Treasure myths thrive in periods of crisis

Related Articles

Illegal treasure-hunters continue to damage important archaeological sites across the Philippines in the hopes of striking rich. But the famous World War II treasure left behind by Japanese soldiers probably never existed.

Instead the popular tale continues a much older folklore tradition, according to Piers Kelly from the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Jena, Germany in a new study published in The Journal of Folklore Research.

Many believe that enormous quantities of gold lie buried somewhere in the Philippines. According to a popular account, Japanese soldiers used the Philippines as a base to hide treasures they had plundered from regions under their control during World War II. At the close of the war, the treasure was left behind in several hiding places.

 

To this day, illegal treasure-hunters continue to damage important archaeological sites across the Philippines in the hopes of striking rich. Conspiracies abound, including allegations that high-level politicians have claimed treasure for themselves and kept the discovery quiet.

But the famous World War II treasure probably never existed, argues Piers Kelly, a linguistic anthropologist at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Jena, Germany. In a paper published recently in The Journal of Folklore Research, Kelly claimed that the popular tale is simply a continuation of a long local tradition of folklore, which has its origins long before the war.

Treasure myths thrive in periods of crisis

“Since at least the nineteenth century Filipino story-tellers have shared tales of hidden valuables such as gold, church bells, silver coins and fine tableware”, Kelly explains. “By tracing variations of this story, we were able to show that their popularity coincides with periods of war and crisis. The promise of future wealth may have served to boost local morale.”

These legends are also used to make sense of extreme resource inequality. When a neighbour is unaccountably rich, Kelly argues, it is easier to imagine that they discovered treasure than it is to confront uncomfortable economic injustices.

In the present era of globalisation, lost treasure stories in the Philippines are also exchanged as a way of challenging a cultural ‘inferiority complex’ and of restoring a sense of national pride. The imagined gold plays the role of a future ‘golden age’ in which the Philippines overcomes its colonial past and is restored to greatness.

MAX-PLANCK-GESELLSCHAFT

Download the HeritageDaily mobile application on iOS and Android

More on this topic

LATEST NEWS

Prehistoric killing machine exposed

Judging by its massive, bone-crushing teeth, gigantic skull and powerful jaw, there is no doubt that the Anteosaurus, a premammalian reptile that roamed the African continent 265 to 260 million years ago - during a period known as the middle Permian - was a ferocious carnivore.

Noushabad – The Hidden Underground City

Noushabed, also called Oeei or Ouyim is an ancient subterranean city, built beneath the small town of Nushabad in present-day Iran.

10 British Iron Age Hill Forts

A hill fort is a type of earthworks used as a fortified refuge or defended settlement, located to exploit a rise in elevation for defensive advantage.

Stabiae – The Roman Resort Buried by Mount Vesuvius

Stabiae was an ancient Roman town and seaside resort near Pompeii, that was largely buried during the AD 79 eruption of Mount Vesuvius in present-day Italy.

Astronomers Accurately Measure the Temperature of Red Supergiant Stars

Red supergiants are a class of star that end their lives in supernova explosions. Their lifecycles are not fully understood, partly due to difficulties in measuring their temperatures. For the first time, astronomers develop an accurate method to determine the surface temperatures of red supergiants.

Researchers Overturn Hypothesis That Ancient Mammal Ancestors Moved Like Modern Lizards

The backbone is the Swiss Army Knife of mammal locomotion. It can function in all sorts of ways that allows living mammals to have remarkable diversity in their movements.

Archaeologists Discover one of Poland’s Largest Megalithic Tomb Complexes

Archaeologists excavating in Poland have discovered a large megalithic complex, containing several dozen tombs dating from 5500 years ago.

New Technology Allows Scientists First Glimpse of Intricate Details of Little Foot’s Life

In June 2019, an international team brought the complete skull of the 3.67-million-year-old Little Foot Australopithecus skeleton, from South Africa to the UK and achieved unprecedented imaging resolution of its bony structures and dentition in an X-ray synchrotron-based investigation at the UK's national synchrotron, Diamond Light Source.

Popular stories

Ani – The Abandoned Medieval City

Ani is a ruined medieval city, and the former capital of the Bagratid Armenian kingdom, located in the Eastern Anatolia region of the Kars province in present-day Turkey.

Interactive Map of Earth’s Asteroid and Meteor Impact Craters

Across the history of our planet, around 190 terrestrial impact craters have been identified that still survive the Earth’s geological processes, with the most recent event occurring in 1947 at the Sikhote-Alin Mountains of south-eastern Russia.

The Sunken Town of Pavlopetri

Pavlopetri, also called Paulopetri, is a submerged ancient town, located between the islet of Pavlopetri and the Pounta coast of Laconia, on the Peloponnese peninsula in southern Greece.

Exploring the Avebury Stone Circle Landscape

The area was designated part of the Stonehenge, Avebury and Associated Sites by UNESCO in 1986, in recognition for one of the most architecturally sophisticated stone circles in the world, in addition to the rich Neolithic, and Bronze age remains found nearby, such as the West Kennet Avenue, Beckhampton Avenue, West Kennet Long Barrow, the Sanctuary, and Windmill Hill.