The lineage of treasure hunt games goes back deep in the history of our species. We are always looking for the elusive, questing for the unattainable or racing each other to be the first to claim a spot of land. Think of the globe as one big game board and each of us pieces moving in for the win.

How the game was played out often has had something to do with the tech of knowing just where you are and where you need to be heading to reach your goal.

History is full of tales about the great hunts. There was the legendary quest for the Holy Grail, the map changing search for the shortest trade route to India, the every popular conquest of the world's gold supply, and a myriad other great hunts. Power, fortune and fame drove hordes of people towards the goals. In the last hundred years these hunts have become less a matter of need and more a matter of sport. As the industrial and information revolutions set the stage for an increase in the populace's leisure time, new ways to fill that time were crafted. For many the hunt became one of knowledge, discovery, and history; the age of the Explorer was on. Heinrich Schliemann wanted to find the city of Troy. Victorian explorers Burton, Speke, Baker, Livingstone and Stanley hacked and slashed across the unknown to chart the uncharted. Howard Carter hunted and pecked his way into the tomb of Tutankhamen.

For our story to really get going though we have to focus ourselves on a bleak moor in England around 1854. It was here, in this out of the way spot in the middle of the great empire that Letterboxing was born.

Letterboxing lore (1) claims its genesis on the banks Cranmere Pool in Dartmoor England. James Perrott left a message in a bottle during one of his walks across that area. The message was simple, a note card that marked his visit and a request that anyone who found the bottle also leave a card marking their visit.

Those who found the bottle read the notes of those that came before, left their note, and went back home to spread the tale of the hidden secret somewhere in wilds. Since then the landscape of Dartmoor and other locations in England have become peppered with Letterboxes. These Letterboxes were not so easy to get to; they were often hidden in remote locations that required long hikes to get near and much rummaging to pinpoint.

Somewhere along its growth the note cards were augment with stamp markings. Each Letterbox contained its own unique stamp and each Letterboxer carried with them their unique stamp. When a Letterbox was uncovered it's stamp was marked in the finder's logbook and the finder's stamp was marked in the Letterbox's logbook. (2)

Rather than relying on dumb luck to find the Letterboxes, clues were written up. Publications were put out regularly that cataloged the various clues. The informal Letterbox 100 Club is still putting these out twice yearly. The club also maintains a list of those who have over 100 Letterbox stamps in their logbooks.

For well over 100 years the great Letterbox hunt was contained to England. Then in April 1998 the floodgates opened. The Smithsonian Magazine ran an article (3) on the hunt and America soon took on a chicken pox like spotting of Letterboxes. This is not to say there was no Letterboxing taking place in the states before the article; there is recorded evidence of ones being placed in 1989. The vast majority of Letterboxing activity though is decidedly in the post- Smithsonian article era.

The next great leap in the game of the hunt came in with a whoosh. In 1974 twenty-four satellites were sent into the heavens to guide the humans below. This was called a Global Positioning System (4), or GPS for short. NavStar was born with a small cluster of satellites that grew into the twenty-four we use today. Its goal was simple, to let people know where they are. By means of just three of the satellites a receiver could tell were they were within a few feet.

A few feet, if you were in the military. Civilian GPS receivers never were able to get that accurate a reading; national security was the biggest reason why. For years GPS units could get you to within 100's of meters of your target. The "Selective Availability" or SA switched was turned off on May 1st 2000 and in the blink of an eye nonmilitary GPS units went from whistling in the dark to guided missile accuracy.

Our focus now shifts from the heavens above to the state of Oregon. Exuberant from the news of the SA being switched off, GPS user David Ulmer posted to Usenet about his plan to use this new found exactness.

"Now that SA is off we can start a worldwide Stash Game!! With Non-SA accuracy it should be easy to find a stash from waypoint information. Waypoints of secret stashes could be shared on the Internet, people could navigate to the stashes and get some stuff. The only rule for stashes is: Get some Stuff, Leave some Stuff!! The more valuable the stuff the more stashes will be started." (5)

Thus was born Geocaching. Over the next year the one stash in Oregon grew to dozens of caches, then dozens of dozens. One website, (6) , quickly became the focus of the Internet sharing of the cache waypoints. It also became a gathering place for GGeocachers to tell the tales of their hunt.

As I write this today there are 14,510 active caches to be found in 112 countries.

Geocaches now come in a variety of types. There is the traditional cache type where in the finder needs to plug a set of latitude and longitude coordinates into their GPS receiver, follow some clues and eventual find the hiding place. In that place a container with a logbook and some prizes will be found. The finder marks their visit in the logbook, takes a prize, leaves a prize and then makes their way home.

The virtual cache leads not to a prize box but a place of beauty or history. These are great for finding the undiscovered areas of your surroundings.

There are multipart caches, which twist and turn the finder across several sets of coordinates and puzzles. There are event caches in which the finder's prize is a gathering of other Geocachers. There are even letterbox caches that are a mix of traditional Letterboxing with some GPS clues thrown in.

Regardless of the type the main thing is the hunt. It's the call to explore that drives folks on these quests. It could be with a GPS or without, with a prize or without. New ways may be introduced to make the hunt more interesting but under it all it's the same as before.