Metal detectorists are striking it rich and changing the course of history.
Their contribution to historical and archeology science have thrown experts off their rockers with confirmed and new theories about ancient peoples, wars, religions, and industry.
Landowner’s farmlands are turning into excavations sites, the seabed turns into a treasure hot spot, and some of the most unlikely places turn out to be old settlements and military forts with valuable relics just waiting to be plucked.
What we think we know isn’t always the case, and what we think we’re hearing a tone on turns out to be something very different.
These are some of the biggest finds a good ol’, trusty metal detector has found.
What do these Finds Have in Common?
Apart from their historical significance or value, these finds share a common factor – they were all uncovered by a metal detector. Some may have been multi-frequency or pulse induction models and others were basic, starter detectors.
Another note to pick up is that all the hobbyists were metal detecting legally. They had permits and licenses if they needed it, and they always acquired the landowner’s permission. The right authorities were contacted to examine and value the find.
These are patterns that good detectorists follow and that give our hobby a good reputation. We’re making the news for all the right reasons!
The Mojave Nugget
It’s only fitting that the largest gold nugget ever found in the United States comes first in this list. It’s what we all hope to one day stumble across like lucky Ty Paulson in 1977 in the Mojave Desert in California. The 156-ounce nugget was sold for $400,000 and is now sitting in the Natural History Museum in LA county.
The Boot of Cortez
How much is a gold boot worth? $1.55 million dollars. At least that’s what this gold boot sold for in 2008. Using a mediocre metal detector back in the day of 1989, an amateur gold prospector happened across this 389-ounce nugget in the Mexican Sonoran Desert and was nicknamed the Boot of Cortez. This is what I call a lucrative find!
The Hand of Faith
The Victorian Gold Rush in Australia induced gold fever and for good reason. It’s the location of the largest gold nugget ever found with a metal detector weighing in at 960 ounces. It was only a mere 12” from the surface. Kevin Hillier appointed agents to oversee the sale and raked in $2.2 million in today’s value. It now sits in the Gold Nugget Casino in good ol’ Las Vegas.
Crosby Garret Helmet
Intriguing? In its own way.
A metal detectorist found it in fragments in Cumbria, England in 2010 that is now discovered to have been a Romano-British farming settlement. When there’s Romans about, there is a Roman fort not far away, and this helmet is believed to have belonged to a retired soldier of the Roman cavalry. It was found in pieces due to the almost ceremonial way it was buried.
Once restoration took place, there’s no better way to describe it than “chillingly striking.” For $3.6 million, I wouldn’t care how scary it looked. . . as long as I didn’t dream about it.
Ringlemere Gold Cup
The Ringlemere displayed alongside the Rillaton Cup, a similar find found in Cornwall, England.
It’s twisted and mangled, but for $520,000, who cares! This bronze age vessel was found in Kent county, England by experienced hobbyist Cliff Bradshaw in 2001. He is the epitome of trusting your gut and digging it up until you find it.
After the discovery of the Ringlemere Cup, excavation of the Smith’s Ringlemere Farm took place. What was uncovered revealed a melting pot of history that dates back to 2300 BC – the Early Bronze Age.
Santa Margarita Gold Chalice
You hear a tone and you think it’s a beer can.
Do you dig it up?
Golden rule – dig everything. This line of thought paid off for diving detectorist in Florida in 2008. Nope, it wasn’t a beer can but a gold chalice that sold for $413,000 in 2015 at auction. As part of the Santa Margarita shipwreck in 1622 off the Keys, it was a historical find that was added to the lost inventory of the Spanish galleon.
As for finding it, Michael DeMar was diving in 18-foot waters where the two-handled chalice was buried under a foot of sand. It was also his first find.
WW2 Live Mortar Round
That’s right. Some detectorist dug up a live mortar round that was left over, and obviously forgotten about, on old military training grounds in Tennessee. Local authorities were contacted and experts from Fort Campbell were sent out to confirm that it was live and too unstable to be moved long distance.
What did DPS do?
They moved it to a safe location and detonated it.
The boom was heard for 13 miles around. To ensure that other detectorists wouldn’t dig up any other possible live rounds from WW2, the area was thoroughly hunted before being deemed safe.
The Escrick Ring
The Escrick Ring is named so because it was found near Escrick, England in 2009. It’s somewhat of a mystery as it’s difficult to date. The amazing sapphire gemstone is of significance as it’s a great example of early use of sapphires found in England.
Since its discovery, experts have dated it back to the 5th century with possibly French roots. It may have even donned the finger of a King.
The Leekfrith Torcs
The oldest Iron Age gold jewelry ever found in Britain are the Leekfrith Torcs that were detected and uncovered in Leekfrith, England. The Celtic-style bracelet and three neck rings are dated to the Iron Age around 400-250 BCE. With almost 80% gold and almost 20% silver, these finds are comparable to similar Iron Age gold finds in Europe.
Valued at $420,000, it’s the kind of find new hobbyists of 18 months could only wish to uncover – and they did.
The Stirling Torcs
Old age torcs go for a lot of money, and many are uncovered by amateur hobbyists with budget detectors. The Stirling Torcs sold for $771,000 (today’s value) and were dug up by rookie David Booth on his first hunt. There are four in total and are dated to the Iron Age of 300-100 BC.
Experts believe they were possibly buried during a religious ceremony as an offering to the Gods. Buried just right at 6-8” below the surface, Booth’s basic metal detector did its job.
He didn’t even have to hunt – it was seven steps from his car.
The Staffordshire Hoard
Detectorist Terry Herbert and landowner Fred Johnson had no clue that they were sitting on what would become an excavation site that uncovers over 3500 items that would make up the Staffordshire Hoard. It holds significant value in Anglo-Saxon archeology as it has many different pieces that includes weaponry, two crosses, and one gold strip.
The entire hoard was sold for $5.3 million.
The Aunslev Viking Crucifix
How does a 4 cm Christian crucifix change history? For a long time, it was believed that it wasn’t until about 1050 AD that Vikings started to take up Christianity. Well, that was until Dennis Fabricius Holm went metal detecting with a Garrett ACE near Aunslev.
He uncovered a small Viking crucifix that was designed to be worn like a pendant that dates back to 900 to 950 AD. Apparently, Christianity reached the Danes earlier than once was thought.
The Rio Rancho Meteorite
True meteorites are rare to find, but a metal detector can pick them up if you’re in good hunting ground for them. Leave it to a 13-year-old boy with a homemade metal detector to find one. Unbelieving director of the University of New Mexico’s Institute of Meteoritics, Carl Agee, was schooled by a very confident Jansen Lyons when the teenager put a 10,000-year-old L6 ordinary chondrite in front of him.
The kid now has three metal detectors in his collection and is the proud finder of the very cool 2 lb meteorite.
The Grouville Hoard
Hoard, treasure – same thing to hobbyists. This certainly was the case for two, dedicated hobbyists that finally found their loot after 30 years of once-a-year hunts as allowed by the landowner. It paid off.
The Grouville Hoard consists of 70,000 Iron Age and Roman silver coins, gold torcs, silver bracelets, and a lot more gold and silver trinkets – all the shiny stuff that makes up a coin-shooter’s dreams. Although, they weren’t so shiny upon discovery as they were laden with clay, the hoard is valued at $18.3 million.
The Hoxne Hoard
Display case that is a replica of the small chest with the arrangement of treasure found within.
This is the largest late Roman silver and gold hoard ever to be recovered in Britain. Not only that, it’s also the largest silver and gold hoard of 4th and 5th century coin collection in the entire Roman Empire. It consists of almost 15,000 gold, silver, and bronze coins and about 200 gold jewelry and silver tableware items.
Other significant and rare objects were also found within the small box that held the cache. Detectorist Eric Lawes contacted archeologists that excavated the site. The cache is estimated to be worth $2.6 million.
Whether it was someone’s personal wealth or a bandit’s loot, the treasure was buried very carefully for reasons we may never know.
The Bronze Statue of Hadrian
Going on vacation? It pays to bring your metal detector along, at least, that’s what tourist Morton Leventhal did when on vacation in Israel. With goals of coin shooting near the Jordan River, he came across something of significant value, the amazing bronze statue of the military commander Hadrian. Because it’s made from bronze, its preserved state speaks to the quality of its execution as most surviving statues are made from marble.
With this discovery in the books, three bronze sculptures of the Roman emperor were united in 2015 after 1800 years and are on display in Israel’s Museum. The two others were found in France and England.
The Black Swan Project
The Spanish and their treasure, oh boy. Not only was their wealth coveted back in the day, it was also under controversial claims of ownership upon its discovery, or should we say, recovery. This is a unique case because it’s not the average metal detector that found this wealth, and as far as “permission” to explore, detect, and recover this find, well, it was under investigation for at least five years.
The Odyssey Marine Exploration recovered an estimated $500 million dollars’ worth of gold and silver coins from the ocean floor. It was ruled that it came from the Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes which sunk in 1804 near Portugal. Lengthy disputes and filings ensued between the Odyssey and the Spanish Government.
It went all the way to the United States Supreme Court. The ruling? It was returned to its rightful country and is being studied, catalogued, and is on display. It’s a weird but true story.
Defenders of History & the Hobby
In many cases, it wasn’t a big, expensive metal detector that made the find. It was a basic model happening upon an object laid just right. It’s also surprising to see that many finds are uncovered by rookies new to the hobby.
Being willing to get out and spend some time in the right place can make all the difference. Together, we’re making history by unearthing relics and treasure that give us a more accurate look at the bigger picture.
Thanks to the law-abiding detectorists with permits and having gained landowner’s permission, these finds have made it into the right hands while contributing to our shared reputation of metal detecting.