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Treasure Map
We got us a map
That leads us to a hidden box
That's all locked up with locks
And buried deep away
We'll dig up the box
We know it's full of precious booty
Burst open the locks
And then we'll say "Hurray"!

Follow the map, dig up the treasure, get rich — A Simple Plan which seldom works.

First, the heroes have to find the map. If they're lucky, someone will conveniently drop dead at their feet with the map on them; if they're less lucky it will have been hidden in some old heirloom. If they're really unlucky, it'll have been cut up into pieces, each held by a different group of treasure hunters; the heroes will have to collect all the pieces before they can even start looking for the treasure.

Next, they'll need to find the starting point, the right tropical isle or hidden cave. Getting there may be an adventure in itself. Once there, the heroes have to find the actual location of the treasure. This can be as simple as "X marks the spot", or "fifteen paces south of the dead pine" (though might find that fifteen paces for one of their group doesn't cover the same distance for another) upto having to navigate a Bamboo Technology Death Course, with only cryptic comments scrawled on the map to help them find the safe route through. If Status Quo Is God either the treasure will turn out to be worthless or the heroes will have to abandon it for the greater good.

Expect at least one group of antagonists to be on the heroes' heels throughout all this.

The treasure can range from criminal loot and pirate gold to ancient temples and powerful MacGuffins. The heroes will never think about handing it over to the authorities.

The Adventurer Archaeologist will often come across treasure maps. This trope is also a form of A Macguffin Full Of Money.

A Treasure Map does not always have to be a literal map, as in topographical chart. Encrypted messages often form an essential part of a Treasure Map, and sometimes an encrypted message is the map.

See also Never Win the Lottery.

Examples

    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • One side-arc of One Piece featured a character who, while following a treasure map, got stuck in a box and was unable to claim the treasure (several chests at the top of a cliff). The trope was subverted when Luffy climbed the cliff for him and found the treasure chests were empty - someone else had taken the treasure long before the first guy got there.
  • In Slayers Next, Lina acquires a decidedly unhelpful treasure map that guides her to the location of a book of singularly useless ritual spells/festival dances.
  • Subverted in Transformers Cybertron: The map to the planets where the Cyber Planet Keys lie turns out to have been rendered just about useless due to stellar drift, and the attempts to recalibrate it to compensate end in failure. The heroes and villains alike end up having to find more current co-ordinates via other leads.
  • In Umi Monogatari, Marin and Kanon go in search of treasure, but end up finding angry pirates.

    Audio Adaptation 

    Comic Books 
  • Carl Barks' and Don Rosa's Uncle Scrooge stories often used this plot.
  • Averted in the Tintin two part story, "Tintin: The Secret Of The Unicorn" and "Tintin: Red Rackhams Treasure" in the necessary information is not a map, but three papers that when held together reveal the coordinates of the sunken ship's location. Even then, Tintin had to reckon with Capt's Haddock using the Paris Meridian and not the Prime Meridian for his starting point and even then the whole message on the papers really meant that the treasure was actually hidden in Marlinspike Hall.

    Comic Strips 

    Film 
  • City Slickers II: The Legend of Curly's Gold subverts this: the map led to fake treasure as part of an "adventure tour."
    • However, it turned out at the very end that this was only a portion of the map, and that the complete version would lead to real treasure.
  • Before anyone can venture into the Cutthroat Island, three pieces that construct its map must be found first.
  • The Goonies. Mikey leads the Goonies with the centuries-old map hoping it still leads to Pirate Booty.
  • The Indiana Jones films
    • Complete with a Lampshade Hanging on the trope in The Last Crusade. The beginning of the movie has Indy telling his students that "We don't follow maps to buried treasure, and X never, ever marks the spot." Of course, both statements turn out to be untrue.
  • It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World - Grogan's Final Speech functions as a treasure map.
  • The Pacifier also had a bit of this, with the route for how to get through the obstacle course coded into "The Peter Panda Dance", a child's bedtime rhyme.
  • The Road to El Dorado uses this for the first half-hour or so, with the rest set in the 'treasure' of El Dorado.
  • Romancing the Stone plays this one straight.
  • Treasure Planet. - A holographic treasure map guides the way ... which is not surprising, since it is Treasure Island IN SPACE!
  • Three Kings was a strange example of this, with bored infantry finding the map in an enemy soldier's butt. It's better than it sounds.
  • In Titan A.E., a map to the eponymous Titan is hidden inside the ring the main character, Cale, has as a memento of his father. Like a treasure map, you have to decode and visit every stop along the way.
  • The Mummy features a map to Hamunaptra, although it's destroyed accidentally-on-purpose by the curator (secretly a Medjai) and Jonathan and Evy have to rely on Rick's knowledge of where Hamunaptra is.
    • In the sequel, the map is in the form of a hologram projected by the Bracelet of Anubis, showing the way to Ahm Shere.
  • Yellowbeard: The treasure map is tattooed on the head of Yellowbeard's son Dan.
  • One of the infamous plot points of National Treasure was that there was a treasure map on the back of the Declaration of Independence. It turns out to be of the encrypted message-type rather than an actual map.
  • Waterworld featured a map tattooed on a child's back. As the entire world was flooded, the island it led to was the treasure.

    Literature 
  • In Edgar Allan Poe's short story The Gold-Bug, a hobby entomologist looking for beetles at a beach stumbles upon a piece of parchment with an encrypted message, which, once decoded, points the way to Captain Kidd's fabled buried treasure.
  • The map in Treasure Island (1883) by Robert Louis Stevenson - Trope Codifier.
  • Subverted in Terry Pratchett's Going Postal. In the first chapter, the imprisoned Moist indicates to his jailers that yes, he has a treasure map to his ill-gotten gains in his pockets, a map full of everything to gladden a treasure hunter's heart, cryptography, puzzles, clues, etc etc. It's fake. According to Moist, any criminal worth the title would simply remember where he's stashed the loot.
  • In Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian story "The Pool of the Black Ones", Zaporavo has a book.
    He desired to learn if this island were indeed that mentioned in the mysterious Book of Skelos, whereon, nameless sages aver, strange monsters guard crypts filled with hieroglyph-carven gold.
  • In the Sherlock Holmes stories, the eponymous Musgrave Ritual was in fact a set of steps to find where the crown of Charles I had been hidden. The story glosses over the point that given that the ritual was created circa 1650 and utilized circa 1870, it was only chance that the instructions in the ritual weren't hopelessly inaccurate (The starting point of the ritual is determined by the shadow cast by a certain tree when the sun was above a second tree. After 220 years, both trees would have grown, changing the angle of the sun and the length of the shadow. In addition, all later directions were marked in steps, which vary from person to person. Had the treasure been buried rather than stashed in a hidden basement, they'd have never found it).
  • The short story "The Most Precious of Treasures" by Desmond Warzel. Tha map is genuine, but the treasure is...unexpected.
  • Kit Williams' Masquerade, published in 1979, was a picture book containing clues to a real hidden treasure: a jeweled rabbit crafted by the author to promote its sales.
  • The Quest for the Missing Map, a Nancy Drew book, concerns the "pirate map divided in half" variation.
  • The Drew children follow one to find the grail in the first volume of The Dark Is Rising.
  • In one of the Riftwar Cycle novels, it's mentioned that selling fake treasure maps was a common trick to get young men to wander out into the middle of nowhere so they could be captured by slavers. The boy who would become Macros the Black was one said victim of this con.
  • In Though Not Dead, Kate Shugak gets sent on a treasure hunt by Old Sam's will. It ultimately leads her to an actual treasure map that guides her to the lost icon.

    Live Action TV 
  • Pirate Master did a game show version of this.
  • Treasure Hunt.
  • The revived WKRP in Cincinnati did an episode where the gang goes on a treasure hunt inside the (multistory) building that houses the station. In a subversion, the treasure exists, and they find it, but do so much damage to the building in the process they end up merely breaking even.
  • An episode of Xena: Warrior Princess included the search for a large, hidden treasure with a treasure map that had been ripped into several pieces. The different people looking for the map were forced to work together as they had memorized their portions of the map and then destroyed them. Most of the treasure was the usual gold trinkets, but it included a place of Ambrosia, which would supposedly would turn whoever ate it into a god.
  • Monk notably inverts this in one episode: Troy, the disrespecting, rebellious teenage son of Dr. Charles Kroger, Monk's psychiatrist, found what appeared to be a treasure map inside of a dead criminal's hand while playing hookie. He then ends up dragging Monk along to find the treasure. Turns out the map didn't lead to treasure at all. Here's what really happened: during the robbery, one of the robbers, Jack Connolly, was mortally wounded when he was shot by a guard (who was promptly killed by Jack's partner, said criminal that Troy's friends got the map from after he died of a heart attack). This proved trouble for Jack's brother Steven, who happened to be the bank's assistant branch manager (and had planned the heist with him), after Jack succumbed hours later, since the police would know the robbery was an inside job if the body was identified. So the heart attack criminal was drawn a map that indicated where to bury the body.
  • The song at the top of this page from LazyTown fits this trope perfectly.
  • The Mad Dog Morgan episode of Wild Boys centres around the a map to cache of stolen gold.
  • In Crusoe, the guy who knew the whereabouts of the treasure hidden on Crusoe's island (a golden cannon!) tattooed it onto the back of the guy he was stuck in prison with — while the mapmaker was sinking deeper into dementia. Remarkably, the map worked, though it was coded so only Crusoe could figure it out. The map resurfaces much later as a guide to the island — salvaged from the poor guy's back after he died.
    Jeremiah Blackthorn: Is this leather?
    Santos Santana: Not exactly.
    • Friday later explains Crusoe's surprised reaction to seeing the "leather" version by joking that Crusoe "knew the map's previous owner."
  • On Leverage, Hardison invokes this during "The Gold Job" when he attempts to run the con, basing it on video game design. Unfortunately, it fails and Nate's 60 second plan actually works.

    Pinball 
  • The "Skulduggery" table of Full Tilt! Pinball requires the player to assemble a treasure map to find Peg Leg's treasure.

    Video Games 
  • The Monkey Island series features this often. Notably the Treasure hunting trial in the first game (also a slight subversion, since the Treasure Map was actually a set of dance instructions, and the treasure was a T-shirt), and the quest for Big Whoop in the second, where finding all pieces of the map took up most of the game.
    • Guybrush was very unlucky in the third game, when he had to get the map off of some guy's back. The map was actually sunburned skin. Rottingham said it perfectly: "That's your map? Eeeew."
  • Romancing SaGa pulls this off well several times:
    • One Treasure is the Opal of Wind that was stolen by Captain Silver from the Bafal Empire, Silver employed Gecklings to haul the treasure in a cave in the jungle, and then killed off all but one who escaped; the one who escaped created a map to get there. You will get this when you complete the Gecklings request regardless.
    • The Second is the Moonstone which is hidden in Twinmoon Temple, but you need to get the directions in an ancient language and decipher it in order to get the keys to enter the temple, however you have to be quick in getting it because if you do not, Hawke will get it, which is a better idea since you can pull Wutai Theft on him to get the directions.
    • Also you can find maps to regular treasure throughout the game, often more valuable than other treasure you can find.
  • In Red Dead Redemption you can follow Treasure Maps and follow them for treasure, achievements, and perks. Also, the character Seth has long been searching for treasure via maps and word of mouth, and though the treasure he threw his life away to find turns out to be a dud, after the end of the game you can read a newspaper which implies he eventually found another one elsewhere.
  • Dubloon has a treasure map that also works as a Point-and-Click Map. It begins with humble two islands, and you have to fill it with help from various maps strewn throughout the world. There's also an old pirate who will help you find all the treasure by marking islands you haven't fully plundered yet.
  • There were quite a few of these in Pirates!.
  • There was a treasure map minigame in Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves.
  • The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker has a LOT of these. Justified seeing as the majority of the game is based on sailing and navigation. The Dungeon maps may or may not count, seeing as they do show locations of treasure maps..
  • Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure justifies this seeing as it's a game about a Pirate.
  • Treasure maps are items to be collected in Treasure Adventure Game. They reveal the location of secret passages that lead to dungeons and special items.
  • Some examples turn up in the ''Nancy Drew video games, although they're more likely to lead to an intermediate clue to the treasure than the actual loot.

    Web Comics 
  • What's New? with Phil and Dixie demonstrates the usefulness:
    The Soulless One: Ever since I started handing out fake maps I've saved a fortune in monster feed!
  • In Li'l Gotham, the pirate Greenbeard plants treasure maps to lead unsuspecting tourists into his ambush. When they reach the spot, there is even a giant X painted on the ground.

    Web Original 
  • Used as a plot point in the New Nethervegas arc of We Are Our Avatars. The treasure found was a set of notes relevant to the election and a Panic Button.

    Western Animation 
  • In an episode of The Simpsons Bart and Grandpa do find the treasure, and it's not worthless, but it's immediately seized by the US State Department for return to its original owners.
    • Another episode subverted the idea with a parody of It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World - the criminal lied about the treasure to give himself the time to escape from prison. Of course, the Springfieldians are too stupid to realize that there's no treasure, even after they find a note from the crook telling them the truth.
  • On the Sponge Bob Square Pants episode "Aargh!", Spongebob, Patrick and Mr. Krabs play a board game called Dutchman's Treasure, which Krabs becomes obsessed with. The next day, Krabs claims to have a real treasure map and takes Spongebob and Patrick on a journey to find it. Later, the map turns out to be the game board, which Krabs had taken for a real map. However, it does turns out to be a real treasure map, as they do find the tresure, only for the Flying Dutchman to take it back.
    • He did give Spongebob and Patrick a gold doubloon for digging it up for him, while Mr. Krabs got a little plastic treasure chest based on the real thing.
  • Raj from Camp Lazlo gets a treasure map marked out on his butt in mosquito bites (It Makes Sense in Context) in "Lumpy Treasure".
  • In Donkey Kong Country, DK finds a treasure map, and the entire cast (Minus Cranky and Klump) gets mixed up in the hunt. In the end we learn that DK himself drew that map as a child while playing pirates, and the 'treasure' was nothing more than a barrel full of bananas- bananas that have gone rotten from age.

    Real Life 
  • Legend and Wikipedia has it that the notorious pirate Olivier Levasseur, nicknamed La Buse, threw a parchment with an encrypted message into the assembled crowd immediately before he was hanged in Saint-Denis on Réunion in 1730, allegedly accompanied by the words "Find my treasure, ye who may understand it!" note . It is furthermore rumored that, since then, many a father's inheritance has been blown on projects of decoding the message and finding the treasure. You can try your luck, since the cryptogram is obviously in the public domain. However, considering that the cryptogram's history is only tracable back to 1923, there is no hard evidence that the message is original, or that such a message existed in the first place, or that Levasseur ever buried treasure. Spoiler indeed.
  • Geocaching is a 21st-century recreational variant of this trope, using GPS coordinates and riddles as the "map" and bragging rights for having found caches as the "treasure".
  • The mysterious so-called Copper Scroll, one of the Dead Sea Scrolls, lists the locations and contents of no less than 63 treasure troves. Archeologists have attempted to follow the directions, but have found nothing.


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