Christopher Benfey, author, If: The Untold Story of Kipling’s American Years
Vermeer’s The Concert, taken from its frame in the Gardner Museum in 1990 and never recovered. A painting about life’s fugitive joys—music, friendship, the changing light—it turned out to be a fleeting joy itself.
James Grant, author, Bagehot: The Life and Times of the Greatest Victorian
We have Matthew’s, Mark’s, Luke’s, and John’s. A fifth Gospel is the treasure I’d like to find. What did Jesus do during the early years of his life? The fifth evangelist would break the news.
Ann Bancroft, explorer and author
The photographic plates of Frank Hurley. During Ernest Shackleton’s 1914 expedition to cross Antarctica, the ship was frozen in the sea ice and crushed. All men and equipment were jettisoned onto the ice. When they had to travel to survive, Hurley left behind many of his heavy negative plates. Shackleton—not fully trusting that Hurley wouldn’t backtrack and fetch them—made him destroy them on the ice.
Monica L. Smith, anthropologist and author, Cities: The First 6,000 Years
A bilingual inscription from Mesopotamia that would let us decipher the 4,000-year-old Harappan script of the Indian subcontinent. Finding it would enable 1 billion–plus people to unlock their earliest history.
Peter Hessler, author, The Buried: An Archaeology of the Egyptian Revolution
The tomb of Nefertiti. She must be out there, because her burial goods haven’t appeared in other tombs or artifact collections. And evidence indicates that she ruled as pharaoh after the death of her husband, Akhenaten. Her tomb would reveal much about the period when the ruling couple tried to revolutionize ancient Egyptian faith and art.
Izabella Cresswell-Jones, Kingston, Ontario
Genghis Khan’s treasure. He was buried with his conquered world’s most beautiful rare objects. Legend has it that a river was diverted to cover his grave.
Jim Davis, Orlando, Fla.
The Ark of the Covenant. This ornate, gold-plated chest topped with cherubs housed Moses’s stone tablets of the Ten Commandments. It disappeared from history, and is said to have been taken during the Babylonian invasion of Jerusalem in the sixth century b.c.
Barry Cutler, Palm Desert, Calif.
Cardenio, the lost play written by William Shakespeare and John Fletcher, supposedly based on Miguel de Cervantes’s Don Quixote. If it even neared the spirit of Quixote, it probably contained at least a few good laughs, dearly needed in today’s world.
Pat Cilley Southward, Lake Mary, Fla.
The Library of Alexandria. Imagine access to the great minds of antiquity, and to the mathematics, philosophy, and literature that formed the foundation of modern Western culture, of which we have only fragments.
Nick Sayer, Santa Clara, Calif.
The original high-resolution recordings of the Apollo 11 moonwalk. The footage of Neil Armstrong stepping onto the lunar surface is effectively a kinescope recording—made via a camera pointed at a video screen. NASA’s tapes of the original transmissions were likely erased and reused in the 1980s. Only a few people in July 1969 have ever seen the historic moonwalk in its full resolution.
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