History of the Treasure of the Trinity from Treasure Quest: Snake Island

Treasure Quest: Snake Island Treasure of the Trinity legend

Discovery Channel’s new show Treasure Quest: Snake Island is the reality TV equivalent of The Pirates of the Caribbeana Jones and the Tomb Raiders of the Lost Ark. It features an elite team of treasure hunters searching for the “Treasure of the Trinity,” a mythical stash of Incan gold believed to be hidden off the coast of Brazil for nearly 500 years. The team has tracked the treasure to Ilha da Queimada Grande (aka Snake Island), a small island that is the only known home of the Golden Lancehead Viper, one of the most venomous snakes in the world. Cue the John Williams score!

Thankfully, Discovery has provided us with a virtual and much less life-threatening video clip explaining a large part of the legend, complete with some nifty graphics:

Here is the story of the Treasure of the Trinity from the clip:

In the year 1524, Portuguese conquistador Aleixo Garcia leads an expedition through the uncharted jungles of Brazil in a quest for Incan gold. Allied with thousands of warriors from the Guaraní people, they attack and pillage Incan settlements as they march inland. Garcia reportedly amasses a vast fortune before he is finally driven back by the great Incan king Huayna Capac and his army.

But, then, greed takes hold of Garcia’s allies, and the Guaraní warriors attack and kill Garcia and his men, claiming the treasure for themselves. The Incan gold reportedly makes its way to the coast, [where], legend has it, the locals, fearing attacks on their own villages, hide the fortune in the most daunting and secure place they know of: Snake Island.

Discovery’s story appears to be a bit abridged, however. There is a Portuguese work of historical fiction (now out of print) titled O Tesouro do Sombrio (The Treasure of the Sombrio) that fills in some of the gaps, tying in Thomas Cavendish and a Jesuit friar.

Here is an English translation of the synopsis of the book:

In 1524 the Portuguese navigator Aleixo Garcia left Santa Catarina in search of Incan gold and silver. With the help of the Guaraní, he headed inland using the intricate system of Amazon trails known as Peabiru.

With the help of thousands of Guaraní, Garcia attacked and looted a town near Potosi, taking much gold and silver from the Inca king, Huayna Capac. In addition to the gold and silver, Garcia also stole a number of artifacts, called “Machines of Viracocha,” made of an unknown red metal. According to a contemporary group of mathematician priests, those artifacts belonged to a very advanced civilization called The People of the Machines.

(I should point out that I could find nothing else online about these “Machines of Viracocha” which leads me to believe that perhaps they were created just for the book.)

During the return trip, Aleixo Garcia and his expedition were killed on the banks of the Paraguay River by Payaguá Indians. This differs from the account above, which features Garcia dying at the hands of the Guaraní after they turned on him. The Payaguá are a river tribe and often fought with the Guaraní.

The last guardian of the treasure of the Incas and Viracocha machines was a Jesuit friar named Antonio Gonzalo. Gonzalo lived in the coastal town of Santos, the captaincy of São Vicente, at the end of the sixteenth century.

On Christmas day of the year 1591, the village of Santos was attacked and looted by the English privateer Thomas Cavendish, who stole the Incan treasures and the Machines of Viracocha from Friar Gonçalo Antonio’s monastery. Cavendish was on his way to the Strait of Magellan, so he hid the treasure on the island of San Sebastian, which is now Ilhabela.

Proving that you should never underestimate the tenacity and ingenuity of a Jesuit mathematician, Friar Antonio found the treasure. Unfortunately, due to its size, Friar Antonio was unable to transport the treasure back to Santos. So, he hid it in a cave that the Tupinamba Indians, who inhabited the region at the time, called Itanhiã Kuara. Itanhiã Kuara is close to Saco do Sombrio, which is part of the Castilians Bay in Ilhabela. To insure the treasure would stay hidden, Friar Antonio created an ingenious and enigmatic trigonometric script that needed to be unraveled in order for the treasure to be found again.

So, there is a bit of a discrepancy as to which island actually holds the treasure–but that sounds about right for a legendary missing treasure tale. And what about that “ingenious and enigmatic trigonometric script that needed to be unraveled”? Let’s hope that the Treasure Quest: Snake Island crew is up to the task!

The Treasure Quest: Snake Island crew Keith Plaskett, Mehgan Heaney-Grier, Cork Graham, Bryan Fry and Jeremy Whalen.
PHOTO: The Treasure Quest: Snake Island crew includes (from left to right) Keith Plaskett, Mehgan Heaney-Grier, Cork Graham, Bryan Fry (front) and Jeremy Whalen.

From Discovery:

The team will stop at nothing – scaling peaks through the jungle, exploring treacherous caves and diving among the galleons that sunk to the ocean floor centuries ago. Treasure hunting is nearly impossible and the team will face dangers both on land and at sea. It’s a place where modern-day pirates still exist and word has gotten around that they are looking for treasure.

But they’re going to need more than pure brawn on this quest. The team will need to solve complex mathematical clues and puzzles protecting the treasure – the same ones that have thwarted countless others before them. But most of all, they’ll need nerves of steel as they brave one of the most deadly places in the world – where one careless step could not just cost everyone incredible riches, but ultimately their lives.

And this explains why Paul Thiry couldn’t seem to stop searching for the legendary treasure. Here is a little factoid about Thiry from the show’s website:

Paul Thiry was a Belgian engineer and mathematician who became obsessed with the Treasure of the Trinity and dedicated four decades of his life to finding it. The treasure eluded him until his death in 1979.

And for those of you that speak Portuguese, here is a video that looks to offer up a lot of information about the Treasure of the Trinity (aka the Treasure of the Sombrio), including numerous maps with what looks to be a heck of a lot of math!

You can safely follow television’s most exciting treasure hunt by tuning in to Treasure Quest: Snake Island Friday nights at 10/9c on Discovery!

UPDATE – Click here to find out all about Snake Island, including a full documentary about it made by VICE last year. Plus, find out more about Mehgan Heaney-Grier. Is she really a world class and world-record-holding diver with a degree in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and Anthropology who moonlights as a supermodel?

Cast photo: Courtesy Discovery