What is the Sacambaya Treasure on Discovery’s Treasure Quest

Did Jesuits bury gold and silver as part of the Sacambaya treasure?
The Sacambaya treasure is said to have been hidden by Jesuits fleeing the country. But what exactly is the treasure?

The Sacambaya treasure has been luring explorers in search of riches for centuries and now Discovery’s Treasure Quest is about to follow in their intrepid footsteps, but that exactly is the Sacambaya treasure?

The legend of Sacambaya dates back to the 1760s, when a band of Jesuits from the Sacambaya mission in Bolivia rebelled against the King of Spain as he ordered them thrown out of the country.

Before they left they are said to have had the local indians construct a vast and complicated cave system. In the caves the Jesuits placed an untold quantity of treasure, with some estimating it would be worth billions of dollars today.

Will the team find the The Sacambaya treasure
The Treasure Quest team are searching for The Sacambaya treasure. Credit: Discovery

After the caves were excavated the Jesuits are said to have murdered the local workers, burying them in the caves and leaving curses for anyone venturing in. The number killed ranges from a dozen to several hundred, depending on the story.

The Jesuits then fled to Europe but justice caught up with them in Rome, where all but one of their number were executed. The single survivor was eventually released from prison and returned to Bolivia. It was here that he took a mistress and had a daughter with her.

The story goes that the daughter later fell for a traveller from England and told him the story of the Sacambaya treasure.

Cecil Herbert Prodgers Sacambaya
Cecil Herbert Prodgers led one of the first expedition to find the treasure of Sacambaya

The stories soon attracted treasure hunters and one of the first was Englishman Cecil Herbert Prodgers, who claimed to have a document from the the daughter of Peru’s president. This manuscript detailed huge amounts of silver, heaps of gold and other valuable jewels. All of this was supposedly in the cave system, though protected by poisoned booby traps and of course the Sacambaya curse.

In 1905 Prodgers set off with a small team of workers and tried to find the cave. He reported that they managed to break into the cave system’s roof, but were assaulted by some type of gas. Prodgers later said that his fingernails turned blue due to the toxic air and that he was forced to abandon the attempt. He did plan to return but a lack of money and workers meant his plans were never fulfilled.

A few years later Prodgers was followed by fellow explorer and Englishman Percy Harrison Fawcett. He’d picked up the tale from an associate who’d had some relations with one of the Jesuit’s descendants.

Newspaper reports with a quote about the treasure from Percy Harrison Fawcett
Percy Harrison Fawcett is mentioned in this newspaper report from The Sunday Times in 1912. He points out that many have tried to find the treasure in vain, but does say a huge amount of gold was found in the area previously

Fawcett examined the evidence and thought it would not be too hard to find the treasure if it was really there.

Mato Grosso state in Brazil where Percy Harrison Fawcett went missing
Percy Harrison Fawcett went missing while he was trying to find the lost city of Z in the Mato Grosso, Brazil

However, he remained unconvinced and went missing whilst on an expedition to find the lost city of Z in the Mato Grosso.

As with any famous treasure, it was not too long before another bold adventurer took up the challenge. In the 1920s Russian born Edgar Sanders was given information about the treasure by Prodgers and decided there could be some truth in the story.

He made several scouting trips to Bolivia and then returned to England, where he sought to raise finance for the Sacambaya Exploration Company. He told potential investors that he had discovered a man-made cave that contained a crucifix and a message.

Edgar Sanders' Sacambaya Exploration Company
Edgar Sanders’ Sacambaya Exploration Company

The document was written in Spanish and clearly very old. It warned that anyone reaching the cave should leave at once, going on to say the place was dedicated to God and that anyone who entered would meet with death and eternal damnation.

Sanders managed to raise the funds and in 1928 he set off with 20 men and a host of modern equipment. With pumps, mining gear, gas masks and all manner of digging equipment they hoped to find the treasure. His band included Alan Hillgarth, one of the better known explorers of the day, to try their luck at find the treasure. He’d worked as a writer and penned several adventure stories but he was also involved in plenty of real life adventures.

Hillgarth was a member of the British intelligence services and was active during the Spanish Civil War and during WWII, with the latter seeing him heavily involved in the invasion of Sicily.

However, after months of difficult digging all their efforts were brought to an end by the onset of the wet season. This proved to be an end to the endeavour, with Sacambaya keeping its secrets.

Over three decades passed before Englishmen Mark Howell and Tony Morrison sought to find the treasure in the 1960s. They took an industrial strength metal detector with them, hoping it would allow them to find anything buried in the area. Again they had no luck and the rains saw them pack up their equipment and leave.

Treasure Quest Season 3
Treasure Quest Season 3 sees the team head to Bolivia. Credit: Discovery

This season of Treasure Quest sees treasure expert Shawn Cowles and techie Jeremy Whalen team up with demolitions man Jack Peters as they seek this legendary treasure.

With volatile weather, mountain lions, altitude and the odd blood-sucking bat, there is sure to be plenty of drama.

Shows like The Curse of Oak Island highlight just how firm a grip these legends of buried loot can have on individuals and the likes of Marty and Rick Lagina have devoted years of their lives and lots of cash to finding that more northerly treasure. Will the Sacambaya silver and gold take the same hold on the team from Treasure Quest?

Treasure Quest Season 3 premieres tonight, Friday, August 24 at 9/8c on Discovery Channel.

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