6 Great Treasures Found With a Metal Detector

These are pieces from the Staffordshire Hoard, an Anglo-Saxon treasure trove discovered by metal detector in 2009. David Rowan, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery [CC BY 2.0]/Wikimedia Commons

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.

The fine art of metal detecting gets a whole lot sexier when you read about what the treasure seekers have found, like the retired businessman who unearthed the mother lode of Viking gold and silver artifacts dating back more than 1,000 years. Derek McLennan's find, known at the Galloway Hoard, in October 2014 in Scotland, hailed as the United Kingdom's most significant in over a century. Comprised of more than 100 items, it was the largest and most diverse collection of Viking-age gold objects known from Britain and Ireland, filled with an astounding range of rarities. Among other items, there was a ninth-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. It wasn't McLennan's first big find, either. The year prior, he found about 300 medieval coins in the same area.

His efforts were handsomely rewarded. Three years later, he was awarded the equivalent of $2.5 million. He'd passed along his find to the Queen’s and Lord Treasurer's Remembrance, which makes rulings on items deemed not to have an owner, according to The Independent, and they set the price of his payment.

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. 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 more than 4,000 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.

The Staffordshire Hoard is considered the largest collection of Anglo-Saxon gold and silver objects ever found. It is believed that the treasures were buried during the 7th Century (600-699AD), when the region was part of the Kingdom of Mercia.

A decade later, archeologists have put what they've learned about the extensive find into a book, "The Staffordshire Hoard: An Anglo-Saxon Treasure," which also has an impressive online component with details and images about 700 objects.

2. 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 buried in a foot of sand, 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 underwater. "I thought: 'Oh my God.'" The gold, nearly a pound of it, was in the form of a 385-year-old chalice from a Spanish ship called the Santa Margarita. The ship sank in 1622 during a storm; while the hulks settled on the seafloor some 30 miles off Key West, another storm came along and scooted the chalice and other debris in a different direction, making it a surprising find for the area. The chalice was valued at about $1 million.

3. Loving Cup

Ringlemere Cup, treasure found with metal detector
The Ringlemere Cup got its name from the place where it was uncovered in Kent. The notable dent in the cup was the result of modern ploughing equipment. Dominic Coyne, Young Graduates for Museums and Galleries Programme [CC BY 2.0]/Flickr

While pursuing his hobbies of amateur archeology and metal detecting, retired electrician Cliff Bradshaw discovered the Ringlemere Gold Cup, 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, the object, which was beaten from a single piece of metal, is still a remarkable find. It is 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.

4. 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! The gold nugget was so big that it even earned the name, "Boot of Cortez." It's the largest surviving nugget in the Western Hemisphere. For reference, the second largest surviving gold nugget in the Western Hemisphere weighs in at 100 ounces less than The Boot. (Any larger nuggets found previously were melted down.) In 2008, the Boot of Cortez was sold at auction for $1,553,500.

5. Argh, Behold the Booty

In 1952, maritime historian and pirate specialist and maritime historian 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 clutching the coins.

6. Stolen Nest Egg

In 1946, U.S. 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, nine feet underground, they discovered $153,150 worth of pilfered cash stashed in jars and cans inside a length of stovepipe.