Private Treasure Hunting on Land
When doing a private treasure hunting, especially on land, it is usually possible to keep a very low profile. In most cases the successful searcher and his partners, if any, are the only one to know about the find. If the finder decides to keep the find or sell it without revealing its origin he usually will get away with this as he is the only one who can provide the information necessary for his prosecution.
The legal situation differs from country to country and even between various states of the same country. With the possible exception of someone finding treasure on his own land usually the finder is not entitled to 100% of the find. In many European countries he is entitled to 50% of the find while the other 50% go to the landowner. In some cases, and this applies to the majority of the German states, he even gets nothing at all – with the possible exception of a $ 50 book as a consolation price for a $ 1.000.000 coin hoard find. This is possible where laws state that all historical valuable finds belong to the state. Experience shows that something is almost always historically important if it is financially valuable and older than 50 years. In states where this confiscation law is in effect few finds are reported.
Even if the finder is entitled to 50% and he is prepared to accept this he might not report the find because he is afraid the landowner will claim 100% and take him to court. Even if the finder finally wins the suit this will cost him nerves and money. So even in the „50% countries“ many finders will not talk about their finds.
When the internet find forums became popular the assumed anonymity caused many searchers to feel safe to show some interesting finds. By now it is commonly known that everyone posting on a forum can be identified when required by a state attorney. Some people got trouble and the large rest refrained from showing unusual or valuable finds.
Financially valuable finds do not only cause trouble when mentioned to the landowner or the public. Because of greed they can tear apart search partners or even families. One of the classic treasure movies is „The Treasure of the Sierra Madre“ from 1948 starring Humphrey Bogart. In the end the found treasure, in this case native gold, is lost and several participants are dead. While the story is fictious the underlying psychological problems and group processes are very real. Finding treasure is an extremely emotional moment. People can virtually go mad and do things they would never do under ordinary circumstances. As long as the search group searches for a yet unfound treasure they all work towards the same goal. In the moment where treasure is found the group can fall apart into individuals who have contradictory goals – to secure as much of the treasure for oneself. Charles Garrett, an avid treasure hunter and founder of Garrett Electronics, the world's largest metal detector manufacturer, describes such an incident in one of his books. One evening the search party came quite close to the treasure. The next morning just an empty hole was found. Mr. Garrett wrote he thought that somebody from the search party took the treasure and Mr. Garrett thought he knew who it was. In my opinion a serious searcher should either research and hunt alone or with one partner.
To sum it up, usually finders have the option to keep finds secret without being prosecuted and they usually serve their interests best by doing so. So in reality in most cases spectacular finds remain unknown to the public. That is why serious treasure hunting can be a very lonely activity. And this is why it is difficult to get any information on it.
The most on actually found treasures is known where the law is at least mildly searcher-friendly and where searching is so popular that it became a major hobby. This is the case in England. When a new and more searcher-friendly law came into effect in 1996 the number of reported search finds increased dramatically. Today some 95% of hoard finds are made by private searchers with metal detectors. This includes very spectacular finds of coins, precious metal or antique bronze. In other words, after issuing searcher-friendly laws the number of known found treasures increased twenty fold. In the last two decades private searchers found more spectacular treasures than the official archaeologists in the last 150 years. There are some estimated 50.000-100.000 searchers in the UK with clubs and two major magazines. In the UK searchers are an accepted part of society while in other countries the archaeologists try to ban them using ridiculously exaggerated descriptions as grave robbers etc.. Neither are all finds reported in the UK nor do all aspects of the UK conditions apply in other countries. Still, the relative high report rate in this country shows what amount of treasures – financially as well as historically - can be found and is found.
(C) Thorsten Straub www.metal-detecting.de 2006-2011.