Decoding Treasure Symbols on a Map

It seems highly unlikely that there is one universal code that can be used to read all maps and field markings that might lead to treasure. There are just too many potential variations between those who might have secreted away the goods, and each landscape has its own special features and potential landmarks. Consider scarcity. What value is a weird rock formation in a landscape littered with weird rock formations? Not much. What value a single large rock on a landscape composed mostly of soil, sand or only small pebbles? A lot.

Before the widespread use of the printing press, how can there have been expected to be an “Official Field Signs” book to keep in your back pocket on a multi-year journey through the uncharted and untamed wilds of tierra incognita? Would every possible hider of valuables have the same book? It does make sense that there could be general themes which would have been employed by groups with a shared history. It also makes sense that certain symbology might be common to all modern humans, or even ancient ones. A petroglyph of an elk looks like an elk, or at least something similar, to essentially anyone.

Somewhere in-between are the treasure markings and symbols and signs definitions put forth by certain authors, who claim (nudge, nudge, wink, wink) to have strong reasons for their definitions. An earlier article traces a common set of such definitions back to J. Frank Dobie, but there are other sets, such as those from Kenworthy and Mahan, for example.

This article takes a look at how one might interpret the symbols on a well-known treasure map. This map is from the Gold House series of books, specifically from the book jacket of the first book in the series. The map has also been posted online, in places such as the Treasurenet website forum. We will call the map the Doc Noss Caballos treasure map here. It seems to depict a section of the Rio Grande in southern New Mexico, centered on the Caballo mountains by the town of Hot Springs (now called Truth or Consequences). There are what looks like some minor mountain ranges or terrain features spread around the periphery, and there is the assumption that one of the two main peaks shown by the large sun and ankh symbol represent Victorio (Soledad) peak in Hembrillo basin. Interestingly, there is a little stick figure on one of the peaks, which a lot of people seem to think is a representation of Chief Victorio. The geography, however, suggests that the peak on which the stick figure appears may instead be Geronimo peak, to the East of Victorio peak.

The diagram below shows a set of possible explanations for some of the symbols on the map. Several of the symbols appear in multiples, suggesting that a bit of a systematic approach may be applied to the map, and also suggesting that the multiple implied burial or hiding locations for treasure were established by a common group or entity. The provenance of the map is not known, but it is interesting to consider the possible meanings of the symbols anyways. In this case, knowledge of the local geography and features has tilted the selection of particular definitions as shown, even though “standard” treasure sign references may have very different definition.

Table of treasure symbols with definitions customized based on knowledge of the land and region that the map is supposed to depict.

In the table above, the definitions selected that run counter to or seem to differ the most from other authors’ definitions include:

  • Here we declare that the spoked-wheel thing is associated with an Eye. These particular mountains have many “eyes”, by which we mean stone arches. Some are likely constructed, others are natural (and huge!) There are also “gunsight” setups in those mountains and the surrounding areas, and these may also be something through which the sun might be sighted. The Sundial is in reference to a pink granite stone marker rock with petroglyphs supposedly found on top of the bluff called Noah’s Arc. The pink stone seemed seemed to function as a directional marker. So, this symbol could refer to those elements, or something else entirely (of course!) The pink rock was at one point supposedly in the side lot of the museum in Hot Springs, and there are pictures of it somewhere on the internet (not shown to respect implied copyright).
  • Here we declare that the snakey-thing represents a spring. In some authors’ definitions, this symbol is 100% without a doubt a snake symbol. However, the region that the map is supposed to depict simply does not have a lot of snake symbology around, and there are no other markings on the map (besides the dots or spirals, maybe) that would represent a spring. Springs are important, and a process of elimination results in this symbol being declared as given.
  • Here we declare that the circle-dot represents a placer deposit. While this symbol is often used to indicate gold, rather than being where refined gold is buried, knowledge of the local area suggests that it is more likely to represent a gold placer deposit. The Shandon (or Trujillo) gold placer in the Caballos is reported to produce decent-sized nuggets from time to time, and the map makers may have used this somewhat compact zone as a general landmark. Other authors might indicate that the circle-dot is a “center”, but the symbol does not seem to make as much sense in that way in the context of the actual area.
  • Here we declare that spirals represent petroglyphs. Many authors would declare spirals to mean a spring of water, and some might even pay careful attention to the direction of the spiral and where the terminating arm points. Actually, there are not a lot of petroglyphs in the Caballo mountains themselves, though there are in the surrounding areas. Using ancient native petroglyphs as a landmark is something that makes sense in the context of this map, and in particular, a number of the symbol types on the map appear in some of the many local petroglyph sites. Of course, springs and petroglyphs often go together or are found in proximity.
  • Here we declare that the twin stump-looking thingies refer to the “bloody hands” pictograph. This set of symbols does not appear in any known available reference. Given the relative proximity to the presumed location of Victorio peak on the map, and being co-located shaft/tunnel line in conjunction with a large arrow (dig here), the well-known bloody hands pictographs make sense as a useful landmark. Supposedly, this site was in the past damaged by excavations, so someone else apparently thought that there was something at bloody hands.

While the map in question does not have enough detail to pin it to the geography that it is purported to represent, there are a number of striking similarities to the real-world location of features on the landscape, some of which would not be known to an outsider or non-local person. The river, minor ranges, petroglyph sites, gold placer, passes, and so on all tie nicely with the actual southern NM region along the Rio Grande, and some of the relationships even seem to be “to scale”, though others are clearly not.

Now, as to whether the interpretation of symbols given here is accurate: quien sabe? Maybe somewhere, there is an insider chuckling away at all the inaccuracies of this interpretation; then again, maybe not.