Metal detecting is a lot of fun. You never know what you’re going to unearth. Occasionally, though, something spectacular happens. You’re trundling along with your detector, and all of a sudden, you discover something rare, valuable, and even comical.
Have you ever wondered what treasures lucky detectorists have found over the years? Good! Here we’ve compiled the best metal detecting finds of all time. You won’t believe how crazy it gets.
THE BIGGEST PILE OF GOLD COINS EVER FOUND IN ENGLAND
It should come as no surprise, therefore, that lucky metal detectorist Terry Herbert stumbled upon more than 500 coins dating from the 7th century while out detecting one day.
He was so overwhelmed by the hoard that he contacted some local archaeologists who uncovered a further 800 coins. They also revealed what looked like the spoils of war, including gold-encrusted vessels and jewelry.
After the find, Herbert reported seeing gold coins in his sleep. Not surprising: it was one of the biggest and most valuable hauls in history.
THE LARGEST GOLD NUGGET EVER FOUND
You can understand, then, why Ty Paulson nearly had a heart attack when it found what’s since been dubbed the "Mojave Nugget." The lump of gold weighs more than 146 ounces (or about 5 kg), making it one of the largest nugget ever found in the United States.
It’s incredible nobody unearthed in it the 19th-century gold rush. It’s also amazing that none of the big mining companies found it since then. No: the find fell to a simple metal detectorist in 1977.
A GIANT LUMP OF SPACE ROCK
Finding a “space rock” on Earth is a rarity, especially one that’s landed relatively recently. The reason for this is that the solar system is old. Most of the planets orbiting the sun vacuumed up the smaller objects eons ago, meaning that few remain.
What’s more, most meteorites burn up while traveling through the atmosphere at thousands of miles per hour. There's usually nothing left by the time they finally hit the ground.
So you can imagine the surprise when Jason Lyons, a 13-year-old metal detectorist, happened up a 2 lb lump of space rock while out prospecting with his dad in New Mexico. Experts believe that the meteorite had been lying in the New Mexico desert for around 10,000 years. It was made of a combination of nickel and iron, two of the most abundant elements found in space rock.
THE RINGLEMERE CUP
In the ancient world, people stored their wealth in gold. After all, there was no stock market and no bank accounts: just gold forges and donkeys to carry the treasure around. It stands to reason, therefore, that there are still a large number of treasures from this era, buried in the ground.
Enter Cliff Bradshaw, another English metal detectorist. Bradshaw had become interested in an old wheat field after making several valuable finds. He reasoned that there was probably more to unearth, so he began sweeping it every day.
Eventually, his detector came across an object buried deep beneath the ground. The cup, made between 1700 and 1500 BC, was a significant find. Not only was it incredibly valuable, worth more than $520,000, but it was also historical evidence that people in the area were advanced metalworkers.
While the cup was, unfortunately, crushed by the weight of the soil above it, the ribbed pattern showed that metal-making techniques were already sophisticated by the time of the Bronze Age.
You can now see the chalice on display at the British Museum in London.
THE CROSBY GARRETT HELMET
The Crosby Garrett Helmet is yet another find made in an English field.
The Roman helmet, which is more than 1,800 years old, was found in pieces and then painstakingly put back together by experts for more than 200 hours.
The result is a helmet like no other. The rear of the object is like practically every other helmet that you might see from antiquity. The front, however, is a depiction of a face complete with a mouth, nose, and eye holes.
Experts initially valued the piece at $300,000, but it proved so popular at auction that it went for more than $3.6 million.
A TROVE OF VIKING TREASURE IN NORTH YORKSHIRE
We keep coming back to England, don’t we? This time we’re heading to North Yorkshire, a part of the world that the Vikings were particularly fond of raiding.
Back in 2007, father and son team, Andrew and David Whelan, were searching for treasure near the North York Moors.
The pair were scanning a field (yes, yet another British field) when they came across a single coin. The pair examined it and soon realized that it was Viking and more than 1,000 years old.
Instead of leaving it at that, they kept on digging and eventually found another coin, and then another. By the time they’d finished, they had unearthed one of the biggest hauls in history, estimated to be worth just over $1 million (£750,000).
The treasure trove comprised several Viking artifacts, including gold and silver coins, chalices, jewelry, brooches, and much, much more. In total, there are more than 617 coins.
The father and son team took one-half of the spoils while the farmer took the other. The treasure is now on display in the British Museum.
THE SHAPWICK HOARD
Twenty years ago, treasure hunter Martin Elliot was trying to teach his cousin the wonders of metal detecting. Little did he know he was about to uncover one of the largest treasures in history.
The pair were standing in a field near Shapwick in Somerset in the UK when they stopped, having detected metal some 10 centimeters below the ground. They started digging and found a Roman coin, then another, and then another.
Before long, they came across one of the most massive hoards from antiquity of all time containing more than 9,000 silver denarii coins dating from the first century BC to the third AD.
The coins eventually became known as the Shapwick hoard after the name of the nearby town. The coins were initially valued at more than £250,000 ($350,000) in 1998, and are probably worth double that at today’s prices.
THE MILTON KEYNES HOARD
For those of you who don’t know, Milton Keynes is something of a bland business town located about seventy miles northwest of London. For the most part, it’s just rows of industrial and commercial buildings on a grid-iron street plan. But in the metal detecting world, the city is a superstar.
The so-called "Milton Keynes hoard" named after the town was found by amateur treasure hunters Gordon Heritage and Michael Rutland in 2000. It comprised assorted gold artifacts from the Bronze Age, including three bracelets, two torcs, and fragments of a bronze rod.
While the physical size of the hoard was small, the archaeological significance was profound. Ultimately the British Museum wound up paying £290,000 for the find, which equates to around £479,000 ($581,000) today.
THE NEWARK TORC
The Newark Torc is perhaps one of the most impressive single treasure finds in history. Maurice Richardson, a tree surgeon from Lincolnshire, was casually walking along with his metal detector in a field outside the town of Newark back in 2005 when he heard it beeping.
As he began to dig, he soon realized that this was no ordinary find. There, buried in the ground, was a large, impressive gold torc - a unique piece of jewelry designed to be worn around the neck, like a bracelet.
The giant Iron Age torc was remarkable. Being made of a solid gold alloy, it was in near perfect condition.
Richardson took the torc to Newark Museum, who agreed to buy it in 2006 for the princely sum of £260,000 or $620,000 in today’s terms. Payment for the stash was shared between Cambridge University, who owned the land and Richardson himself.
THE WINCHESTER HOARD
Hopefully, by now, it should be becoming clear that England is the treasure capital of the world. The Winchester Hoard is yet another incredible metal detector find, named after the city of Winchester, in the southern country of Hampshire.
Retired florist Kevan Halls discovered the Winchester Hoard around Christmas time in 2000. Halls was scanning an area of freshly plowed field when his detector began to beep. Suspecting that he was onto something, Halls began digging and, to his amazement, unearthed gold.
The gold, however, wasn’t any ordinary lumps of the metal: it had been fashioned most remarkably. There were gold clips, earrings, and bracelets. Also, there were intricate figurines of what looked like mythical creatures - a remarkable insight into Iron Age life and beliefs.
Who eventually bought the Winchester Hoard? You guessed it: the British Museum. And they paid a lot for it: £560,000 or $689,000 in today’s money. Wouldn’t you like to be the person who’d discovered that treasure?
THE STIRLING TORCS
The Stirling Torcs is an excellent example of beginner’s luck and why everyone should give metal detecting a try.
Scot David Booth was out on his first detectorist mission in later summer 2009 in a Scottish field when he suddenly came across several buried gold torcs from the Iron Age. Some people are just lucky!
Booth took the torcs for valuation and discovered that they were worth a fortune. The hoard eventually earned him more than £462,000 at the time, or around £608,000 ($737,700) in today’s terms.
THE BOOT OF CORTEZ
You would have thought that all of the largest gold nuggets ever found would have been dug up by lucky prospectors and gold mining companies decades ago, but that’s not the case.
In 1989, a treasure hunter from Senora in Mexico went to his local radio shack to buy a metal detector. While the sensor was crude compared to today’s equipment, he soon found that he was unearthing all kinds of exciting metal pieces, including bullets and old coins.
Before long, though, around 70 miles south of the Arizona border with Mexico, he stumbled upon one of the most important and valuable gold nuggets ever found.
The nugget weighed more than 289 troy ounces, making it the largest single lump of gold ever found in the western hemisphere at that time. What’s more, it had an unmistakable shape, similar to that worn by the Spanish Conquistadors who had invaded the area centuries ago. It was thus named the Boot of Cortez.
To put into perspective just how big the Boot of Cortez is, the largest gold nugget ever found in the western hemisphere up to that point was one in Alaska, and it came in at over 100 troy ounces less.
How much do you think the Boot of Cortez eventually sold for at auction? $1,553,000. Pretty good for an afternoon’s work, don’t you think?
A FINGERBONE WITH RING STILL ATTACHED
If you’re somebody who gets squeamish, you might want to skip this one.
A volunteer archeologist was scanning an area near Little Bighorn when she came across a finger bone with a ring still attached. The bone was from 1876 when Sioux troops killed trooped under the command of General Custer. While the haul wasn’t anywhere near as valuable to some of the other finds on this list, it was undoubtedly unique.
AN AXE HEAD FROM THE BRONZE AGEAx heads from the Bronze Age are rarely. Extremely rare. In fact, experts think that there might only be around one thousand in existence, both in the ground and at various museums.
The reason for their rarity is that people in the bronze age didn’t generally know how to make hard metals. Axe heads were too soft for the job that they needed to do. Some rare smiths, however, found ways of hardening metals (which they mostly didn’t understand), allowing some to smelt ax heads that people could actually use productively.
Steve Hickling, a metal detectorist from northwest England, found one of these ax heads near the village of Huyton. The head is believed to date from 1850 to 1750 BC, over 1500 years before the Romans. Furthermore, it was one of the more unusual examples of such an ax, thanks to the intricate patterns and details on the metal itself.
Whoever smelted it wasn’t content with making something functional: they also wanted something beautiful too. Perhaps the ax head was ceremonial, who knows?
If you want to see this beautiful Bronze Age artifact, you’ll want to visit the Fir Tree Farm Shop in King’s Moss between Liverpool and Wigan.
A 1913 FORD MODEL T
One of the great things about metal detecting is that you never quite know what you’re going to find next: an ancient chalice, gold nugget, or, in this case, an entire car buried underground.
In 2008, a group of friends were messing around with metal detectors near Detroit, Michigan - the automobile capital of the world. As they were scanning a field outside of the city, they suddenly heard beeping: their metal detectors had found something.
The group began digging and soon realized that this was no ordinary discovery. What they’d unearthed was nothing less than the skeleton of a 1913 Model T.
ford model t metal detector.jpg
But why was it buried? This is where the story gets even weirder.
The detectorists later found out that the original owner of the car had decided to bury it in his backyard for posterity. It was a kind of time capsule but in car form. We can only wonder how much time he imagined might pass before somebody dug it up. But, luckily, the detectorists found it when they did: another hundred years in the ground, and it might have been unrecognizable.
AN 18-CARAT GOLD CROSS
In 2008, a man who refused to be named found what is believed to be a 7th century Anglo Saxon cross while scanning a field on a farm. Historians and archaeologists believe that the cross, made of pure gold, is the product of combining two Merovingian crosses from an earlier ear. The cross has numerous finely carved details all over its surface and is studded with rare ruby gemstones.
The detectorist reported how shocked he was to make the discovery, describing the “quiet land” around the object, in reference to how little noise his metal detector usually makes in the area. The cross was buried more than 12 inches below the soil and was utterly unexpected.
The finder believed that the cross was worth in the order of £25,000.