You may think the lone treasure seeker scanning the sand with a metal detector at the beach seems a bit dorky — no offense to "detectorists," of course — but that only makes this revenge of the nerds all the sweeter.
With recent news that a retired businessman unearthed the mother lode of Viking gold and silver artifacts dating back more than 1,000 years in Scotland, the fine art of metal detecting just got a whole lot sexier. Derek McLennan’s find, hailed as the country’s most significant, is comprised of 100 items including a 9th-century solid silver cross, a silver pot, gold objects, a rare silver cup engraved with animals that dates from the Holy Roman Empire, and a gold bird pin. The value of the find is expected to be in the six-figure range; and it’s not McLennan's first big find. Last year, he found about 300 medieval coins in the same area.
You just never know what these modern-day prospectors might discover. With that in mind, we rounded up some of the more significant finds that have us thinking that maybe it’s time to get a metal detector after all — name-calling be damned.
1. Stolen nest egg
In 1946, postal inspectors who had long had suspicions about a deceased post office employee's activities borrowed a metal detector from the U.S. Army and had their hunch confirmed. In the man’s backyard, 9 feet underground, they discovered $153,150 worth of pilfered cash stashed in jars and cans inside a length of stovepipe.
2. Argh, behold the booty
In 1952, maritime historian and pirate specialist Edward Rowe Snow headed to a small island off the coast of Nova Scotia armed with a metal detector and a mysterious old map. Not only did the detector lead him to a stash of 18th-century Spanish and Portuguese doubloons, but he also found a skeleton that was clutching the coins.
3. The Boot of Cortez
In 1989, a prospector from Senora, Mexico, purchased an inexpensive metal detector at Radio Shack and took it to the desert. After days of finding little more than assorted junk, he hit the jackpot: a gold nugget weighing 389.4 troy ounces, or 26.6 pounds! A gold nugget so big that it even earned the name, “Boot of Cortez.” It is the largest nugget ever unearthed in the Western Hemisphere. In 2008, the Boot of Cortez was sold at auction for $1,553,500.
4. Loving cup
While pursuing his hobbies of amateur archeology and metal detecting, retired electrician Cliff Bradshaw discovered the Ringlemere Gold Cup (right), a Bronze Age vessel found in the English county of Kent in 2001. Although it had been damaged by a modern plow before he found it, it is still a remarkable find, and one of only seven similar gold "unstable handled cups" found in Europe dating to the period between 1700 and 1500 BC. It was purchased by The British Museum for $520,000, which was split between Bradshaw and the family who owned the farm where the cup was found.
5. Definitely not a beer can
When Mike DeMar was diving off the coast of Key West in 2008, he thought he had come across some trash, but … not even close. "I thought I was digging a beer can that the metal detector hit," said the 20-year-old treasure diver. “I couldn't see any gold until I pulled it out. The sediment cleared away. The gold started to shine. Time just stopped down there under water. I thought: 'Oh my God.'" The gold, nearly a pound of it, was in the form of a 385-year-old chalice from the Santa Margarita, a ship that sank in 1622. It was valued at about $1 million.
6. The great hoard
In July 2009, metal detector enthusiast Terry Herbert decided to try his luck in farmland close to his home in Staffordshire in the English countryside. He came across an artifact, and bingo. Over the next five days, he found enough gold objects in the soil to fill 244 bags. An archeological expedition was hatched, and all told, the “Staffordshire Hoard” was found to contain some 3,500 pieces representing hundreds of complete objects. The cache of gold, silver and garnet objects from early Anglo-Saxon times represents one of the most important kingdoms of the era — and was valued at around $5.3 million.
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