The dark world of Morocco's treasure hunters

The dark world of Morocco's treasure hunters
Feature: Prepare yourself for a tale of charlatans, sorcerers and child snatchers - and, of course, hidden loot.
3 min read
06 July, 2015
Many treasures were buried after the collapse of the Almohad Caliphate in 1269 [Getty]
Rumours and mystery swirl around Moroccan treasure hunting; an illegal trade plagued by charlatans and sorcerers.

Treasure hunters are even reported to use abducted children in their search for valuable loot.

Hunting for coins, gems and jewellery underground is mainly concentrated in the south of Morocco. Methods have developed from rudimentary excavation to employing specialist "sorcerers" - to using modern detection equipment.

History professor Abdul Haq Zaydi told al-Araby al-Jadeed that, during the country's periods of chaos and instability, people used to bury their valuables to keep them safe.

This happened most in south Morocco after the collapse of the Almohad Caliphate in Andalusia and North Africa (1121-1269), and during the French and Spanish colonial periods.
     Treasure hunters need to decode a message left by the treasure's owner to his inheritors to remove the 'jinn'.

"Searching for treasure is like searching for a needle in a haystack, and searches have to be carried out at night because it is illegal," treasure hunter Abdullah Tahla told al-Araby al-Jadeed.

He explained that owners used to bury their valuables in a specific way and assign jinn [supernatural creatures] to guard them.

The treasure hunter needs to decode a message left by the owner to his inheritors to remove the jinn. The message has been prepared by a sorceror and is part message and part spell.

Aymen, a friend of Abdullah's, said it was difficult to find the treasure - because messages bearing the secret codes could be forged.

Searches are also carried out using advanced detection equipment. Metal detectors are often employed, and more high-tech devices that can specifically detect metals such as gold. However, these devices are banned in Morocco and must be smuggled in from European countries and sold on the black market.

It gets stranger

A more basic method used the help of "sorcerers" who recite a variety of chants and spells in their search for buried treasure. The spells aim to expel the jinn assigned to guard the treasure. The self-styled sorcerers also burn incencse, which they claim allows treasure hunters to excavate the area without being harmed by the jinn.

Sorcerers also tell treasure hunters to use children under ten who have specific marks on the palms of their hands, tongues and eyes to help them in their search. There have been a number of news reports of such children going missing.

Hunters and "sorcerers" say these children are short sighted, have a certain gleam in their eyes, suffer from a rupture in their eyelids, have a specific horizontal palm line that divides their palm in two and a vertical line across their tongues.

The child is given an amulet to hold and made to walk in the area were treasure is thought to lie. If the child falls, that is where the treasure is buried, according to those exploting them in a vain bid for profit.

Many children are returned to their families as suddenly as they were abducted - which is when the families learn of their strange journeys. However, other children are never found, and many believe the treasure hunters and sorcerers dispose of them in some way.

This article is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.