7 Incredible Hoards Discovered in the Past 7 Years

For thousands of years, people have buried their treasures to keep them safe from authorities and marauders or as offerings to the gods. Every now and then, someone is lucky enough to find one of these long-lost hoards. Here are seven of the best finds in the last seven years.

1. The Staffordshire Hoard

For sheer glamour, nothing can beat the Staffordshire Hoard, more than 4000 pieces of Anglo-Saxon gold and garnet-studded weapons fittings from the late 6th/early 7th century found by metal detectorist Terry Herbert near the village of Hammerwich, central England, in July 2009. The area was part of the Kingdom of Mercia when the treasure was buried. Dominated as it is by martial artifacts, the hoard was likely spoils of war buried either as a votive for the gods or to keep it safe for a later recovery that never happened. The discovery lends new insight into the sheer quantities of wealth owned by the Anglo-Saxon elite and into the skill of their craftsmen, who could make gold filigree wires one-fifth of a millimeter thick.

2. The Le Catillon II Hoard

The Le Catillon II Hoard was discovered in 2012 on the Channel Island of Jersey after three decades of searching by metal detectorists Reg Mead and Richard Miles. Thirty years of work were proven more than justified; the Le Catillon II Hoard is the world's largest Celtic coin hoard with an estimated 70,000 Roman and Celtic coins from the 1st century BC. They were removed from the site in a solid block of soil weighing three quarters of a ton and are being painstakingly excavated behind a glass-walled laboratory in public view at the Jersey Museum. The hoard continues to reveal hidden surprises as the coins are removed—most recently six gold torcs.

3. The Hackney Double Eagles

Terence Castle discovered this hoard of 80 gold Double Eagles dating from 1854 to 1913 while he was digging a pond in his backyard in the Hackney borough of London in 2007. The coins were buried by the family of Martin Sulzbacher, a Jewish refugee from Germany, in the early days of World War I when the possibility of a German invasion and raids on banks loomed large. Upon his return from internment as an enemy alien on the Isle of Man, Sulzbacher found his house destroyed and his extended family killed by a direct hit during the Blitz. His four children, also interned on the Isle of Man, survived the war, and his son Max, 81, claimed the hoard on April 18, 2011

4. The St. Albans Hoard

One lucky a metal detectorist found these 159 Roman gold solidi in a field in St. Albans, southeastern England, in late 2012. Struck in Milan in the late 4th century, the coins bear the names and faces of the five different emperors who issued them—Gratian, Valentinian, Theodosius, Arcadius, and Honorius—and are in exceptional condition. This is all the more remarkable considering that they had been scattered over the field by centuries of farming.

5. The Beau Street Hoard

In a departure from the norm, the Beau Street Hoard was discovered by actual archaeologists during a dig in Bath in 2007. More than 17,000 Roman coins, dating from 32 BC to 274 AD, had fused into one block of corrosion and soil and were excavated in the British Museum conservation lab. Conservators found that six bags of coins had been deposited in a square container. The container and bags rotted away centuries ago, but because the hoard was kept whole in its soil block, X-rays showed the coins still held the shape of their original bags.

6. The Ruelzheim Treasure

At the other extreme is the Roman gold and silver treasure from the early 5th century AD that was torn from the ground near Ruelzheim, southwestern Germany, by a looter. The artifacts—beautifully detailed leaf-shaped solid gold brooches and gold pyramids from a magistrate's ceremonial tunic, a solid silver bowl with gold accents and gemstones, a set of silver and gold statuettes, and fittings from an ancient curule chair—were only discovered by authorities in early 2014 when the looter tried to sell the artifacts on the black market. The curule chair, an incredibly rare survival that was apparently intact in the ground, fell apart when the looter yanked it out. Then he covered his tracks by destroying the find site.

7. The Saddle Ridge Hoard

michel, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Europe may have the lion's share of hoards, but the United States burst onto the scene in a big way in February 2013 when a couple walking their dog on their northern California property discovered 1427 gold coins buried in eight cans. The Saddle Ridge Hoard coins date from 1847 to 1894 and include some of the finest examples of their type known. Although theories about the hoard's origin proliferated—bank robbery! mint robbery! Black Bart's stagecoach banditry!—the way the coins were deposited over the course of years suggests they were the life savings of someone who didn't trust banks. Possibly on account of all the robberies.

Stegosaurus Tracks Discovered on Scotland’s Isle of Skye

Warpaintcobra, iStock via Getty Images
Warpaintcobra, iStock via Getty Images

Today, Scotland's Isle of Skye is a picturesque tourist destination. But 170 million years ago, it was home to one of the most iconic dinosaurs to ever roam the Earth. As The Guardian reports, paleontologists have found prehistoric footprints on the island that are believed to have come from a stegosaurus.

As researchers from the University of Edinburgh note in their new study published in the journal Plos One, the discovery marks the first evidence of stegosaurus on the Isle of Skye. The tracks, which were found in sedimentary rock on the east side of the island, are roughly the size of grapefruits. They follow a line stretching several feet, with a right-left sequence reflecting the gait of a four-legged animal. The shape of the prints themselves—larger, triangular back feet and slightly smaller front ones—match the skeleton of the armor-plated stegosaurus. If they do belong to stegosaurus, the 170-million-year-old find "represents one of the oldest fossil records of this major dinosaur group from anywhere in the world," the researchers write.

The stegosaurus made up just part of the recent Isle of Skye discoveries. Paleontologists also found prints with three-toes and claws from theropods (the group of carnivores that included T. Rex), and stubby three-toed tracks potentially belonging to ornithopods like duck-billed dinosaurs. Altogether, 50 new footprint fossils were found.

The Isle of Skye has long been known as a hotspot for dinosaur remains. During the Middle Jurassic period, the area had a swampy, subtropical climate that supported a vibrant wildlife population. The location where these latest tracks were discovered was a mudflat fringing a lagoon 170 million years ago. The mudflats were likely only around for a brief time before they were overtaken by the lagoon, indicating the species making up the batch of prints occupied the area around the same time. The researchers write, "As a result of this diversity, we can infer that a thriving community of dinosaurs lived in and near the subtropical lagoons of Middle Jurassic Scotland."

[h/t The Guardian]

Tiny, Bird-Like Skull Found in Amber Could Belong to the Mesozoic Era's Smallest Known Dinosaur

The skull of Oculudentavis khaungraae preserved in 99-million-year-old amber.
The skull of Oculudentavis khaungraae preserved in 99-million-year-old amber.
Lida Xing

Scientists recently discovered the skull of an extremely tiny, bird-like dinosaur that could be the smallest known species of the Mesozoic era—the period in which giant dinos like brachiosaurus, stegosaurus, and allosaurus evolved.

The specimen is preserved in a lump of 99-million-year-old amber from northern Myanmar and measures just 7.1 millimeters long, suggesting that the entire animal might have been even smaller than the bee hummingbird, which, at about 2.25 inches, is the smallest bird in existence. Very small fossils like this one are rarely found because layers of silt and rock usually destroy the delicate tissues. Amber preserves them intact.

Jingmai O’Connor, the paleontologist at the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology in Beijing who discovered the skull within the amber, and her colleagues found that the jaws contained more than 100 teeth—implying that, despite its size, the creature was a predator, possibly feasting on insects. However, since its eye sockets face the side, it probably didn’t have binocular vision, which gives many other predators the depth perception needed to catch prey. The conical shape of the bones in those eye sockets indicates that the animal had rather small pupils and was likely active during the day. The findings were published in the journal Nature.

sketch of Oculudentavis khaungraae
The tiny dinosaur targets an unsuspecting insect.
Nature, YouTube

Because of its defining eyes and teeth, the researchers named the new species Oculudentavis khaungraae. Oculudentavis comes from the Latin words for eye (oculus), teeth (dentes), and bird (avis), and khaungraae derives from Khuang Ra, who had originally donated the amber to China’s Hupoge Amber Museum.

While scientists have unearthed quite a few fossils of large dinosaurs from the Mesozoic era—and pop culture like the Jurassic Park franchise likes to capitalize upon the public’s endless obsession with enormous animals—not as much is known about the era’s most diminutive dinosaurs.

“People focus on how big dinosaurs were,” O’Connor tells Mental Floss. “Now we know they were also really tiny.”

Amber, tree resin that has hardened over millions of years, might be our best hope for learning more.

“When you have an animal preserved in amber, it looks like it just died yesterday. All the soft tissue in place, trapped in this little window into an ancient time,” O’Connor explains in the video above.

The researchers are publishing their full study in the science journal Nature, but there are still plenty of questions to answer.

“This paper is just scratching the surface of the information preserved. Is the skull petrified or is it the original material unaltered, preserved in the amber? Mummified, if you will? What color was it, and can we use isotopes to figure out exactly what it ate; can we reconstruct the brain better?” O’Connor says. “We need the young, tech-savvy generation to develop new methods for extracting data from amber specimens in a non-destructive manner to get at these questions.”

In the meantime, dig into these 26 fascinating facts about fossils.

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