Mike Smith of Pembrokeshire, Wales, grew up with a metal detector. Since the age of 12, he's been out in fields, woods, and other locations in search of buried treasure. The dream: to find something extraordinary. Sometimes, dreams do come true as we'll soon find out.
Meet Mike, A Metal Detector Hobbyist
Mike Smith is a metal detecting enthusiast from Pembrokeshire, Wales. So going out to search for buried treasure one rainy day was nothing out of the ordinary. Finding buried gold was a detector hobbyist's dream, after all!
He never expected to be jolted out of his wandering mind by a loud beep from his machine. Soon, the adrenaline started pumping through his veins as he swiveled his detector back and forth over the wet soil. What was down there?
He Was Curious By Nature
Mike has always been a curious man. So when his mental detector went off that day, Mike knew he was going to see it through to the end. The thing is, he never expected to dig up such monumental treasure.
And he certainly never anticipated ever having to get the authorities involved! But now that he knew something was a few feet down from where he stood, there was no going back. He had to know what set his detector off.
Mike Swept The Rest Of The Field
After the initial beep, Mike decided to sweep the rest of the field. Typically when a person walks away from a find, the beeping will grow fainter and fainter until it stops altogether. That wasn't the case for Mike!
It was strange, the further he walked away from his original "beep location," the louder his detector sounded. Could it be a machine malfunction? Or was there something down there that was taking up the entire underbelly of the field?
Time To Start Digging!
When Mike's detector started going off all around the field, he knew that there was nothing left to do but trust his instincts. And his instincts were telling him to start digging for treasure!
Grabbing his handy dandy shovel, Mike set to work on the damp soil. Starting with a hole about a foot wide and two feet deep, Mike had no idea what he was about to stumble upon.
The First Artifact He Found Was Small And Round
Mike had used his metal detector in this spot before, digging up a few old pennies that weren't worth much. This time, he had dug up something that wasn't an animal bone, or even a type of coin.
Very carefully, Mike lifted the small round object out of the dirt. Was he positive it wasn't a coin? It sure looked like one. But after rubbing some of the earth off the surface, an engraving began to appear.
He Didn't Dwell On The First Artifact For Too Long
Puzzled, Mike flipped the object this way and that, trying to figure out what it could possibly be. There was a figure etched into one side while the other held some kind of message.
What made Mike certain it wasn't a coin was the fact that there was a ring attached to the top of the object. Almost as if it was attached to a chain or clip at some point in time. But he didn't analyze the artifact for too long because he had just spotted another object in the dirt.
The Object Wouldn't Move
Unlike the first object, this one was completely stuck in the mud. Mike decided to put down his shovel and start digging with his hands, hoping that his fingers would be able to gain some leverage on the mysterious item.
Unfortunately, it wouldn't budge, even when Mike sat back on his heels to get a better grip. Whatever it was, it sure was happy to stay in its suctioned place in the mud. But Mike wasn't giving up.
The Ground Was Putting Up Quite The Fight!
No matter how hard Mike pulled, the object wouldn't give way. It was puzzling, though, because the rusty old piece of metal didn't look all that heavy. Mike was stumped, so he decided to change his plan of attack.
He got back down on his knees and moved the soil around the artifact. Jiggling the earth this way at that, hypothetically, should loosen the object enough for Mike to be able to pull it out of the ground. Well, some things in life aren't that simple.
The Object Seemed To Be Connected To Something
During his second go at shifting the soil, Mike started to see signs that the mysterious object was connected to something. What that 'something' could be, he had no idea. But the fact that another mystery was unfolded just piqued his interest even higher.
With more questions than answers, he continued to dig. What else could possibly be down there? And why was this particular object so heavy? What he was about to uncover sent chills down his spine.
Mike Uncovered What Looked Like Links
As any good treasure hunter would do, Mike continued to dig around the stubborn object. Eventually, he came across a second object and then a third. Finally, a light bulb went on in his head, and he realized that the mysterious round objects were, in fact, links!
Goosebumps crept up his body as he came to terms with what he just discovered. What on earth could these chains have been used for?
The Links Went On Forever
As Mike dug up more and more of the mysterious links, he realized that they seemed to go on forever. That is until he came to the end of the ancient chain. But coming to an end begged the question, what did this chain used to be attached to?
As the afternoon sun began to set, Mike began to pack up. Whatever was buried beneath him was going to have to wait until sunrise.
Mike's Mind Wandered To Pembrokeshire Burial Chambers
As Mike lay in bed that night, his mind wandered. What if he had just uncovered something truly terrible, and there was a reason the links were buried? He had recently read about old burial sites underneath Pembrokeshire. Not a comforting thought while lying in a dark room.
Could his discovery be one of those ancient burial chambers? As frightening as that thought was, Mike was eager to get back to the farm and uncover more of the mystery.
The Next Morning, Mike Rose With The Sun
As soon as the sun crept above the horizon, Mike was out the door, heading straight for the site he left the previous evening. The mysterious chain was nagging at him the entire night. He needed to find out what was on the other end and why it was so heavy.
What Mike didn't realize was that his find was about to become known to the authorities. And that they would be on his digging site later that day.
The Ground Opened Up Beneath Mike's Feet
Thankfully, Mike found the location in the exact shape he left it. So it's safe to say no one had been snooping around his treasure trove. With that peace of mind, he once again began to dig.
As more of the strange links popped out of the ground, Mike noticed something weird. A hole was beneath the chain. Not thinking twice, Mike thrust his shovel into the hole, hoping that it would help with leverage. He never imagined that the ground would open up beneath his feet.
The Hole Led To An Underground Cavern
Mike fell straight through the ground, landing a few feet below the surface. Thankfully, he wasn't injured and was still wearing his backpack that held a flashlight!
Turning the light on, Mike came to the conclusion that he hadn't fallen into a typical hole but rather a chamber of some kind. As he took a closer look at the floor, walls, and ceiling, fear began to creep into Mike's chest. What had he accidentally uncovered beneath the farm?
There Were Strange Markings Covering The Walls
As Mike inspected the cavern walls a bit closer, he discovered strange scratches littering almost every surface. But something about the frantically scratched markings felt familiar. Almost as if Mike had seen them somewhere before.
Mike went to the wall with the most vivid markings and ran his fingers over them. As he took in the etchings, he realized that his fingers formed 'VV.' It didn't take long for him to realize the conjoined V's were repeated over and over dozens of times.
He Followed The 'VV' To Another Hole In The Ground
The haunting 'VV' symbol began to make Mike uneasy, as the etchings were all over the cavern walls. Making the find more terrifying was that the symbols seemed to be scratched into the stone by someone with trembling hands.
Mike had no idea what he had come across. Being the treasure hunter that he is, Mike decided to follow the markings. They led him to yet another hold in the ground. But beside the entrance lay something caked in mud.
His New Discovery Warranted The Authorities
Mike couldn't keep the shock off his face when he finally chalked up the courage to wipe the mud off of the new discovery. Underneath all of the hardened earth was something brown and hard. Mike knew exactly what he was looking at but didn't want to believe it.
As a metal detecting hobbyist, Mike knew the laws that came with discoveries such as this. He had no choice but to call the authorities and let them know what he had found.
They Uncovered Two Chariot Wheels
The artifact removal process began in June, four months after Mike's February discovery. With the proper game plan and excavation instruments, archaeologists were able to uncover two rusted chariot wheels, confirmation that they were about to discover something huge.
Mike couldn't believe that this all started with him finding what looked like a coin buried underground. He never realized something so monumental could be made out of his find. Treasure hunters usually only dream of this type of discovery!
The Authorities Laughed At Him
Mike had to call someone for help. Not only was he down in a dark hole with no way to escape, but he had just stumbled upon human dentures. He dropped everything and scrambled for his cell phone.
He called the officials of the National Museum of Wales, but their response was not what he was expecting. The officials laughed at him, not believing one word he was saying about the discovery!
Mike Mentioned One Detail And The Authorities Stopped Laughing
"What the archaeologists said at the time was that because there had never been a find down here before, they didn't believe it," Mike said during an interview. He had to change their minds about the potential burial site, but how?
Then it dawned on him; he forgot to mention that he had found human remains and not just an ancient chain and weird engravings in a cavern. Once he mentioned that detail, the officials at the museum were no longer laughing.
The Authorities Were In Complete Awe
Mike sent them his location and awaited the scientists and rescue party. When the museum officials and archaeologists arrived at the scene, they were in complete awe. In an interview, Mike said, "the look on their faces when they saw it said it all."
Aside from the authorities taking Mike seriously, he was happy that someone was there to rescue him from the hole! Now, it was time to let the excavation process with the professionals begin!
Mike Finally Could Put A Name To His Initial Discovery
Going back to the initial discovery of the rusted chain, Mike thought he would never figure out what it was used for, let alone what it was attached to. That all changed with the help of the museum professionals. In an interview, Mike said, "My first find was a Celtic horse harness junction piece."
"When I found it, my friends said I would never top it, but the next day I went back and found the rest." Talk about proving your friends wrong!
The 'VV' Has A Specific Meaning
According to archaeologist Rachel Hall, the connected 'VV' is called a witch mark. These marks were meant to keep witches from entering a building. The specific engravings Mike found are known as Marian marks. Believed to be the initials of the Virgin Mary, the mark is meant to protect the site of the symbols.
The cavern markings were different, though. They were scratched into the wall frantically. Not to mention they were all over the place. Something strange happened in Pembrokeshire long ago.
Townsfolk Believe It Was A Gateway To Hell
Archaeologist Alison Fearn believes that the 14th and 18th-century markings were the townspeople's way of keeping demons from gracing the Earth. Considering they are carved into most of the available surface of the cavern, Mike was inclined to agree.
Townsfolk must have thought the chamber was the entrance to the underworld, a thought that was not taken lightly in 14th century Europe. But that's not everything Alison detected from the Virgin Mary symbols.
There Was Another Theory Behind VV
Even though the markings tend to symbolize protection against demons and other evil spirits, there was another theory. Some believe that the village of Pembrokeshire was facing an onslaught of famines, disease, or poverty. These are things that very well can be blamed on evil forces.
John Charlesworth, a retired professor of the New Testament Language and Literature, explains that the superstitious nature surrounding the symbols probably engulfed the townspeople. The location of the village, along with the deep cavern, made them fearful of the unknown.
Understanding Old Traditions
Even though the townspeople believed the cavern to be the home of demons, either a queen or chieftain was definitely buried with their chariot at Mike's site. Mike said," I knew the importance of them straight away….I'd read all about chariot burials and just wished it could have been me, so finding this has been a privilege."
Archaeologists believe the chariot is upwards of 2,500 years old. And contrary to what Mike originally believed, there were no human remains.
The Chariot Should Have Been Laid Flat But It Was Buried Upright
The tooth Mike found actually belonged to one of the horses that was buried alongside the queen or chieftain and the chariot. After further research, it was uncovered that high-ranking officials of the Iron age would typically be buried with their weapons, chariot, and their horses.
Mike explained that in a typical burial, the chariot wheels would be laid flat. Of course, this was not the case with his discovery.
The Ground Has Since Leveled Out
Mike believes that instead of the high-ranking official being buried next to the chariot, they were buried within the chariot, sitting straight up. Of course, there should have been a mound of dirt over the chariot, but that has since leveled out.
After learning more about his discovery, Mike was in disbelief that he, alongside his trusty metal detector, was able to uncover such a rich history. And this was only the beginning!
It Was Time To Bring Out The Big Machines!
After museum officials roped off the area to the public, they brought in the big instruments. Considering all of the tiny artifacts Mike has stumbled across, a ground-penetrating radar over the farm was necessary. So, when we say big, we mean something that looks straight out of a National Treasure movie.
If you thought the discoveries Mike found by himself were insane, you'd never guess what geophysical sonar can uncover!
They Uncovered A Ditch Ring
After surveying the land, the archaeologists uncovered what could be described only as a ditch ring! The ring was a 12-meter circle that surrounded the site. The thing is, they found more than one!
Researchers found two more burials, both of which were located in ditch rings. This made them come to the conclusion that Mike had stumbled upon a Celtic settlement that has stayed off of everyone's radar for quite some time.
What Comes Next For Mike And His Discovery
Aside from the ditch ring burial sites, Mike was able to dig up around 34 other items, including a brooch, tool handles, and bronze bits, to name a few.
"I still can't believe it," Mike said. “Obviously, I’ve read other people’s finds. I’ve watched them on the telly, and I’ve always thought, I wouldn’t mind finding that, it’s still surreal, and life-changing.” He didn't even know the half of it!
The Project Is Going To Take Lots Of Funding
Adam Gwilt, the principal curator of prehistoric archaeology at the National Museum of Wales, explained that the findings were probably "witness to some great historical events of the time, as Iron Age people defended their ways of life and identity from the expansion of the Roman Empire."
The project is going to take a lot of funding, and Adam and his team have been working with multiple partners to pursue a full investigation of the artifacts.
Question Of The Day: What Was Mike's Payout?
Keeping his eye on the prize, Mike expects at least a six or seven-figure payout for his discovery. Of course, he has to split his earnings with the landowners, too. Still, not too bad for a hobbyist!
Mike explained that "It's the biggest ever metal detecting find, as in there’s never been a chariot ever discovered by a metal detectorist. There have been hoards found, but never anything like this." Here's to more amazing discoveries for you, Mike!
Brad Martin Is A Life-Long Metal Detector Enthusiast
Brad Martin of Green Mountain Metal Detecting has always loved the concept of unearthing forgotten treasures with a metal detector. Little did he know was that he was going to make the find of a lifetime in his home state of Vermont.
Thanks to his ongoing relationships with the people of the area, Brad has been given free rein over thousands of acres of privately-owned land. You'll never guess what he ended up finding during one of his hikes.
Brad Decided To Explore A Run-Down Building In The Forest
One day while Brad was hiking through the Vermont wilderness, he decided to explore an area that is known to have abandoned, run-down buildings. Maybe there is some hidden treasure under the ground that's been long forgotten! When he got there, he stumbled across a large hole in the ground and miles of stone walls.
The hole was most likely the remains of the basement of the building. Brad couldn't wait to see what was hidden under the ground.
Brad's First Discovery Dated Back To The 1700s
Brad was convinced his next great find was close by. He could almost feel the metal calling to him. Little did he know that he wasn't that far off because no sooner did Brad begin searching that he stumbled on his first find of the day: a tombac button.
This type of button was wildly popular in the 1700s, going out of style due to its brittleness. The button was a great start to Brad's exploration!
Tombac Buttons Used To Contain Lead and Arsenic
Tombac buttons are now considered to be vintage, due to them falling out of style soon after the 1700s. They are a somewhat "easy" find for metal detector enthusiasts like Brad, because they were common buttons for soldiers to have on their jackets.
These buttons are generally a brass alloy with a high copper content and low zinc content. Tin, lead, or arsenic may have been added for color. The good news is that we don't use these anymore so we don't have to worry about lead or arsenic poisoning!
The Button Was Just The Beginning
The discovery of the tombac button meant one thing to Brad, and it was that if someone had explored this part of the forest before, they had missed it. That meant that they most likely missed other unseen treasures, too.
Sure enough, Brad's intuition was spot on. It wasn't much longer until he dug up his second find of the day. You'll never guess what he was able to find with his metal detector.
The Second Finding Was A Defaced Halfpenny
It wasn't long after the finding of the button that Brad came across his second score of the day: a valuable copper coin. Although the surface was completely worn off, most likely due to the elements in Vermont, Brad concluded that it was either a British halfpenny or a coin from the early colonies.
Either scenario meant a lot of research was going to happen once he got back home! He was holding a little piece of history, after all.
British Halfpennys Are No Longer Considered Legal Currency
The British halfpenny, or ha'penny, was a unit of currency that equaled, you guessed it -- half a penny. From 1672 to 1860, the halfpenny was minted in copper, but after 1860 it was switched over to bronze.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer at the time, Nigel Lawson, announced on February 1, 1984, that the halfpenny coin would stop being considered legal currency by the end of the year. It made sense to the people, who wildly unfavored the useless coin.
Brad's Next Find: Old Trigger-Guard Plate From A Musket
Along with the defaced coin, Brad pulled out of the ground what could have been an old clock hand. It was virtually the same shape and size, so what else could it be? After further inspection, Brad determined that it could possibly be a trigger-guard plate from an old musket rifle.
Perhaps the trigger-guard was from a soldier of the Revolutionary War or Civil War. Brad had stumbled upon another interesting historical artifact!
Rifle-Muskets Of The Civil War
The Model 1861 Springfield rifle-musket was the most common weapon during the American Civil War. The musket was 58-and-a-half inches long, with the barrel itself being 40 inches one. The muzzle-loading weapon, with its bayonet, weighed almost ten pounds. That's pretty heavy for a soldier who's malnourished and carrying other necessities.
There were 84 pieces to this Springfield model, which only cost $14.93 to manufacture in 1861. Over the span of four years, almost two million Springfields were produced.
An Identifiable Coin Was The Next Find
Next, Brad unearthed a coin he was actually able to identify! The face of the large coin depicted King George II, and alongside the face was the partial word, "CONNEC." For Brad, that was enough!
He came to the conclusion that the coin was a Connecticut copper coin, 1785-1788. It was likely worth a few hundred dollars -- what a find! Although this one coin was more than enough to make the trip a success, there was still one more thing that Brad had yet to uncover.
Connecticut Coppers Are Very Complex
Connecticut coppers have one of the more complex minting histories out of all of the colonial coins. There were more than 355 dye combinations, at least 126 type varieties, and 26 distinct styles that were made by at least six different mints. Talk about high maintenance.
Even with all of the different variations, there was one thing that stayed true; all issues of the coin imitated the British halfpenny! It looks like Brad was following a bit of a pattern in the forest.
Time To Call It A Successful Day
It was getting late, so Brad decided to make his way back to his car, using his metal detector as he made his way through the forest. Good thing he was using it because the metal detector picked up a signal a few yards away from the road.
The device was giving off a solid tone, the same as the other objects that he had found that day. Taking his shovel one last time, Brad began to dig.
Reading A Metal Detector Takes Practice
Metal detecting takes some getting used to. It's definitely an activity that requires a lot of patience because of the uncertain result. As a metal detector works by generating a powerful magnetic field that penetrates the ground and locates other metals, an avid treasure hunter such as Brad needs to know how to understand the various readings.
The different tones given off by the detector vary from model to model, so it is up to the treasure hunter to experiment and familiarize themselves with their own.
Time To Unearth One More Item
A common rule of thumb is that the higher the reading the more valuable the object underground. Since the reading was very similar to that of the other objects he'd found that day, Brad believed he stumbled across another button. He never believed he'd dig up something that would stun him into silence!
The thing is, considering all of the historical artifacts that he dug up that day, Brad shouldn't have been overly surprised. But the new object should have given off a much stronger signal!
1780 Spanish Eight Reales
Brad brushed off the soil for his new finding, only to realize he had unearthed a massive silver dollar in amazing condition. The coin should have been giving off a much larger reading on his metal detector. He must have been standing at a weird angle in relation to the coin or something. No matter! He found it!
After further inspection, Brad realized that the coin was actually a 1780 Spanish Eight Reales. You'll never guess the amazing history!
The History Of Spanish Eight Reales
Remember Jack Sparrow's story of the "nine pieces of eight?" Well, the Spanish Eight Reales was the same fabled coin from the pirate legends. Spanish silver coins came in five varieties during the time they were minted, with an Eight Reales being the most valuable and sought-after. This explains why only the pirate captains had the coins.
Although the coin was considered to be legal currency in the United States until 1800, the chance of finding such a relic was one in a million.
Brad Has A Strange Feeling About The Coin
As Brad's adrenaline began to wear off, he grew suspicious of some of the characteristics on the coin. Not only did the metal detector reading linger in his head (it should have been a stronger signal), but someone had also carved the initials "DS" into the face on the coin.
Something didn't seem right. So, Brad did what any other metal detecting history buff would do. He went to the computer and did some much-needed research.
Spanish Eight Reales Were Highly Counterfeited
After doing some research, Brad learned that the coin was actually one of the most counterfeited forms of currency in the world during the time of its circulation. In fact, the British highly counterfeited this coin in order to cripple the Spanish economy during the Anglo-Spanish War, from 1796-1808.
Even though Brad's find is most likely a fake, that doesn't mean he won't fetch a decent price for it on the open market!