Coins, Bottles Among Found Artifacts

Metal DetectingCredit: Vince MigFrom Long John Silver in the book Treasure Island to Captain Jack Sparrow from the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, treasure hunting makes for good stories. But real life treasure hunters are closer than you think. They may just be your next door neighbors.

Long before ATMs and drive-up windows with banks, people hid their valuables by burying them in the backyard. Armed with just a metal detector, hearsay and local legends, these treasure hunters find everything from antique ammunition to belt buckles, buttons and even silver and gold coins.

If you want to give treasure hunting a try, you should invest in a good quality metal detector and a pair of headphones so that you can hear the higher tones of the detector. Avoid inexpensive metal detectors. These are not as sensitive, and may miss bits of metal. You may also want a metal detecting pinpointer to narrow down your search once your hole is dug. Other useful items include a shovel, hand trowel, bucket and sieve and sturdy gloves. You may also wish to carry bug spray and sunscreen to protect you on your outings.

You should also never go hunting in a spot where you don’t have permission to hunt. Getting written permission from a landowner is best. You should also have an agreement with the landowner on what will happen to any treasure that you find.

If you are hunting on public property such as a national forest, be aware of the laws that govern treasure hunting on public property. Treasure hunting in national forests and archaeological sites requires a permit. Using a metal detector to find minerals requires a prospecting permit. Hunting for recent-vintage items in areas that have no significant historical value, such as finding lost quarters in a playground does not need a permit. If you wish to hunt in a public park, try to get permission from the park caretaker.

Look for any open area where people gather or used to gather. These areas are usually treasure troves of lost coins. Fairgrounds, baseball fields, public parks and campgrounds may have unusual finds as well as lost coins. Old maps may show the locations of former house places or public locations such as ferry landings or drive-in movie theatre parking lots.

Once you pinpoint your target, dig a clean “plug” of soil. To do this, insert your shovel or trowel in a half-circle that is three to four inches deep and then fold the soil and grass back. This will allow you to reinsert the plug into the ground once you retrieve your treasure without killing the grass or even leaving a sign that you dug in that place. You should also pack out any litter and refuse from your dig. Being respectful of the area means that you are more likely to be invited back for future digging.

When you find a treasure, wait until you get it home to clean it. Brushing away dirt on old coins or other finds may scratch them and diminish their value. Instead clean them in your sink with warm soapy water.

Don’t be discouraged if at first you only find trash. Treasure hunting takes time. Treasure hunters should look at this pastime as a hobby and a means of connecting with the past instead of a route to riches. The longer that you search, the more familiar you will become not only with your own metal detector, but also with the types of locations that are more likely to hold desirable finds.

For more information on how a metal detector works, read How to Use a Metal Detector.