Treasure hunting has always been a venture for those who want to uncover history hidden from plain sight. From avid metal detector enthusiasts to explorers poring over maps and letters, treasure hunting has attracted people from all walks of life to search for ancient relics. While the obvious motivation for a treasure hunter is the riches that they might uncover, some people (including hunters on this list) hunt purely for archaeological purposes, the discovery of something long lost being reward enough. Here are 10 people who found what they were looking for—in a big way!
10. Philip Masters
Philip Masters passed away in the Bronx in 2007 at the age of 70. The story he left behind, however, was one of raw determination. His actions helped to locate the sunken ship of history’s most notorious pirate.
During the day, Masters appeared to be your average worker, albeit one with well-rounded resume. Some of his job titles included a cabdriver, a jewelry salesman, and a stockbroker. He also used his varied skills and his ability to learn new tricks for his nighttime and weekend hobby—tracking the wreck of the Queen Anne’s Revenge, Captain Blackbeard’s ship, which began its life as a French slave ship before Blackbeard (aka Edward Teach) took over ownership in 1717.
Finding a long-lost pirate ship wasn’t easy, but that didn’t deter Philip. He dug through 57 archival libraries for records and also learned Spanish so he didn’t need to rely on translations of source materials. In 1987, he finally found a lead in the rare book room of the New York Public Library. It was a book detailing both the trail of a pirate and an account of a lost pirate ship from 1718, the same year that Blackbeard’s ship went down.
Philip gathered a team of archaeologists, went to the site described, and hunted for the shipwreck. On November 1996, Philip and his team discovered a shipwreck that they believed to be the Queen Anne’s Revenge. There are no records of the ship being built, so the team couldn’t compare an initial design to the ship they had found. What they did discover, however, were 12 cannons, anchors, a bell, and 25 artifacts. Given that there are no other records of such a well-armed ship sinking in the area, this was enough to solidly prove that it had to be Blackbeard’s ship.
9. Dave Crisp
Dave Crisp had been metal detecting in fields since 1988. After finding a few Roman coins in a field in Frome, England, Dave believed that there was more hidden elsewhere in the field. Returning to the same location, he began his search once again to see if he could unearth a few more. His subsequent find satiated his hunt for “a few more coins” rather well; he found 52,503 of them, to be precise.
The coins were in a single pot and were dated to around AD 286–293, during the reign of the Roman emperor Carausius, who first brought the act of striking coins to Britain. A British Museum spokesman said that they believed the original intent of the hoard to be a religious offering of some kind.
The UK, however, has strict laws regarding discovery of treasure: The moment a find is recognized by its discoverer as treasure, they have two weeks to report the find to the British Museum, which will then determine if it is legally labeled as treasure or not. Once labeled, a market price is attached to it, and museums can pay that amount to include the finds in their collections.
Once an archaeological team had recovered the pot, the British Museum counted and dated each coin, and it was subsequently marked as treasure. They also declared it as the largest group of Carausius coins ever found, and the dig was named “The Frome Hoard.” It was valued at £320,250, which The Museum of Somerset paid. The money was split between Dave and the owner of the land where the hoard was found.
As for Dave, the expensive find didn’t spell the end for his hobby:
It’s just as exciting now as it was before, when you find something. The seemingly mundane finds, they transport you instantly to the moment it ended up in that field. Who was the person who lost it, what did that loss mean to them and what was the story behind it? It’s always fascinating.