The Tikal Treasure

by Daryl Friesen

The Mayan ruins of Tikal lie scattered throughout the Petan district located in the jungles of Guatemala. When one stands among the ruins of Tikal, one canít help but wonder just how the Mayans where able to build such a spectacular city. They were truly a spiritually motivated culture. Only a culture that was so sure of its beliefs could have had the patience and the leadership to erect such massive stone temples as the ones that amaze you at Tikal. As I gazed off at the temples, I started thinking about a dead explorer by the name of James Carmichael who was purely motivated by western greed. He had done some exploring here in search of a lost treasure, which has been long forgotten. As I climbed up temple six and looked far off into the jungle, I knew why it has been forgotten. The jungle was so thick, it covered everything. Its green claws reaching up the sides of the great temples erected by the Mayans thousands of years ago. I first heard the name James Carmichael when I was reading the journal of an explorer named Thomas Gann.

Who was given the papers and diaries of the dead explorer by the son of James Carmichael. According to the papers James Carmichael was the son of John Carmichael. Who came to Central America to in 1830s. When James was growing up in the jungle he made friends with the local natives and quickly learned to speak the Mayan and Ketchi languages. The natives took him to all kinds of ruin sites in Belize and Guatemala, and he rapidly developed a strong passion for archaeology. One of the sites the natives took Carmichael to was the lost city of Lubantun, which was excavated by Thomas Gann and his friend Mitchell Hedges in the 1920s. Mitchell Hedges became famous because of his discovery of the world famous crystal skull, which he found among the ruins. Over time the natives showed Carmichael many secrets about what lies waiting in the jungle for the explorer and in 1868 Carmichael meet two natives by the name of Jose and Bel Chen, who were father and son. They took a quick liking to the curious explorer and they told him about a temple, which lies forgotten in the jungles surrounding the old Mayan ruins of Tikal. The temple contained the wealth of Tikal itself and some of the treasure of Montezuma. Naturally Carmichael became obsessed with the story and the two natives agreed to guide him to its location. The expedition hacked its way through the thick mosquito invested jungle for five treacherous days until finally arriving at five crumbling structures sticking out of the jungle. The guides told Carmichael that inside one of these temples lies the treasure. They quickly began clearing the temples of jungle. After two days of work came to what looked like the entrance to the main temple, which was sealed up with mortar.

According to the natives, it was one of a more recent construction than the temple itself, which implies that the temple had been sealed up before it was abandoned. Carmichael knew he could never open the temple without the proper equipment and decided to leave the location. He returned to civilization to find the proper equipment to break inside the temple. He arrived in the village of Tulunche, where the expedition had started from and then quickly left for England. According to his papers, he got a job and quickly got consumed by urban life and forgot about his lost treasure for twenty-one years before finally returning to the jungle to try again. Before Carmichael came back to Guatemala he stopped in Mexico City where he decided to spend some time in the Mexican library. He stumbled upon an interesting manuscript while searching through some old Spanish records. The manuscript was written by a Spanish priest and was dated 1640. It said that a part of Montezumaís treasure had been sent by the Aztecs to the Usuminca country to avoid being captured by the Spanish. This was prove in Carmichaelís mind that what the natives in Tulunche had told him was true. Carmichael also ran into two Americans in Mexico City who agreed to help fund an expedition for the treasure temple.

They accompanied him to the ruins of Tikal where he learned that they had been lying about having the money to fund the expedition. Carmichael and the Americans pushed on through the jungle anyway, only to find themselves in the middle of the jungle with no supplies. The two Americans decided to turn back, not being able to handle the pain of the expedition. Carmichael decided to continue on alone to the village of Tulunche where he had meet Bel and Jose Chen. When he arrived in the village, two days after leaving the Americans, he was horrified to learn that Bel and Jose Chen were both dead. Jose Chen had died of rheumatic fever a few years earlier and Bel had died well fighting in a war against El Salvador. With this bad news on his mind, Carmichael decided to continue on without his companions to where he believed the treasure temple was situated. He brought with him Cobanaro Indians to help carry his meager supplies and headed off into the jungle once again. He was never to be seen or heard from again. All that is known about his fate was learned from the Indians who came out of the jungle two weeks after they left Tulunche. They reported that James Carmichael died from malaria and that they buried him where he fell. They brought back his papers and diaries and somehow reached the British Consul in Guatemala City.

The papers were then forwarded to James Carmichaelís son, Gordon Carmichael in England. Gordon had no interests in archaeology or lost treasure, so he passed them onto Thomas Gann. Gann in turn took up the dead explorer's quest, but he himself was also unsuccessful in locating the treasure temple and soon gave up the quest himself. Where does this leave us now? If one were to take up the quest for the treasure temple today, it would be just as dangerous as it was in Carmichael's day. The jungle in the Petan district is still unexplored but is unfortunately crawling with military that roam the jungle looking for bandits who try and sneak into Tikal to rob the tourists. This for me is a great hindrance in exploring the area. For the daring treasure hunter who would like to take a chance in following the steps of James Carmichael, here are some suggestions. My first suggestion would be to try and find his papers, which I guess, are in the hands of Thomas Gann's estate in England or in the archives of the British Museum. The papers may also contain other information on other lost treasure sites as well, which Thomas Gann never mentioned in his journal titled Mayan Cities. This may be found in some reference sections in major libraries. Thatís it then. I left the ruins of Tikal and the tale of James Carmichael and headed to the town of Flores in Guatemala. When I arrived, I heard rumours of a civil war and quickly headed back to the Belize border to the town of San Ignacio, located next to the Mayan Mountains in Belize. From there I learned some information about a cave where jade and Mayan pottery maybe found, but I will save that story for next time.

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