From the weird and wacky to the totally unexplainable; here’s the greatest metal detecting finds of all time.
1. Golden Chalice
Diving off the Key West in 2008, treasure hunter Mike DeMar discovered a 385-year-old gold chalice from the Spanish ship Santa Margarita.
This ship sank in 1622 and was full of buried treasure. Mike DeMar was rewarded with a whopping $1 million. Now that’s a reason to get the metal detector out!
Some say this is one of the most valuable pieces of treasure dating back to the 1600s ever found. Millions of treasure hunters seek out to find gold coins and artifacts, but not many find pieces such as this one.
2. The Boot of Cortez
1989 saw a wealth pursuer from Senora, Mexico discover something very unusual.
While detecting in the desert, the man discovered a gold nugget that weighed over 389 troy ounces.
This nugget was awarded the name ‘Boot of Cortez’ due to its size and remains to this day the largest nugget ever found in the Western hemisphere.
You could make over a million dollars from just one find if you are lucky enough. This metal detectorist set out that day to find something unusual and ended the day a superstar!
In 2008, the Boot of Cortez was sold for $1,553,500 at an auction. Not bad at all.
3. A Finger Bone and Ring
If you’re slightly squeamish you might be glad you didn’t stumble across this next find.
In Little Bighorn, a volunteer archaeologist discovered a finger bone that was still wearing a ring.
The bone and ring were said to be from 1876 when Sioux had wiped out the troops of Lt. Col. George Custer. This was one of the most unusual metal detecting finds of the time, but one that tells a tragic story.
4. Gold Iron Age Necklaces
Another stonkingly valuable find, back in 2009 a Scotsman found four golden necklaces from the Iron Age. This is a very unusual find indeed, and a rather overwhelming one to say the least! Metal detecting enthusiasts dream of finds like this.
The necklaces were in perfect condition and one source said that some of the gold wire used ‘is the thickness of your finger’.
If you’re wondering how much they’re worth, the answer is, a lot. We’re unsure how much the Scotsman was given, but the value of the necklaces was said to be over $2 million. Wow.
5. A Bronze Age Axe Head
Historian Steve Hickling from Huyton was hunting for treasure when he discovered a rare Bronze Age ax head, said to be one of only 1000.
It’s dated from 1850-1750BC, so pretty darn old. The ax head has been displayed in the Fir Tree Farm shop, where Hickling was hunting for treasure when he found it.
I particularly love this find because of all of its detailing. You can see how it was carved with great care and with attention to detail. It has texture and sharpness, which are the desired features for an ax from that era.
6. A Two-Pound Meteor
Discovering a 2lb meteor is enough for any adult to contend with, let alone a 13-year-old. Jason Lyons came across the 2lb chunk of ‘space rock’ in New Mexico, using a cheap metal detector built by his grandfather.
The meteor was revealed to have existed on Earth for around 10,000 years, made of nickel-iron and the second most common (although still exceptionally rare) space matter.
You might be wondering how a metal detector can find natural matter. Well, the answer is simple because of the natural metals that are in the object. So, if you are a space enthusiast and want to find some space rock to show your friends, then metal detecting is a cool way of finding it.
7. Lost Class Ring
Lost jewelry seems to always find its way back to you, and that’s exactly what happened to Miles Baker, whose lost high school class ring was discovered by Roy Lloyd in 1974.
Lloyd found the ring, engraved M.B in four inches of sand. The ring was lost by Baker 48 years before, but was soon reunited with its owner – and they all lived happily ever after!
Not everyone is lucky enough to have their valuable pieces of jewelry returned to them. It does help with your jewelry engraved with the hope that someone will be kind enough to hand it back to you if it is lost.
8. Buried Treasure
Alright, a lot of these finds would be classified as ‘buried treasure’, but Eric Lawes’s find was slightly more spectacular.
While searching for his friend’s lost hammer, Eric Lawes stumbled across silver spoons, gold jewelry, and a wealth of gold and silver coins.
With two bags full of the goodies, Lawes reported his find to the council.
The next day, 7.7lbs of gold was unearthed by archaeologists, alongside 52.4lbs of silver. The coins were buried no later than 450 AD, and the whole hoard was worth around $2.59 million.
What a wonderful way to make your mark in history! Ok, this might be an accidental buried treasure find, but it is a find nonetheless that has made Eric Lawes a popular name in the treasure hunting field.
For those of you who are concerned, the friend’s missing hammer was also found. Phew.
9. Ringlemere Cup
Cliff Bradshaw, an amateur treasure hunter had already found several seventh-century artifacts in an English wheat field and had an inkling he would find something more.
Well, if there’s one lesson we can learn from this, it’s to trust your intuition. Bradshaw was right, digging 18 inches before discovering an ancient gold cup.
The cup, made between 1700 and 1500 BC, delighted historians. Despite being crushed by modern farming equipment, it’s still remarkably intact – hammered from a single piece of gold.
You can even see the details and the craftsmanship in the picture above. This cup would have taken hours to make, making us wonder whether it was made for someone very special. This we might never know.
The cup was purchased by the British Museum for $520,000.
10. 5th Century European Royalty Ring
Made of gold, glass, and sapphire, the ring Michael Greenhorn discovered in 2015, may have been owned by 5th-century European royalty.
Found in Escrick, Yorkshire, the ring was difficult to date, with 30 experts trying to get their heads around the piece of jewelry.
Perhaps most baffling, the sapphire had been cut centuries before the ring had been actually made, with the ring created solely to display the sapphire. The ring was purchased by the Yorkshire Museum for $44,132.
As soon as this rig was found, it was obvious that it is a history and not something from our century. You should get to know the tell-tale signs of historical artifacts and jewelry before setting out on a metal detecting expedition so that you don’t assume that your find is modern when it is not.
11. Crosby Garrett Helmet
Another discovery in an English field were dozens of pieces of a 1,800-year-old helmet.
Is anyone else thinking that English fields are the place to be?
The metal detectorist who found the fragments brought them to an auction house where over 200 hours were spent putting the helmet together.
The finished helmet is everything you might expect from a helmet that old. It features a Roman face mask attached to a bronze cap with a griffin crest.
The helmet proved hugely popular at auction, eventually selling for $3.6 million which was over 10 times its estimated value. I assure you that no one thought it will be quite this magnificent when the pieces were found.
12. Viking Treasure Trove
2007 saw father and son David and Andrew Whelan find something significant – a single coin.
While this might be enough for some, the persistent pair kept digging, eventually unveiling a wealth of gold and silver Viking treasure.
The treasure was found in a North Yorkshire field and was worth around £750,000. The pair took half the money, with the farmer whose field it was found on keeping the other half.
The treasure has now been displayed at the British Museum and consists of a decorated gilt and silver cup, 617 coins, a solid gold arm ring, brooch pins, and other lumps of silver. The hoard belonged to a Viking noble and was likely buried for safekeeping.
This stash will stay safe under the watchful eye of the museum for many years to come!
13. Mojave Nugget
A prospector called Ty Paulsen discovered the largest gold nugget ever found in California in 1977. This gigantic nugget weighs a whopping 4.9 kg, and is part of the Margie and Robert E. Petersen nugget collection contains over 130 pieces of gold and has a collective weight of 52 kg.
The collection, along with the Mojave Nugget, was later donated to the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.
14. Staffordshire Hoard
The Staffordshire Hoard consists of over 4,600 items. It is the largest Angelo-Saxon hoard found to date and was discovered by Terry Herbert.
The collection contains over 5 kg of gold, more than 1.4 kg of silver, and thousands of garnet and stone pieces. The hoard was valued at 3.2 million dollars, and luckily, the region kept it in the area in which it was found and is now owned by the Birmingham city council and the Stoke-On-Trent City Council.
15. Gold Coins From Spanish Fleet
In 1715, 10 Spanish treasure ships were struck with bad weather off the coast of Florida, killing almost 1,000 people and spilling all of the gold and silver onboard into the ocean.
This tragedy sent other countries on a treasure-hunting expedition that cost them their comradery with Spain. Although the treasure was looked for by many, only 80% of it was recovered in the years following the disaster, and the remaining treasure was only found 250 years later.
While the sub-million-dollar-value finds rarely make the news, they do make the metal detecting forums, which can make for some pretty entertaining reading!
There have been some pretty odd discoveries over the years, including an underground ant cave, a giant chain and a bundle of plastic pens.
While the chances of uncovering millions of dollars worth of treasure are slim, metal detect in the right place and you’re still in with a good chance of finding something interesting.
From ancient coins to random lumps of metal, learning about the history behind something can be more rewarding than the find itself!
So, dust off your metal detector you never know what you might find!
Or if you’re a total newbie, check out my guide to the best metal detector for the money here.
Metal Detecting FAQ:
Metal detecting is a brilliant activity and a hobby that the whole family can enjoy together. Whether you find something of value or not is usually irrelevant, and the act of searching is enough to get your blood pumping.
Making sure that you are metal detecting ethically is very important, so it is only natural to have some questions surrounding the topic. The following section is full of frequently asked questions along with their answers that should help you on your metal detecting quest. Enjoy!
Where is the best place to metal detect?
No matter where you live in the world, there are brilliant places to metal detect in your area. If you are looking for modern jewelry and coins, the beach is the best place to metal detect. Hundreds of people lose items of jewelry every week at the beach, so this is almost a no-brainer!
If you want to find historical artifacts and buried treasure, you may need to do a bit of research into where the historical gathering areas are in your region. Metal detecting on historical sights may not be permitted; to check and ask for permission before doing so. Here are some more cool places to metal detect:
- Abandoned buildings
- Fields (with the landowner’s permission)
What is the most expensive item ever found with a metal detector?
A gold nugget called The Hand of Faith is the most expensive thing found using a metal detector. A man called Kevin Hillier found it on a fun metal detecting trip in Kingower, Australia.
Can you get rich metal detecting?
Metal detecting will not give you a stable income. As you can see from the article above, big finds have been made, but they are very few and far between. It is also important to point out that a few states have laws surrounding metal detecting that require you to hand over items worth over $100.
Is it illegal to metal detect in a cemetery?
Metal detecting in a cemetery isn’t illegal, but digging in a cemetery is. Metal detecting in a cemetery isn’t exactly the best way to portray the hobby and shows a lack of respect for the place, and because of this, it should be avoided.
What metal won’t set off a metal detector?
Aluminum foil will block metal detectors from detecting most metals. Gold, silver, brass, and bronze are all detectable using a metal detector; however, if they have been wrapped up in foil, you won’t know that they are underground.
What should I do if I find gold on public land?
You usually won’t need to tell anyone unless it is an archaeological artifact. You also won’t be required to pay taxes on it until you sell it. If you have metal detected in an area that is permitted to do so, you shouldn’t have a problem keeping and selling your findings.
As I mentioned earlier, some states have laws that require you to hand in any valuable items over the value of $100 to the police. Make sure you know the laws in your area before you go metal detecting.