Early on May 1, a team of archaeologists got to work in the Dutch village of Ommeren, roughly 50 miles southeast of Amsterdam. With the help of a magnetometer and a mechanical digger, they sought to finally uncover millions of dollars worth of jewelry, coins and precious stones that Nazis had supposedly buried in the area.
But the researchers packed up four hours later, empty-handed. Their fruitless search may be the last attempt to discover the treasure.
“I think there’s minimal chance of finding anything,” Martijn Bink, an archaeologist who assisted with the dig, tells Aleksandar Furtula and Mike Corder of the Associated Press (AP). “We dug three holes here of places where we could find through the magnetometer. There was a signal, and none of these holes have found the treasure. So I think this is all… we’ll do. We won’t go any further.”
Interest in the site spiked in early January, when the Dutch National Archives released a map, drawn by a Nazi soldier in 1945, marking the location of the treasure.
The map was among a trove of documents declassified after a 75-year confidentiality period, reports Anna Holligan of BBC News. The files also include the testimony of a German soldier, who said that three or four Germans had looted what they could from a bank in the city of Arnhem during fighting there in 1944. The following year, as the Allies drew closer to victory, the soldiers needed a safe place to store their stolen goods.
“They decide to bury the treasure, because it’s just getting a bit too hot under their feet and they’re getting scared,” Annet Waalkens, an adviser at the National Archives, tells the Observer’s Jennifer Rankin. Stowing the loot in ammunition boxes and bread packages, the soldiers buried it roughly two feet down under the shade of a poplar tree.
Though the tree is now gone, the enthusiasm for the treasure remains. Unauthorized amateur treasure hunters have been digging in Ommeren, which has “caused a lot of inconvenience for the residents,” Pieter Neven, an official of the Buren municipality, which contains Ommeren, tells the AP.
The latest dig, which was headed by Joke Honders, an archaeologist and local historian, was the only search authorized by the village, which also helped fund the dig. These efforts marked the last time Ommeren would approve a request to search the area, Neven tells Claire Moses of the New York Times.
Ommeren has recently instituted a ban on metal detectors, both to discourage amateur diggers and to keep residents safe, as “there is a real risk of amateur excavators hitting unexploded World War II grenades, bombs or landmines,” reports BBC News.
Besides, officials now think that the treasure may have already been found.
“We have concluded that there is no Nazi treasure in Ommeren,” says Birgit van Aken-Quint, a spokesperson for Buren, to Agence France-Presse. “We do assume that the treasure was once buried in Ommeren, but that it has been removed at some stage.”
By the time the researchers finished the search last week, they had recovered only a World War II-era bullet and scrap metal.“It’s a meager harvest,” Klaas Tammes, a local resident and former Ommeren mayor, says to the Times. “The mystery of the treasure will stay intact.”