Josh Gates

Expedition Unknown – Blackbeard’s Hidden Gold – S02E03

image For this episode, Josh is literally right down the road in Greenville, North Carolina and Charleston, South Carolina looking for Blackbeard’s treasure. Now, we all know that Blackbeard was indeed a real pirate, that was first hired as a buccaneer, but then turned into a pirate once privateering was brought to an end. Blackbeard may be one of the most well known and perhaps feared pirates and his final days ended in a blood-soaked showdown, but what about all the treasure he took? Where did that end up? It was rumored he had made a fortune from privacy and was able to buy plenty of land on which he should have retired on. When the end came, the treasure was lost, or more to the point, no one has any idea where it is. But there are plenty of people scouring the beaches and even the wreckage in search of what could be quite a fortune.

As usual, Josh starts off the investigation at the market or rather a pirate festival where he meets up with historians who have focused their research on Blackbeard. They go over some of the places where the treasure could be located and the next stop on the voyage is Cayman Brac. Josh meets up with some treasure hunters who are exploring the caves of the area which would have been most suitable for the storing of loot. They caves are flooded with water and only accessible at low tide. With shovel and lantern in hand, Josh heads in. As far as novels go, it perfectly fits the hiding place. As they search and dig around, they do indeed come across something. Quick to see what they have, they unearth a coin that turns out to be from around the 1800s. Not the time period they’re looking for, but, it certainly makes the point that other items could be buried there. And if there is one coin, there surely is more, so who knows what they might be on the verge of discovering in that cave.

The next part of the investigation moves from the land and caves to the open water of the sea. Josh gets with another treasure hunter that believes the treasure went overboard. Josh suits up and heads into the water. They find some remnants of another ship and then come across the Cayman Abyss, a drop off that goes down 20,000 feet. If the current went the wrong way, if there was a treasure, it’s lost forever.
In the same area they manage to find an old Russian ship that was scuttled decades before. While this is a great discovery and clearly not the right kind of ship, it’s a pretty impressive find, but there are no signs of treasure and really, no signs on anything related to Blackbeard. I’m clearly no expert, but looking for treasure here seems way off course. But it’s all about the thrill of the hunt.

And with that, Josh is off to Greenville NC where they store parts of the ship, Queen Anne’s Revenge. It was in 1718 that Blackbeard sort of lost his mind a little and held the town of Charleston hostage. He set up a blockade and refused to let goods in or out. After negotiating, he agrees to sign a treaty with the governor, but on his way, the Queen Anne runs aground and he destroys the ship.

The team in Greenville is actually cleaning more than 400,000 items that have been recovered so far, including anchors, cannons and tens of thousands of smaller items. But the actual wreckage is out toward the Outer Banks in Beaufort. And more than likely, they have only pulled up half the wreckage. With a great deal of excitement Josh is off to the wreck side and down he goes. Clearly we’re not going to see open treasure chests or anything like that, but we do get to see another one of the massive anchors and more of the cannons. While the water looks clear from the boat, once he’s a couple of feet down, the visibility is horrible. It’s quite impressive they’ve been able to find as much as they have.

There is even more to this story. Blackbeard wrecks the boat then takes off on the Adventure to Bath, NC where he gets a pardon and decides to retire. He uses his money to buy a plantation and even gets married. But the life of leisure doesn’t quite suit him and within a couple of months he’s off again for his last stand.

Since he just bought all the land and is showing off his wealth, it is sort of believed he might have the money with him. But when Captain Maynard comes upon him, there’s no asking questions about treasure and Blackbeard is shot 5 times and stabbed 20 (or so the story goes). Needless to say, he didn’t make it out alive. But it’s believed that some of his treasure has made it over Springer’s Point. With special permission he and yet another treasure hunter break out metal detectors to see what they can find. After locating lots of junk they home in on something big. They scramble only to find a big rock. Yet again, nothing that supports Blackbeard’s treasure would be in the area.
Meanwhile, back in Bath, Josh meets with historian Kevin Duffus, who has a different take on Blackbeard’s treasure. To summarize, in 1718, Blackbeard wrecks his ship, escapes to Bath and there is an economic boon. This could be from the gold Blackbeard supposedly had, but what if that wasn’t the treasure? Duffus believes the treasure was in fact, slaves. Blackbeard was certainly involved in the slave trade and he may have either sold them in the Carolinas or pressed them into service to help build Bath.

It’s a theory that makes a lot of sense given the time period and the area. It would also explain why no one has been able to find said treasure. Or perhaps it’s still waiting to be discovered.

So what’s the truth? And when it comes to anything related to Blackbeard, that’s the question. There is more legend and myth about this pirate than anything else. The stories are so over the top, so larger than life that you really can’t believe anything. But even if the minor details can be believed, was his treasure a chest full of gold coins or was it actually the human lives that would have been used to rebuild the area?

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Expedition Unknown – Genghis Khan’s Tomb – S02E02

For our next exciting expedition, Josh heads out to Mongolia in search of the tomb of Genghis Khan and one of the first things we learn is that his name should be more properly written as Chinggis Khaan. To be honest, I was unaware that Khaan had gone out of his way to make his burial place a secret. Sort of seems like if you take the time to conquer such a vast empire, you might want to have a few monuments to point out how badass you are.

There are quite a few stories about Khaan’s death that state he wanted to be buried in an unmarked grave and anyone who saw the funeral procession was to be killed. Stories even go so far as to say that a river was diverted to cover the burial spot. For someone who lived such a grand life, Chinggis wanted his deeds to live on rather himself as a person. Or perhaps, he didn’t want enemies digging up and desecrating his remains as an act of revenge.

But as we move into Ulaanbatar, it’s pretty obvious that Chinggis is worshipped and revered at nearly god like levels. His image and name are everywhere – statues, monuments, bars, vodka. Khaan is attributed with uniting the nomadic tribes, establishing trade routes and offering people complete religious freedom. Even if his methods were a bit rough, it was more than what a lot of people had before him.

Josh arrives in time for the Festival of the Three Games which includes Archery, Wrestling and Horseback riding, the 3 things Chinggis instilled in all his warriors. It should come as no surprise that Josh is going to give the wrestling a try although he spends more time in the dirt than anywhere else. At least the guy takes it easy on him and doesn’t outright pull his arm out of the socket.

After the festival and while visiting the massive 130 foot tall statue of Khaan outside the city, Josh is told of an archeological dig in search of the tomb. He heads out across the muddy plains to Karakoram, the former capital city that Khaan established and is said to be where the funeral procession started. Josh helps to excavate the site where they find some skeletal remains. Ominous stuff to be sure.

But this isn’t the only site where they think Khaan might be buried. There is another on the Burkhan Khaldun mountain that shows what could be three temples. However, it’s not a place you can just walk into and start digging. It’s actually considered to be a holy mountain referred to as the Forbidden Zone and there is no access without permission from the tribe that guards the gate. This tribe believes they are acting on orders from Chinggis himself to keep the location of his burial place secret. Oddly, the protectors of this area don’t say it’s actually the burial site and quite frankly, they don’t want to know. They believe that Khaan’s resting site should remain a secret and not become common knowledge.

With that, Josh and the team have to ask for permission to even be allowed on the mountain, but the gatekeeper isn’t sure of their intentions and says he will ponder the matter. Perhaps it was for dramatic effect, or perhaps he just wanted some new drinking buddies, but as the sun goes down, the gatekeeper invites Josh and crew in for a drink and before the night is over, they’re all good buddies and Josh gets permissions to press on.

In the morning, the gatekeeper says he will need to accompany them to the mountain to make sure they don’t get up to any funny business. No digging or excavating is allowed. To be blunt, they can look, but not touch. The tribesmen are very serious that nothing is to be disturbed.

Turns out the survey photos were correct and they discover stone bricks from a wall and ceramic tile from a roof. These are certainly older than the time of Khaan, but it does lead to some other discoveries. Josh finds multiple spear heads in the base and roots of a tree. These are warrior spears, but they appear to be from the wrong time period as well. But the question remains, there are no other temples in the area so why was one built here? What is the significance of this mountain and this location? Does this location have something to do with Khaan and a temple built on it? Or was the temple built first and they are applying the worship of Khaan after the fact?

With the weather turning bad, they manage to get a chopper to come in so they can take high resolution photographs of the mountain. Not sure why they didn’t call up the services of the chopper earlier, but, they scan the mountain several times and there is some sort of man-made bump at the top. They aren’t allowed to land, even if the weather did allow it, so some photos is the best they can do. There aren’t defining characteristics so this bump could literally be anything and so the mystery continues.

Is Josh and these teams of researchers within arms reach of Khaan’s tomb? Or are the stories true and it’s actually under a river or in some other completely nondescript location where nobody would think to look? And if the researchers are close, what happens if they actually find something? The men of the tribe seem like they would take some rather drastic strides to keep that information from getting out. Dare I say, finding Khaan’s tomb  might result in a throat cutting.

Khaan certainly took steps to disappear after his death and with all the stories and deliberate attempts to keep the location secret, perhaps even misdirection, it looks like the final resting place of Chinggis Khaan will remain a secret for quite some time to come.

Expedition Unknown – The Great Bell of Dhammazedi – S01E12

imageFor this rather unusual investigation, Josh is off to Myanmar to search for a massive gold bell that was stolen and then lost. The bell was cast in 1484 out of gold and silver and is believed to weigh 300 tons and be 18ft tall. No small feat that a Portuguese warlord named Filipe de Brito e Nicote stole the bell, rolled it down the hill and loaded it onto a small ship.

However, the joke was on him as both his ship and his cargo all sank. The bell has been lost ever since. Oddly, the bell has been lost in a river, so why is it so hard to find? The river is insanely muddy where the visibility is zero. Also, the river is quite a bit deeper than many charts say. Add to this the current and the fact the bell could be completely covered in mud or debris and basically the divers have no idea what they may have their hands on. They could literally be touching the bell and not even know it.

It almost seems like a lost cause, but there are plenty of groups out there searching for it and the government is working to support the effort. And enter Josh to offer his hand and shed some light on the story.

As usual, Josh starts off his investigation and his visit with a trip to the market. And it is once again filled all sorts of strange, unusual and exotic goods. Josh even tries his hand, or rather head, at carrying a basket of goods around. His balance needs a bit of work, but many locals try to help him get the hang of it.

Josh starts off in Bagan where he heads to Mount Popa, one of the two thousand temples that pepper the landscape. This is a temple dedicated to the Nat spirits. These spirits are believed to watch over and protect the bell. It is believe the Nat spirits are angry over the stolen bell and prevent people from finding it. The goal is to ask the spirits for permission to search for the bell. It’s not quite what you would expect and there is plenty of drinking and smoking to appease the spirits. The dancers believe they channel the energy of the Nats wherein the can pass along good will and blessings. It’s an odd ritual to be sure, but it’s part of the culture and respected by the local people.

After the blessing it’s off to Yangon, which was formerly known as Rangoon. Bells pepper the city and are used throughout for prayers. Josh heads to the Shwedagon Pagoda, which is quite literally covered in gold. This is where the bell was stolen from and ironically, there is a scale replica of the bell that was stolen and lost in the river. However, it was recovered and has been returned. So if it can happen once, it can happen again.

Before going to join the hunt for the bell, an offering and blessing needs to be made. This is taken quite seriously as a Buddhist monk comes down to the docks to bless the boat, the crew and the mission. I have to admit, the research vessel leaves a little something to be desired. It looks like a rotting boat that will most likely come apart before they make it 100 yards away from shore. But it stays afloat and they head to the center of the intersection where the three rivers meet where they believe the bell went overboard.

But if you think the boat is a bit makeshift, wait until you see the diving gear. It’s literally an old gas mask with some handmade straps fed by a tube that’s hooked to an air compressor. To say it’s dangerous is a staggering understatement. And the thing is, the water is like mud and they can’t see a thing down there. All they can do is feel around and see what sort of debris they can discover.

The locals have been putting in the effort to find the bell, but several lives have already been lost. This is no easy task under the best of conditions and it’s pretty obvious, these are not the best of conditions.

There is another group doing their own investigation further upstream, so Josh takes the local train and heads up to join him. Damien Lay is the leader and his team has a bit more technology on their side. However, their boat isn’t a whole lot better and the technology consists of some better scuba gear and sonar. That’s about it. In no way do they have millions of dollars worth of equipment like submersibles and robotic arms.

Damien heads into the incredibly murky water and feels something large and dome shaped. But since he can’t see anything, he really has no idea what he’s found. Josh is encouraged to give it a go and since he will be one of only a handful of Westerners to ever look for the bell, it’s a pretty big honor.

It’s a few tense moments as Josh heads into the water and the current pulls him away from the boat. They also lose radio contact and have to drag him back. He does indeed look a little out of sorts, but manages to pull up a small piece of metal. It’s newer than the wreckage they are looking for, but it just goes to show the type of junk they have to contend with. Even the sonar has a hard time picking up objects so are they in the right place and if it is, how exactly will they know? And if they do find it, how exactly will they get it out?

It’s a pretty wild endeavor to be sure. You would think such a massive bell would be easy to locate in such a shallow river. But everything seems to be against them. The river is deeper than people believe. The current could easily be shifting the bottom of the river not only changing the contour, but completely covering the bell with mud. And the water is so muddy and dark that even if they were in the right spot how would they know?

Hopefully in time technology will help locate the bell and the search teams can put it back in the pagoda where it belongs.

Great Bell of Dhammazedi

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Expedition Unknown – Samurai Sword of Power – S01E11

imageThis is an intriguing episode as Josh heads off to Japan in search of a mystical Japanese sword called the Hanjo Masamune. The sword was forged in the 13th century and is said to not only be the finest blade ever made, but had the power to never kill an innocent man. It is said that whoever wielded the Hanjo Masamune would be the ruler of Japan. And that’s exactly what happened. Through the years the sword was handed down through generations. While the story associated with the sword seems the stuff on anime cartoons, the sword itself is in fact real. It existed and was tracked all the way until the end of World War II. At that time, as Japan surrendered, all small armaments, including swords, were to be handed over to the government. The sword was handed over to the police and then promptly disappeared. The location of the sword remains a mystery. Some believe it may have come to the US. Others believe is may be in a temple. Or it could have ended up on the black market and is in the hands of a private collector.

To start his investigation and gather information Josh talks with Tsunenari Tokugawa who is the 18th generation of the family that once ruled over Japan, with the help of the Hanjo Masamune sword. Mr. Tokugawa shows Josh his family mausoleum  that contains the remains of many Shogun generals. These would have been men that most likely wielded the actual sword. Mr. Tokugawa believes the sword is most likely in the hands of an individual collector.

To learn more about selling swords to private collectors, Josh meets with a man who sells swords in this rather murky market. The dealer has some information about the sword including what it may really look like and the blade pattern. If the real Hanjo were to come on the market, it’s blade markings would have to match. Interestingly, swords sold through regular channels come with certificates that prove who the sword was made by and when.

And then to learn about the sword making process, Josh visits Tsunahiro Yamamura who’s a 24th generation of Masamune. That is quite amazing and actually puts his family as slightly older than that of the Tokugawa family.

Mr. Yamamura is a master sword maker and shows Josh that the swords are hand made over several weeks. The steel is heated dozens of times to create strength and purity. Josh is given the honor to actually pound the metal for a new sword being made. Since I’ve always been fascinated with swords and knives, this was quite exciting to watch.

But to really know about the sword, Josh needs to wield one. And with the help of an expert, Josh goes out back and is shown how to make strikes with the blade. He does surprisingly well and it shows just how sharp the blade is. Josh makes incredibly clean cuts through the bamboo mat. Does he a touch of the Samurai DNA?

The next stop is a series of tunnels where the sword may have been kept after being turned in. When the sword was turned over, it may have been kept or perhaps smuggled into these tunnels. Josh meets with Michael Gakuran who has been given permission to explore this area in search of the sword. He and Josh spend some time down there, but don’t actually discover the sword. But as Michael explains, there are miles of tunnels and they’ve barely started searching.

As Josh continues to search for answers, he meets with Tetsuro Shimaguchi who shows him what it’s like to train like a Samurai warrior. He gives Josh just a brief glimpse of the moves, posture, stance and balance it takes. Then, he tries what he’s learned with one of the students. Needless to say, Josh doesn’t stand a chance. But it does show the intense discipline and training it requires to handle this sort of weapon.

It is believed that the sword may have found it’s way into a shrine and since there is one close by, Josh heads to the top of the mountain to have a look around. We really don’t expect Josh to find the sword and this is more of an excuse for him to ride a motorcycle and see the spectacular landscape. Can’t really fault him for that, the scenery is gorgeous.

But there is a monk at the top of the mountain and while the shrine does contain treasures, it’s not the sword and the monk informs Josh he is surrounded by treasures in the form of the trees and mountains. He’s quite right.

Finally, Josh meets with a sword collector who’s family has been in the business since 1874. While we’re certainly not expecting this man to hand over the ancient lost sword, he certainly has something worth looking at. While not the original Honjo Masamune, it is a sword from the same maker. Josh is holding a Masamune sword that is around 600 years old – and it is stunning. This is all hand made from a single piece of steel. The sharpness and quality are amazing. Josh is holding a wonderful piece of Japanese history. And the Honjo is supposed to be even better. Hard to imagine.

We never really expected Josh to find the sword, but what a fantastic journey. Japan has such history and always seems to be cloaked in mystery. Even with this small glimpse into the origins of this sword, it’s a fun journey. The samurai way of life and the code they lived by is something to behold and if there is a true tangible item that encompasses that way of life and represents such power and honor, I truly hope one day it does reveal itself.

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