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
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.