One of the biggest draws of metal detecting is the possibility of making an incredible discovery. Most metal detectorists find fascinating coins and relics, but a select few have found spectacular and historical finds.
History’s most valuable metal detector finds include various hoards, a large gold nugget, gold artifacts, gravesites, helmets, axes, and more. Many of the most valuable metal detector finds were discovered in England.
This article will explore all of the most valuable finds discovered throughout history in greater detail, so if you’re curious about the amazing things you can find with a metal detector, keep reading!
1. The Hoxne Hoard
The Hoxne hoard is a discovery made in Hoxne village, Suffolk, in 1992. Eric Lawes was using a metal detector to search for a lost hammer on some local farmland, but before he found the hammer, he found treasure.
After getting a strong signal from his metal detector, he started digging and found a collection of coins and spoons. With the help of the local archaeological society, he unearthed nearly 60 pounds of gold and silver items, namely over 15,000 Roman coins, silver spoons, and various other gold objects. The items went on display in the British Museum in London.
As payment for finding the treasure, he received 1.75 million pounds from the government, which he shared with the farmland owner.
The items reveal important insights into the history of the Roman Empire at the end of the fourth century AD. At that time, the empire spread across present-day Italy, Greece, Spain, France, and parts of Turkey, Britain, and North Africa.
In the west of the empire, Roman subjects were falling victim to attacks from the Visigoths and raiders from Scotland and Ireland. Romano-British citizens were afraid of these attacks, so they buried their treasures, which could explain the Hoxne hoard’s background.
Another possible explanation is that the coins were in circulation for decades after the Roman Empire left Britain. Many of the coins in the discovery are clipped, which means that parts of their edges were removed, which is evidence of them being in circulation for at least some time.
No matter when they were buried, there is sufficient evidence to suggest that the coins were valuable to the family they belonged to, monetarily and sentimentally. When the archaeological society unearthed the hoard, they discovered nails, hinges, straw, and boxes that suggest that the items were carefully and thoughtfully buried.
One of the most significant items found in the hoard was a silver pepper pot shaped like a noble lady. The pepper pot is one of the BBC’s 100 influential objects of the world because it reveals that members of the Roman Empire in Britain engaged in international trade with India and provides additional information about women’s fashion.
2. The Ringlemere Gold Cup
The Ringlemere gold cup is a vessel that metal detectorist Cliff Bradshaw found in Kent, near Sandwich in England, in 2001. It is made of a single piece of gold, and even though a plow nearly completely crushed it, Bradshaw was still given $525,000 for the discovery. The cup is one of only seven similar gold cups that have been discovered in Europe that date between 1700 and 1500 BC. The cup is most similar to the Rillaton gold cup.
The discovery of the cup led to a full excavation of the Ringlemere farm, revealing important history about the Mesolithic, Neolithic, and early Bronze Age.
3. The Shapwick Hoard
The Shapwick hoard is a collection of Roman coins discovered in 1998 in Shapwick, England, and it is the largest number of silver denarii found in Britain. The story of the Shapwick discovery is particularly fascinating for aspiring metal detectorists because the hoard was found by amateur metal detectorists Kevin and Martin Elliott rather than a professional metal detectorist with years of experience.
The coins were found in a previously undiscovered Roman building once part of a courtyard villa. The Somerset County Museum purchased the hoard for 265,000 pounds with the help of the Somerset County Council and the National Heritage Memorial Fund. Since then, it has been on display at the Museum of Somerset.
Notable items from the hoard include the following:
- 260 coins from Mark Antony’s reign
- Two rare coins
- Three Lycian drachmae
- One drachma of Caesarea
The hoard was a valuable find because of the number of coins found and the insights it revealed into Roman history.
4. The Boot of Cortez
The Boot of Cortez is the biggest gold nut in the western hemisphere, weighing 389.4 troy ounces. A metal detectorist found the nugget in 1989 in Senora, Mexico, with an inexpensive detector after only finding nails, bullets, and other trash for days. The nugget was sold at an auction for $1,553,500 in 2008.
Before it was sold at the auction, the nugget was displayed at the Tucson Gem & Mineral Show in 2004, the Houston Museum of Nature Science in 2005, and the American Museum of Natural History in 2006.
If you’d like to make a gold discovery as exciting as the Boot of Cortez, the first step is reading my article on the best metal detector settings for gold, where you’ll learn how to optimize your detector to increase your chances of discovering gold. I’ll also share a few of the top spots for finding gold in the US: These are the Best Metal Detector Settings for Gold
5. The Escrick Ring
The Escrick ring is a gold, silver, and copper ring set featuring a large blue gemstone and a red cloisonne that metal detectorist Michael Greenhorn discovered in 2009 near Escrick, North Yorkshire. The ring set dates back to the 5th or 6th century AD, and the Yorkshire Museum purchased the set for 35,000 pounds with funding from the Art Fund, the MLA/V&A Purchase Grant Fund, the Headley Trust, and the York Philosophical Society.
Experts from various universities in the UK gathered in York in 2013 and decided that the ring set probably belonged to a royal leader. They also determined that the large blue gemstone is the second earliest example of sapphire used in the country.
The ring is particularly interesting because it is so unusual. The design is unusual for the time period, and the style and material make it difficult to date the object and give it historical context.
6. The Staffordshire Hoard
The Staffordshire hoard is one of the most lucrative discoveries in history, as the entire hoard sold for 5.3 million dollars. Metal detectorist Terry Herbert made the discovery on landowner Fred Johnson’s property in Hammerwich, Staffordshire, in 2009. It is the largest hoard of Anglo-Saxon gold and silver metalwork ever found. The Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery and the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery purchased the hoard in 1996.
The initial discovery was made with a metal detector, but Birmingham Archaeology completed the full excavation work with funding from English Heritage. Because the hoard was so valuable, the excavation was kept secret from the public until the end of September 2009.
An additional excavation occurred in December 2012, and archaeologists found 91 more items during this excavation. Many of these additional pieces were small, but there were a few notable larger pieces, including a cross-shaped mount, an eagle-shaped mount, and a helmet piece.
The hoard includes nearly 4,600 items, all amounting to the following:
- 11 pounds (4.99 kg) of gold
- 3 pounds (1.36 kg) of silver
- 3,500 pieces of costume jewelry
- One applique
- One brooch
- Five crosses
- One glass gem
- Seven pins
- 13 rings
- 217 sword plates
The hoard has been on display in many museums and notable locations throughout its history, including:
- The Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery
- The British Museum
- The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery
- The National Geographic Museum
- Tamworth Castle
- Lichfield Cathedral
The hoard has also been featured in various documentaries and TV programs, including Saxon Hoard: A Golden Discovery and Secrets of the Saxon Gold.
The items in the hoard date back to the 6th and 7th centuries and most of them are military objects. Notably, no domestic objects were found in the hoard, which is unusual for an Anglo-Saxon hoard.
Insights from this hoard include evidence suggesting that soldiers probably carried Christian objects into battle as good luck charms, and the objects offer confirmation of events between fighting English kingdoms.
This hoard is a great example of the various items a metal detector can detect. For more information, check out my list of metals you can’t find with a detector: 4 Metals That a Metal Detector Won’t Detect
7. The Crosby Garrett Helmet
The Crosby Garrett Helmet comes from the late 2nd or early 3rd century. It is a beautiful copper alloy Roman helmet that probably belonged to a member of the Roman cavalry, although the helmet was probably used for ceremonial reasons rather than in battle. An unnamed metal detectorist found the helmet in Cumbria, England, in 2010.
The helmet portrays a youthful, clean-shaven male face. If the helmet had been worn, it would’ve been held to the wearer’s head with a leather strap. The helmet is made of copper, zinc, and tin.
Shortly after its discovery, the helmet was sold to a private buyer for 3.6 million dollars. The buyer has allowed the helmet to be displayed at the following places:
- The Royal Academy of Arts
- The Tullie House
- The British Museum
8. The Leekfrith Torcs
The Leekfrith torcs include four gold torcs from the Iron Age, three neck torcs, and a bracelet. Metal detectorists Mark Hambleton and Joe Kania discovered the torcs in December 2016 in Leekfrith, north Staffordshire, England. Before this groundbreaking find, the most impressive items these detectorists had found were Victorian coins.
This discovery was particularly compelling because the torcs are considered the oldest gold jewelry ever discovered in Britain. The smallest piece, the bracelet, is ornamented in style similar to other Celtic pieces. All four torcs are made with gold wire, along with some silver, copper, iron, mercury, and tin.
The four torcs are permanently displayed at the Potteries Museum & Art Gallery.
9. Bronze Age Axes
One of the more recent valuable metal detectors finds is a collection of Bronze Age axes discovered by a British teenager named Milly Hardick. The 13-year-old found the artifacts in Royston, Hertfordshire, on only her third metal-detecting outing.
After the initial discovery, local archaeologists excavated the area and found more than 200 artifacts from the Bronze Age, anywhere from 3300 BC to 1200 BC. These artifacts included ax heads and knife pieces.
No information is public yet about if she got a reward for her discovery, but the collection is undeniably valuable due to its historical and cultural significance. Hardick also expressed to the public that she’s now very interested in a career in archaeology.
10. Roman Grave
After finding a gold coin with his metal detector in 2015, Phil Kirk continued surveying the field he was searching in England until his detector led him to another prize: a buried bronze jug and a bronze patera. As it turns out, Kirk had stumbled upon a Roman-era grave and all its treasures, including bronze jugs, glassware, coins, a bronze pin, an iron lamp, and various bottles.
The grave is approximately 6.2 feet long and 5.2 feet wide (1.9 meters and 1.6 meters). Archaeologists determined it was an old grave based on the bottle they found with the cremated bone inside. Another clue that the location was a grave was the presence of hobnails, and nails used in sandal construction. Romans provided footwear for the dead in their graves to have footwear for their journey to the River Styx.
Archaeologists used the coins in the grave to determine how old the grave was. One coin pictured Emperor Trajan, and Emperor Marcus Aurelius issued another. There is evidence to suggest that the grave was next to a shrine or a temple, which indicates that whoever was buried in the grave was extremely wealthy. Because of the grave’s location, this location was likely the individual’s out-of-town estate.
11. Christ From Aunslev
A metal detectorist named Dennis Fabricius Holm discovered an ancient gold crucifix in Aunslev, Denmark, while exploring a field with his Garrett ACE detector in 2017. The crucifix is small at only four centimeters tall, but it is extremely valuable as it is made of solid gold and has historical and cultural significance. The crucifix is from the 10th century, making it one of the oldest Christian symbols ever discovered in Denmark.
The crucifix is considered part of a necklace because it has an eye on top. In this way, it is similar to a silver cross found in Sweden in 1879 and other similar pendants from Also and Omo, but this crucifix is unique because it is made of gold instead of silver and is nearly double the size of these comparable pendants.
The area where the crucifix was found is part of an old Viking settlement, so the piece most likely belonged to an extremely wealthy Viking woman. This discovery is consistent with other Christian artifacts found in female graves throughout other Viking communities.
The pendant has been displayed in the Viking Museum in Ladby and the National Museum in Copenhagen.
If you want to try your luck with the same metal detector Holm used to make this exciting discovery, you can purchase the Garrett ACE 200 Metal Detector from Amazon.com. This detector has a completely waterproof search coil, accurate target identification, and responsive audio. I also appreciate how lightweight it is, even though it comes with so much advanced technology.
12. Henry III Gold Coin
Another recent valuable find is the Henry III gold penny, which was discovered by a metal detectorist named Michael Leigh-Mallory in Devon, England in 2022. The coin is considered one of the first gold coins in England, and the finder likely received close to a half million dollars for the discovery. Leigh-Mallory didn’t realize how valuable the find was at first, but with the help of numismatist Gregory Edmund, they soon learned they’d hit the jackpot.
The coin belonged to the coinage of King Henry III and was likely issued during the year 1357. The monarch, while in power, used his own accumulated treasure to make his coinage during his rule, according to a professor of medieval history at King’s College, David Carpenter. His coinage, and this find, are significant because they are the first gold coins since the Norman Conquest, and they indicate a change in the economic position of England at the time.
The use of gold is also proof of global communication, as gold mostly came from the Middle East. This coin further proves that England and the Middle East were speaking with and trading with one another during this time.
This gold penny is one of the United Kingdom’s most valuable coin finds in history. After researching the coin, David Carpenter guessed that it likely belonged to John de Hyden, a Lord from that time who served with the Earls of Devon during the Welsh campaign. While this is an educated guess, there’s no way of knowing for certain.
Leigh-Mallory split the half million dollars with the landowner and plans to use the rest to pay for his children’s education. He also traveled to Henry III’s tomb shortly after the coin sale to pay his respects.
If you’re new to metal detecting, you’ve probably come across mobile apps that claim to turn your phone into a metal detector. Is there any truth to this claim? Read my full guide to find out if you really can use your phone as a detector: Do Metal Detector Apps Really Work?