Unlocking Secrets: Delving into the Thrills of Modern-Day Treasure Hunting Adventures

Items from the Staffordshire Hoard of 6th and 7th century gold and silver, discovered in 2009 in Staffordshire, England. (PH๏τo: Wikimedia Commons [CC BY 2.0])

Every small child dreams of finding buried treasure, hidden by pirates or an ancient king. While adults may abandon these whimsical dreams, all hope is not lost for adventurers. Treasure troves—also known as hoards—are still being found across the world. Ordinary people continue to stumble upon caches of ancient coins, gold bracelets, and silver plates to this day.

Finding a buried treasure trove can make someone millions, turning the life of a metal-detector hobbyist or farmer in a new direction. Each discovery also advances knowledge of local history in priceless ways. Read on to learn more about hoards, treasure, and how your childhood dream could (maybe) still happen.

Hoxne Hoard Body Chain Gold

A gold body chain from the Hoxne Hoard of late Roman items, discovered in 1992 in Suffolk England.

Treasure troves, or hoards, are defined by archeologists to be a type of wealth deposit. Precious metals and stones, ceremonial artifacts, and everyday coins—hoards can comprise a variety of different metal-based objects. How these pieces come to be underground can depend on societal conditions. Political instability or war in ancient times could inspire wealthy people to hide their valuables. Typically, these people intended to return to recover their deposited wealth. Circumstances—such as war or death—could interrupt recovery, leaving the hoard to wait for chance discovery. In general, valuables found at gravesites or shipwrecks are not classified as hoards.

Treasure troves can be found across the world; however, Great Britain and Ireland can boast some of the largest and most famous discoveries. Treasure trove also has an important legal definition. Coin and bullion are defined to be treasure depending on the content of silver and gold, as well as the age of the items. In the UK, the Treasure Act 1996 governs all discoveries. In general, any finds older than 300 years and containing at least 10 percent gold or silver qualify as treasure. Pre-historic finds often qualify as well, regardless of metal content. Discoveries must be reported to the local coroner within 14 days, as found treasure has long been considered Crown property. To hide discovery can even result in prison time.

The coroner next holds an inquest—or investigation—to see if the discovered items are in fact treasure. A Treasure Valuation Committee formed of experts examines the pieces. The committee decides if the find fits the definition of treasure, and then makes a valuation. If the items are in fact within the scope of the law, the finder (and owner of the land) are required to offer the pieces for sale to a museum. These laws are in place to ensure that historic national treasures go to insтιтutions where they will be studied, rather than merely vanishing into the hands of private collectors. In general, this scheme works well for all involved—knowledge is advanced, and the finders of the treasure make a pretty penny from their sale.

Broighter Gold Dublin Hoard-2

A golden boat from the Broighter Gold hoard. (PH๏τo: Ardfern via Wikimedia Commons [CC BY-SA 3.0])

This cache of Iron Age Gold was found in Northern Ireland by farmers in 1896. Dating from the first century BCE, the gold is a fine example of intricate metal work. A torque (or torque, a twisted necklace), a bowl, and other jewelry show off the artistry of the ancient Celtic craftsmen. The most unique element of the hoard is a golden boat, complete with oars. Scholars believe the hoard was a votive deposit to a Celtic sea god.

Byzantine Varna Necklace

Byzantine necklace from the Preslav Treasure. (PH๏τo: Yelkrokoyade via Wikimedia Commons [CC BY-SA 3.0])

Discovered in 1978 in Castana, Bulgaria, the Preslav Treasure comprises 170 Byzantine artifacts in gold, silver, and bronze. The coins date to the 10th century CE when the items were buried during political turmoil; however, other items may date back to the 3rd century CE. The highlight of the cache is a grand golden necklace bearing a medallion of the Virgin Mary. It is possible the necklace was a wedding gift from a Bulgarian Tsar to a Byzantine princess.

Saddle Ridge Hoard Coins

Coins as they were found in the Saddle Ridge Hoard of the California Sierra Nevada mountains. (PH๏τo: Kagin’s Inc. via Wikimedia Commons [CC BY-SA 3.0])

The largest buried coin hoard discovered in the United States, the Saddle Ridge Hoard of 1,427 gold coins was discovered in the Sierra Nevada mountains in 2013. Valued at 10 million dollars, the coins date from the second half of the 19th century. They were discovered in eight metal canisters, which the landowners spotted while walking their dog. The coins received conservation from numismatics experts, were valued, and were sold (for a lot!) through Amazon.

Hoxne Hoard Empress Pepper Pot

Silver-gilt Roman piperatoria (pepper pots) from the Hoxne Hoard, including the famous Empress Pepper Pot (far right).

The Hoxne Hoard was discovered by a metal detector hobbyist in 1992 in Suffolk, England. One of the most important treasure troves discovered in the UK, the pieces valued millions of pounds. An oak chest contained thousands of Roman coins and pieces of jewelry which date from the fifth century—the end of the Roman occupation of Britain. Coins are useful for archeologists, as they are often easy to precisely date. Experts hypothesize that the chest was buried by a wealthy family, as it contains exquisite pieces such as gilded pepper pots, gold body jewelry, and delicately sculpted animals.

St Ninian's Isle Treasure celtic trove-1

A sword hilt from the St Ninian’s Isle Treasure.

The Scottish have their share of hidden gems, too. Discovered in 1958, this hoard of early medieval silver includes delicate jewelry still seen in Scotland today. The penannular brooch—or Celtic brooch—pinned the fabric of ancient costumes, but the design is still used today for classic highland dress. Among the items found was also an intricate sword pommel with raised Celtic designs.

Staffordshire Hoard Bracelet Anglo-saxon Gold

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