and pictographs
  2. Spanish symbols
  3. Church symbols
  4. Bandit and outlaw symbols
  5. Pirate symbols
  6. Pioneer and early settlers symbols
  7. Private symbols of individuals
  8. and all the other miscellaneous

The Indian symbols of the U.S. generally pertain to telling stories of their life. The Spanish and Church symbols denote either history, directions, important locations such as missions, camps, forts, etc., and treasure troves.

Pirate symbols usually refer to personal treasure buried by members of this “brotherhood”.

Bandit and outlaw symbols were usually drawn in a hurry to locate stolen money or goods.

Pioneer and early settlers symbols involve directions, orientation, dangers, and other factors of journey across the lands. In later years this group used symbols to depict private treasure hoards or mineral finds. Private symbols refer to those individuals who had their private and special meanings placed in drawings or carvings. This class of symbols is most difficult to interpret.

Miscellaneous symbols cover various signs or astrology, astronomy, masonry, etc. used by several various groups of individuals and nationalities.

Researching the Symbols

After one symbol has been discovered, the best way to begin your research is to first identify the symbol with the help of a good sign book. Even with one symbol defined the story can most likely be put together. When you find any symbol, don’t disregard it. Record or photograph the symbol and save it for the future. Often times an insignificant symbol today could lead to a great discovery in the future.

Carry some white poster paint, white chalk and a brush with you when discovering symbols. Outline difficult to see symbols or markings with the white paint or chalk and then photograph them. The next rain or a little water will wash away your paint, leaving the mark in it’s original condition.

After finding and interpreting your symbols, draw them on a piece of paper, note unusual and even not so unusual characteristics of the surrounding lands and its features. If symbols cover a large area of land, take time to draw a fairly accurate map of the area, locating distance and directions of the symbols and markings. Using a good topographical map of your area will help a lot. The next step is doing research on who might have drawn the symbols. Read any important history of the area and follow up on rumors and tales of individuals who inhabited the area. Soon you will find that perhaps the area was the site of Indian villages, a mission trail, old mines and camp areas, or where pirates used to frequent. By this time you have an idea if your lead is a good one and if it pertains to treasure or was placed there for other reasons.

Next and finally comes the field work in locating the treasure or location you wish to find. Your research work will hopefully pay off; however, if it doesn’t, try to find out if a previous recovery had been made or if the data you completed was insufficient. Don’t be disappointed if you fail at recovery the first attempt. Keep up additional research and save all of your data, even if you set it aside for the present.

Use your imagination and logic-reasoning freely. Use good equipment such as metal detectors, probes, etc. to increase your odds of recovery. The day may come when you find the missing link and the thrill of discovery awaits you. But never give up completely on your research.

Dr. Arnold Kortejarvi


If you are interested in this subject matter here’s three of Paul’s favorites…

Early Spanish Treasure Signs and Symbols,  by Bill Mahan  (OP – Available through interlibrary loan)


Treasure Signs, Symbols, Shadow and Sun Signs,  by Kenworthy


Spanish Monuments and Trailmarkers to Treasure in the U.S., by Kenworthy.




Filed under Metal Detecting, Treasure Hunting

7 responses to “From the Treasure Hunter’s Express…

  1. Bigtony

    Very exciting topic. Thanks for posting it

    • Tony I love this too….I remember a few drawings on rocks when I lived in Jersey, but never followed up on them. Have a feeling they are still deep in the woods.

  2. Bigtony

    Wow that is cool Dick. I wonder what the symbols we should look for on the East Coast? Maybe Paul will give us a few?

    • Tony don’t know and not sure symbols were different or unique to different areas. I’m not sure what I remember was even an “indian” symbol? When I moved to Texas in the late 80’s I bought a really small book on symbols but don’t remember much about it and where it is now is anyone’s guess.

  3. JMO, but I don’t put too much store in pirate treasure, since it was Robert Louis Stevenson’s book, ‘Treasure Island’, that first promulgated the notion that pirates buried their loot all across the West Indies and elsewhere. The ‘X’-marks-the-spot treasure map is a rarity, even fictional.

    Factually, pirates rarely buried treasure; one of the main reasons against burial being security – in that the burial party would have known the location, and we are talking here about pirates, as opposed to Freemasons for example, who are bound to secrecy.

    Most so-called pirate ‘treasure’ consisted of rum, brandy, wines, sugar, spices, cloth, and slaves ‘liberated’ from slave-ships to be sold on, so it’s hardly surprising ‘treasure’ was never buried.

  4. Todd

    Great piece Dick, very insightful. Thanks for posting

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