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Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images

7 of the Biggest Treasure Troves Ever Found

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Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images

by Sarah Dobbs

Buried treasure is one of those things that sounds like it only exists in stories. But throughout history, valuable objects—coins, jewelry, crowns—have often been either deliberately buried or just lost to the ages. Here are seven of the most valuable and extensive treasure troves ever brought to light.

1. THE CUERDALE HOARD

 
Found: 1840
Value: Approximately $3.2 million

While repairing the embankment of the River Ribble in Cuerdale, near Preston in England, a group of workmen dug up a lead box. Inside was one of the biggest hoards of Viking treasure ever found—more than 8600 items were documented, including silver coins, various bits of jewelry, and silver ingots.

Although the majority of the items originated in English Viking kingdoms, some of the treasure was also traced back to other regions, including Scandinavia, Italy, and Byzantium.

The treasure was presented to Queen Victoria, and some of it is now on display in the British Museum (as seen above). The workmen who found it, meanwhile, managed to grab a coin each.

2. THE HOXNE HOARD

 
Found: 1992
Value: Approximately $3.8 million

Having lost his hammer in a field, farmer Peter Whatling called a friend with a metal detector to help him find it. Instead, he found treasure. Inside the oak chest was a collection of silver spoons, gold jewelry, and coins, all dating back to the 4th or 5th century CE. Whatling called in help, and archaeologists managed to find all sorts of other treasures buried in the same field, including Roman ladles and serving bowls.

The hoard was bought by the British Museum, though it was so valuable the museum had to call in funds from donors like the National Art Collections fund to afford it. As for the errant hammer? That’s now in the British Museum, too.

3. THE STAFFORDSHIRE HOARD

David Rowan, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0

 
Found: 2009
Value: Approximately $4.1 million

Terry Herbert was using his metal detector on a recently plowed field near Hammerwich in Staffordshire, when he stumbled across the largest trove of Anglo-Saxon treasure ever found. All told, the hoard included over 3500 items, most of which were military-related.

As well as weaponry, though, the hoard included several religious artifacts, and lots of decorative items. It’s tough to be exact, but the hoard is thought to date back to the 8th century, and has influenced the way historians think about that period in English history. Enough to make you rush out to buy a metal detector, isn’t it?

4. THE ŚRODA TREASURE

 
Found: 1985–1988
Value: Approximately $120 million

Back in 1985, an old building in the Polish town of Środa Śląska was being demolished ahead of renovation works when a vase was found beneath the foundation. Inside were more than 3000 silver coins, dating back to the 14th century.

A couple of years later, when another building nearby was knocked down, even more artifacts were uncovered, including lots more gold and silver coins and an array of jewelry, including a gold crown and a ring bearing the head of a dragon.

Although there’s clearly a lot of treasure there, experts have struggled to put an exact value on it, because nothing else quite like it really exists.

5. THE CAESAREA SUNKEN TREASURE

 
Found: 2015
Value: Priceless

Scuba divers exploring the seabed near the harbor of Caesarea National Park, Israel, thought they’d stumbled across a child’s toy when they found the first gold coin. But when they saw how many coins there were, and looked more closely at the engravings on them, they realized they’d found something pretty significant.

They reported their find to the Israel Antiquities Authority, and returned with metal detectors to search the area more thoroughly. In the end, nearly 2000 coins were recovered—the coins were of several different denominations, and had been minted at different times, sometime between the 10th and 12th centuries. (You can see a closer view of the coins in the top image.)

And so far, no one’s attached an exact value on the find, except to say that it’s so valuable, it’s essentially priceless.

6. THE PANAGYURISHTE TREASURE

 
Found: 1949
Value: Priceless

Brothers Pavel, Petko, and Michail Deikov were digging for clay at a tile factory near Panagyurishte, Bulgaria, when one of them stumbled across what he thought was a strange whistle. Further digging uncovered more objects, and when the brothers took their finds to the mayor’s office, they found that they were made of gold—and there were a lot more where they came from.

Actually, rather than being a whistle, the first thing they’d found turned out to be a ceremonial drinking horn, dating from the 4th century BCE. There were also golden decanters, a kind of dish, and a vase, all of which were thought to have been used in religious rites. All in all, they found more than 13 pounds of solid gold carved into elaborate shapes and intricately decorated.

7. THE BACTRIAN GOLD

A belt from Tillya Tepe. Image Credit: unknown via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

 
Found: 1978
Value: Priceless

The treasure found at Tillya Tepe, which has become known as the Bactrian gold, was recovered from six burial mounds. More than 20,000 gold ornaments were retrieved.

The treasure was dated between the 1st century BCE and the 1st century CE, and came from the burial sites of a nomadic prince and five women (possibly his wives). What’s particularly interesting about this hoard is that the treasures are so diverse, with objects from China, India, and Greece all mixed together. The jewelry is elaborate, set with precious stones of all colors.

Since the treasure was uncovered in the late '70s, it’s changed hands a number of times, especially when Afghanistan was invaded and the national museum, where the collection was kept, was looted in the Afghan-Russian war a few years later. It has since been recovered and is displayed at museums all around the world.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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technology
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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© Nintendo
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fun
Nintendo Will Release an $80 Mini SNES in September
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© Nintendo

Retro gamers rejoice: Nintendo just announced that it will be launching a revamped version of its beloved Super Nintendo Classic console, which will allow kids and grown-ups alike to play classic 16-bit games in high-definition.

The new SNES Classic Edition, a miniature version of the original console, comes with an HDMI cable to make it compatible with modern televisions. It also comes pre-loaded with a roster of 21 games, including Super Mario Kart, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Donkey Kong Country, and Star Fox 2, an unreleased sequel to the 1993 original.

“While many people from around the world consider the Super NES to be one of the greatest video game systems ever made, many of our younger fans never had a chance to play it,” Doug Bowser, Nintendo's senior vice president of sales and marketing, said in a statement. “With the Super NES Classic Edition, new fans will be introduced to some of the best Nintendo games of all time, while longtime fans can relive some of their favorite retro classics with family and friends.”

The SNES Classic Edition will go on sale on September 29 and retail for $79.99. Nintendo reportedly only plans to manufacture the console “until the end of calendar year 2017,” which means that the competition to get your hands on one will likely be stiff, as anyone who tried to purchase an NES Classic last year will well remember.

In November 2016, Nintendo released a miniature version of its original NES system, which sold out pretty much instantly. After selling 2.3 million units, Nintendo discontinued the NES Classic in April. In a statement to Polygon, the company has pledged to “produce significantly more units of Super NES Classic Edition than we did of NES Classic Edition.”

Nintendo has not yet released information about where gamers will be able to buy the new console, but you may want to start planning to get in line soon.

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