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First of all, for the question of how did the dungeons get there or how we found them let's say that they have been hidden since ancient times by a race of magical wizards. They cast spells making the entrances impossible to find by normal humans, but the last great wizard died (along with the last knowledge of how to use magic) a few days ago for unknown reasons and so the spell was lifted. Videos of people discovering the entrances to these magical dungeons spread across the internet like a plague, and with some lucky enough to find the mystical loot at the end of the dungeon, causing a global interest in exploring these areas.

Let's say for simplicities sake that the artefacts recovered do not have any magical ability or use other than being worth a large sum of money. Plenty of people and companies want to get a part of this new industry; the industry of dungeon exploration, and are willing to do whatever it takes to be as efficient as possible.

To my actual question. What would be the best way for our society to explore dungeons with our level of technology? When I say our level of technology I think technology that could surface in the next 10 years would also be acceptable as this new discovery would cause a surge in technological advancements as people try to make the most money.

I will now list some dimensions and numbers relating to the dungeons but these are only of the top of my head so please feel free to change them in your response if you have any better ideas:

  • The dungeons would be a fairly typical cave-like design with tight space hallways and open rooms. Another point I should say is that there maybe be monsters lurking in the dungeons but that is for you to decide. If you want to tackle this question role play style, with a crew of dungeon explorers who are famous for their use of insert technology here to slay their way to the jackpot, be my guest and include monsters. But If you want to just go by a logical stand point and only care about efficiency of actually getting the loot out, please ignore the monsters. But if you do decide on monsters, feel free to use whatever ones you want as long as they would fit into an underground dungeon that hasn't crumbled in possibly thousands of years.
  • The dungeons would be a couple 100m deep at most and cover an area of approximately 2 square kilometres. If humans couldn't find it then why have an intricate dungeon layout you ask? Lets say these wizards were a suspicious bunch and wanted to protect their stuff from people and other magical wizards alike so they built elaborate dungeons that required different kinds of magic to open rooms ensuring other wizards would not be able to access the loot. But what they didn't account for is our current technology as they stopped updating their defences centuries ago, and now with our electric machinery, the door are easy to drill, cut or even shoot through.
  • The layout of these dungeons can difference from each other so you can't necessarily drill straight down and find some every time. Unless this is a viable technique in some regard?
  • There would be about one per 100 square km, so enough that investing in exploration technology will not be a waste of time. The industry would boom for years.
  • Also loot rooms would be scattered around the dungeons by the wizards, so a robber might stumble across one and then leave not taking all the treasure, so the whole dungeon would have to be explored to be sure all the goods have been found.
  • The entrances would be meters wide, so possibly seen by satellites but would still be hard to locate or be sure it is even an entrance.

Now some ideas I had. Feel free to ruin or improve on them.

  • Large mining companies could set up mining machinery and simply drill through the whole dungeon but I'm not sure how they could ensure the artefacts are not damaged.
  • Slave labour camps might be established in poorer countries to mine them out by hand.
  • Specialised military teams might tackle the dungeons on foot with guns, torches and ram down the doors.
  • Treasure hunting groups might form with legendary yet mysterious teams of bandits looting dungeon to dungeon without a trace.

A mix of both industry and individual exploration answers would be great. As in business vs individual people exploring the dungeons themselves. I imagine that conflict in this world might arise from the large companies farming these dungeons with no care for the environment or even for their workers. And so small villages situated next to a dungeon might want to keep it for themselves or even protect these dungeons from the large companies or even worship them. I'm very curious to see what other people's ideas about a world with dungeons are so please share!

The artefacts don't have a set worth let's just say that any means necessary would still turn up a profit as I don't want to exclude any ideas. If any further information is required just let me know and I'll add it. Likewise if anything is unclear I can change that too.

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    $\begingroup$ For some ideas: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ground-penetrating_radar#Limitations $\endgroup$
    – Anon
    Nov 30, 2021 at 6:03
  • $\begingroup$ How does "there is one every square kilometer" vs "[they] cover an area of approximately 2 square kilometres" work out? $\endgroup$
    – fho
    Nov 30, 2021 at 12:37
  • $\begingroup$ lol I ment 100. Ill change that now $\endgroup$
    – Mattna
    Nov 30, 2021 at 12:45
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    $\begingroup$ Since your question is centred so much around the technology I assume that you already found a solution for the hardest problem: lawyers. $\endgroup$
    – FluidCode
    Nov 30, 2021 at 13:31
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    $\begingroup$ I would guess that @FluidCode is thinking along the lines of the owner of the land over the dungeon claiming ownership of what's under their property (or the owner of the mining rights), legal fights with the owner of the land where the entrance is, governments claiming that the new resource is theirs and not covered by laws on mining natural materials, or using treasure laws $\endgroup$
    – Chris H
    Nov 30, 2021 at 16:09

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Cam-Hounds.

A team of these, trained to explore and respond to voice-instruction by radio will give a comprehensive view of the layout. Trained to bark at any interesting-smelling air currents coming from apparently blank walls may unearth secret chambers of loot.

Medium sized dog wearing 1990s technology, a radio camera.

Copyright drsophiayin.com 2021, decades-old technology, fair use.

They have the virtue of being fast, able to escape easily or in-a-pinch have built-in enamel weapons to defend themselves.

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    $\begingroup$ You can't prevent them to pee and defecate, they would pollute the dungeon, authorities would probably forbid them. $\endgroup$
    – FluidCode
    Nov 30, 2021 at 13:24
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    $\begingroup$ @FluidCode Similar to RFC-1149 communication systems, the cam-hounds provide some degree of path logging. $\endgroup$ Nov 30, 2021 at 15:17
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What's in these dungeons is really based on what the wizards were hiding and what they were trying to hide their stuff from.

Personally, I think it will be inevitable that there will be defences -- one does not just make a giant labyrinth to hide their stuff and only rely on a single ward to hide it and the maze itself. Furthermore, I think the defences will be engineered for those they think will try to enter the dungeons and go after the loot. This will be plucky adventurer types and possibly other greedy wizards.

I would expect magic traps, or magically preserved mundane traps. The last wizard dying may mean that the magic itself is gone, but that could just mean that the natural decay of the traps and features of the dungeons begins now. There may even be fail safes triggered on the magic failing as well if the wizard is sufficiently paranoid.

Today's Dungeon Delvers

Step 1: Gather Intelligence

The first step will be to send expendable assets in to explore the dungeon first. For most of us, we are thinking drones and rovers -- mechanical things that we can control to map out the surroundings. However, that will only go so far underground unless it is tethered -- in which case it will only be able to travel so far on the wires that the device is tethered to.

This is, of course, predicated in the inability to enter the dungeon in a different way easily. While the front door is the simple way to enter the place, it might be possible to use some mining tool to drill down from above into a different area of the dungeon. My opinion on the matter is that the same process will apply of starting with a drone or other mechanical device -- they will just be coming down from a new entrance. If valuable, it will be expanded to fit people and better equipment.

Given that these are underground dungeons, there is potential for ground-penetrating radar to be highly useful at finding the larger cavities that may indicate rooms of interest. Even if it could only detect the uppermost one at first, it might be a case where one could find the first room, drill down into it, then use the radar there to find the next level of room. A boom in underground exploring may lead to enhancements in this technology.

Another thought is that if you could find one of the wizard's holdings, given that they do not seem to be as hidden by the question, then it could greatly help the intelligence gathering.

Slaves, or otherwise people deemed as worth less to the exploration group might be ordered to be the first wave of entrants into the place given a lack of machines able to divine information. I would also not put it past an unethical megacorp to deem that an entry level intern with basic gear and a radio to be more cost efficient than a drone or rover given the unknown. Wage slaves if you will. Only when the cost of liability outweighs the cost of machines will the megacorp use the machines -- profits over people there.

In a more fantasy setting, we call this step Summon Celestial Trap Monkey.

Step 2: Explore

Next step is the living going in with appreciable nubmbers. Depending on who is doing the exploring, that could be the already mentioned camera dogs, or interns (probably unpaid if it is a megacorp), or security guard types. The point is that there may be some things that a drone can't trigger that a living being can. The modern groups exploring them do not want to lose a valuable resource, so they will send in somebody less valuable.

The first actual people that enter will be more about surveying the area for safety and to disarm anything that the drones did not already for whatever reason. If the drone even catches so much as a monster poop in its sweep, expect the first people that enter to be potentially armed to the teeth. Even if the place looks empty, they will likely be armed with something for safety in the unknown

This is the Rogue doing the FART routine -- Find and Remove Traps.

Step 3: ???

Only when an area is deemed safe do the experts and brass deign to enter the dungeon. At this point, the dungeon is basically explored, mapped out, and all the good stuff and traps known and it should be safe save for specific group-killing traps. This is more about extracting what the exploration group has come for. Depending on the nature of the expedition, the priorities of the main group will vary.

  • Archaeologists and anthropologists will care about the human aspects of the dungeon -- how it was made, how old was it, the architectural styles of the place, and the like. While the knowledge of magic might be gone from a master/apprentice perspective, there may be insights on ancient magics in these dungeons.
  • A megacorp will only care about the value that they could extract form the place, the artifacts are their goal as well as anything else possibly of value -- golden torch sconces, gems, and other items that might be part of the building of the place are just chunks of money to them.
  • A governmental entity might care about the dungeon as a whole in the form of a strategic resource. Sure, the artifacts might be valuable, but it is an underground complex that could house many resources, and be a emergency fallback point. If the traps can be reactivated and bypassed, it might be an unexpected thing for intruders to happen upon.

Step 4: Profit

Sell your loot on the market, either free or black. Take the money and either invest it into more dungeon explorations, or into the tech to finding the loot.

Or retire to somewhere sunny and far away from any dungeon and possible consequences of your actions. Nobody ever actually checked that sword for curses, did they?

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  • $\begingroup$ Depending on what Step 1 discovers (if it even can take place), I recommend for Step 2 sending professional spelunkers, EOD teams, combat engineers, and/or tunnel miners. I would NOT send in unpaid interns; MegaCorp HR has raised concerns about the potential negative impacts on recruiting next year's interns if this year's group vanishes without a trace. $\endgroup$ Nov 30, 2021 at 15:26
  • $\begingroup$ And Megacorp Finance will provide documentation proving that the cost of an insurance payout for an intern is less than the cost of the sophisticated equipment that could be lost leaving the onus on HR to determine if the recruitment costs for new interns makes up the difference. After all, Megacorp Legal can prove that all contracts and liability waivers were properly signed ... $\endgroup$
    – Haylen
    Dec 21, 2021 at 2:37
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Archeologists may insist that these caves are explored by hand.

Drones would probably be used for the initial investigation. Even the great pyramids were explored by robots (edit: see also the Cam Hound answer)

Indoor positioning systems and Google Maps would help out on-foot explorers if the labyrinth was extensive enough.

I imagine these IPS act like WiFi extenders. So, you'll always be connected to the internet.

That should give you easy access to the newly created Labyrinth Stack Exchange site.

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One reaction I would expect, a MASSIVE and IMEDIATE expansion of the "Antiquities Act" and any other federal state and local laws and ordinance regarding historical treasure. That's in the USA I cant think of any other country that doesn't have it's own version as well.

The Antiquities Act of 1906 (Pub.L. 59–209, 34 Stat. 225, 54 U.S.C. §§ 320301–320303), is an act that was passed by the United States Congress and signed into law by Theodore Roosevelt on June 8, 1906. This law gives the President of the United States the authority to, by presidential proclamation, create national monuments from federal lands to protect significant natural, cultural, or scientific features. The Act has been used more than a hundred times since its passage.

Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979

Don't treasure hunt on public lands belonging to the government: The Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979 states that any “archaeological resources” found on these lands belongs to the government. This law has been extended to just about anything over 100 years old.

Those are just a couple federal laws. Each US State has it's own laws regarding found treasure.
Again, every other country on the planet would want in on this bonanza too. Any sale or trade of these items would be highly regulated. Or at least an attempt would be made to bring these treasures under the control of existing government purview.

In reaction to this, and the sudden appearance of this opportunity of found wealth, expect, a huge black market and looting presence. This would manifest in chaotic ways, weak or corrupt governments would in effect share control of the artifact sites with existing gangs/cartel (chose your crime syndicate group). So called first world governments would struggle with corruption as well. Could very well see this influx of wealth destabilizing even established political systems.

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Frame challenge: the early bird gets the worm. It's not about how best to explore the dungeons; it's about who gets there first.

Lots of people are going to go straight into these dungeons as soon as they find them, because some people are brave (or foolish) enough to try, because they are curious to find what is there, and because if there is anything valuable to find in the dungeons then they want to get at it before anyone else does. Even if it is illegal; people will trespass if they have to. Even if the government declares that any valuables found must be surrendered to the state; they will keep the valuables for themselves, or sell them on the black market.

The only dungeons being explored carefully are the ones on private land which are found by the owners of the land and kept secret or well-guarded. Otherwise, if you wait long enough to arrange for a cautious reconnaissance mission, your drones are mainly going to find:

  • A lot of corpses, of the adventurous who didn't make it out alive.
  • A lot of traps that have already been set off, with no wizard around to reset them.
  • Monsters who either didn't survive an encounter with an AR-15 rifle, or who now have so much food available they don't need to hunt for a while.
  • Probably no treasure left, because it's already been taken.
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To add to the drones/robots suggestion, you will also need a data communication system such as Cave Link (https://www.cavelink.com/cl3x_neu/index.php/en/). The bandwidth isn't high, but it is enough to send SMS messages through several hundred metres of rock.

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  • $\begingroup$ And if your automata can communicate with each other while out of range of base, you can effectively get everything they've "learned", even if some fail to report back. $\endgroup$
    – aschepler
    Dec 1, 2021 at 0:22
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Since you made no mention of traps and any traps would have fallen into disrepair over the centuries, poison gas and then guys with gas masks should do the trick. Pump the dungeons full of poison gas to kill any monsters and install a super big leaf blower at the entrance to ensure its reach. It will permeate thru closed doors and will gradually make its way to the lower levels since its heavier than air. Then send people to scoop up the goodies.

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  • $\begingroup$ I didn't think of that but good idea $\endgroup$
    – Mattna
    Nov 30, 2021 at 2:52
  • $\begingroup$ I thought traps would be too complicated to answer as there could be any kind of trap and each would require a different approach $\endgroup$
    – Mattna
    Nov 30, 2021 at 2:59
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    $\begingroup$ This assumes there is a way to clear the gas afterwards. It also does not allow for structural issues due to the passing of the load-bearing wizards. $\endgroup$ Nov 30, 2021 at 15:21
  • $\begingroup$ Simple carbon monoxide. Pump exhaust fumes through the doorway. It's been used to exterminate rabbits in their burrows for years. $\endgroup$
    – Thorne
    Dec 1, 2021 at 1:05
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Autonomous Drones and Robots

This is a problem already being addressed in the real world, albeit aimed at assisting first responders with emergency situations in dangerous underground locations called the DARPA Subterranean Challenge. To summarize, autonomous vehicles (UBV, UAV, and quadrupedal robots) are being used to explore and map underground tunnel, urban, and cave environments and identify key objects. This strategy could easily be used to map extremely large dungeons fast and safely, and identify anything that could be valuable for retrieval. If there are monsters or other threats, drones strapped with explosives are a quick and safe option to deal with them. Once an area has been mapped as much as possible human teams can retrieve the artifacts, or even explore the location on a more granular scale.

The major downside to this strategy is the cost of acquiring the robotic vehicles, properly programming them, and covering destruction costs due to traps, mishaps, or from explosively dealing with monsters.

The major advantage is limiting overall human interaction and automating a the mapping process which would be tedious, unreliable, and dangerous.

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    $\begingroup$ I'm not sure if drones would be effective in a tight space but the robots are definitely a good idea $\endgroup$
    – Mattna
    Nov 30, 2021 at 3:07
  • $\begingroup$ Drones would - an indoor area with low wind currents is ideal. $\endgroup$
    – Anon
    Nov 30, 2021 at 5:59
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Lots of precedent here.

For clearing dungeons of hostiles: In the marvelous port of Subic Bay, an island was scraped to the waterline and replaced by a "concrete battleship". It contains two turrets of 14" naval guns, and a labyrinth beneath, containing support facilities. In 1945, to remove the Japanese garrison, Americans modified a landing ship to be a "siege tower", put soldiers on the weather deck, dropped a hose down a vent, and the landing craft pumped in 2500 gallons of fuel. The Japanese knew what would come next - not sure a monster would. Anyway, this was precisely as effective as you'd expect.

For entirely mooting collapses and traps: It is very common for underground (tunneled) hard-rock mines be transected and wiped out by more modern open-pit "strip" mines. The old tunnel passages can be observed as holes in the side of the open pit. Examples are the Phoenix Mine and Nickel Plate Mine. So, to defeat traps and collapses, they would simply "open-pit mine" the entire reach of the dungeon. Rooms would be entered by new openings breached in the side. Traps would be ineffectual against drills and dynamite, or the maw of a 600-ton digging machine. If only the mineral value was sought, the entire works would be crushed and separated same as any gold mining operation.

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  • $\begingroup$ Wow not a bad idea if you still recover the artefacts $\endgroup$
    – Mattna
    Dec 2, 2021 at 0:52

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