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Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images

7 of the Biggest Treasure Troves Ever Found

Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images
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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History
A Founder of Earth Day Looks Back on How It Began
Vivien Killilea/Getty Images for Caruso Affiliated
Vivien Killilea/Getty Images for Caruso Affiliated

On the very first Earth Day in 1970, Denis Hayes stood on a stage in Central Park, stunned by the number of people who'd come to honor the planet. Now in his 70s, Hayes remembers it was like looking at the ocean—“you couldn’t see where the sea of people ended.” Crowd estimates reached more than a million people.

For Hayes, who is now board chair of the international Earth Day Network, it was the culmination of a year’s worth of work. As an urban ecology graduate student at Harvard University, he’d volunteered to help organize a small initiative by Wisconsin senator Gaylord Nelson. Nelson was horrified by the 1969 oil spill in Santa Barbara, California, and wanted to raise awareness about environmental issues by holding teaching events similar to those being held by civil rights and anti-war activists.

Senator Nelson saw a growing disconnect between the concept of progress and the idea of American well-being, Hayes tells Mental Floss. “There was a sense that America was prosperous and getting better, but at the same time, the air in the country was similar to the air today in China, Mexico City, or New Delhi," Hayes says. "Rivers were catching on fire. Lakes were unswimmable.”

Nelson's plan for these environmental teach-ins was for speakers to educate college students about environmental issues. But he had no one to organize them. So Hayes, Nelson’s sole volunteer, took control on a national level, organizing teach-ins at Harvard first and then across the U.S. Initially, the response was tepid at best. “Rather rapidly it became clear that this wasn’t a hot issue at colleges and universities in 1969,” Hayes says. “We had a war raging, and civil rights were getting very emotional after the Nixon election.”

Still, both Hayes and Nelson noticed an influx of mail to the senator's office from women with young families worried about the environment. So instead of focusing on colleges, the two decided to take a different tactic, creating events with community-based organizations across the country, Hayes says. They also decided that rather than a series of teach-ins, they'd hold a single, nationwide teach-in on the same day. They called it Earth Day, and set a date: April 22.

Hayes now had a team of young adults working for the cause, and he himself had dropped out of school to tackle it full time. Long before social media, the project began to spread virally. “It just resonated,” he says. Women and smaller environmental-advocacy groups really hooked onto the idea, and word spread by mouth and by information passing between members of the groups.

Courtesy of Denis Hayes

With the cooperation and participation of grassroots groups and volunteers across the country, and a few lawmakers who supported the initiative, Hayes’ efforts culminated in the event on April 22, 1970.

Hayes started the day in Washington, D.C., where he and the staff were based. There was a rally and protest on the National Mall, though by that point Hayes had flown to New York, where Mayor John Lindsay provided a stage in Central Park. Parts of Fifth Avenue were shut down for the events, which included Earth-oriented celebrations, protests, and speeches by celebrities. Some of those attending the event even attacked nearby cars for causing pollution. After the rally, Hayes flew to Chicago for a smaller event.

“We had a sense that it was going to be big, but when the day actually dawned, the crowds were so much bigger than anyone had experienced before,” Hayes said. The event drew grassroots activists working on a variety of issues—Agent Orange, lead paint in poor urban neighborhoods, saving the whales—and fostered a sense of unity among them.

“There were people worrying about these [environmental] issues before Earth Day, but they didn’t think they had anything in common with one another," Hayes says. "We took all those individual strands and wove them together into the fabric of modern environmentalism.”

Hayes and his team spent the summer getting tear-gassed at protests against the American invasion of Cambodia, which President Nixon authorized just six days after Earth Day. But by fall, the team refocused on environmental issues—and elections. They targeted a “dirty dozen” members of Congress up for re-election who had terrible environmental records, and campaigned for candidates who championed environmental causes to run against them. They defeated seven out of 12.

“It was a very poorly funded but high-energy campaign,” Hayes says. “That sent the message to Congress that it wasn’t just a bunch of people out frolicking in the sunshine planting daisies and picking up litter. This actually had political chops.”

The early '70s became a golden age for environmental issues; momentum from the Earth Day movement spawned the creation of the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Environmental Education Act (which was initially passed in 1970 and revived in 1990), and the Environmental Protection Agency.

“We completely changed the framework within which America does business, more than any other period in history with the possible exception of the New Deal,” Hayes says. “But our little revolution was brought entirely from the grassroots up.”

In 1990, Hayes was at it again. He organized the first international Earth Day, with about 200 million participants across more than 140 countries. Since then it’s become a global phenomenon.

Despite its popularity, though, we still have a long way to go, even if the improvements Hayes fought for have made these issues feel more remote. Hayes noted that everything they were fighting in the '70s was something tangible—something you could see, taste, smell, or touch. Climate change can seem much less real—and harder to combat—to the average person who isn’t yet faced with its effects.

Hayes also notes that people have become more skeptical of science. “Historically, that has not been a problem in the United States. But today science is under attack.”

He warns, “This [anti-science sentiment] is something that could impoverish the next 50 generations and create really long-term devastation—that harms not only American health, but also American business, American labor, and American prospects.”

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13 Great Jack Nicholson Quotes
Kevin Winter/Getty Images for AFI
Kevin Winter/Getty Images for AFI

Jack Nicholson turns 81 today. Let's celebrate with some of the actor's wit and wisdom.

1. ON ADVICE

"I hate advice unless I'm giving it. I hate giving advice, because people won't take it."

From Esquire's "What I Learned"

2. ON REGRETS

"Not that I can think of. I’m sure there are some, but my mind doesn’t go there. When you look at life retrospectively you rarely regret anything that you did, but you might regret things that you didn’t do."

From an interview with The Talks

3. ON DEATH

"I'm Irish. I think about death all the time. Back in the days when I thought of myself as a serious academic writer, I used to think that the only real theme was a fear of death, and that all the other themes were just that same fear, translated into fear of closeness, fear of loneliness, fear of dissolving values. Then I heard old John Huston talking about death. Somebody was quizzing him about the subject, you know, and here he is with the open-heart surgery a few years ago, and the emphysema, but he's bounced back fit as a fiddle, and he's talking about theories of death, and the other fella says, 'Well, great, John, that's great ... but how am I supposed to feel about it when you pass on?' And John says, 'Just treat it as your own.' As for me, I like that line I wrote that, we used in The Border, where I said, 'I just want to do something good before I die.' Isn't that what we all want?"

From an interview with Roger Ebert

4. ON NERVES

''There's a period of time just before you start a movie when you start thinking, I don't know what in the world I'm going to do. It's free-floating anxiety. In my case, though, this is over by lunch the first day of shooting.''

From an interview with The New York Times

5. ON ACTING

"Almost anyone can give a good representative performance when you're unknown. It's just easier. The real pro game of acting is after you're known—to 'un-Jack' that character, in my case, and get the audience to reinvest in a new and specific, fictional person."

From an interview with The Age

6. ON MARRIAGE

"I never had a policy about marriage. I got married very young in life and I always think in all relationships, I've always thought that it's counterproductive to have a theory on that. It's hard enough to get to know yourself and as most of you have probably found, once you get to know two people in tandem it's even more difficult. If it's going to be successful, it's going to have to be very specific and real and immediate so the more ideas you have about it before you start, it seems to me the less likely you are to be successful."

From an interview with About.com

7. ON LYING

“You only lie to two people in your life: your girlfriend and the police. Everybody else you tell the truth to.”

From a 1994 interview with Vanity Fair

8. ON HIS SUNGLASSES

"They're prescription. That's why I wear them. A long time ago, the Middle American in me may have thought it was a bit affected maybe. But the light is very strong in southern California. And once you've experienced negative territory in public life, you begin to accept the notion of shields. I am a person who is trained to look other people in the eye. But I can't look into the eyes of everyone who wants to look into mine; I can't emotionally cope with that kind of volume. Sunglasses are part of my armor."

From Esquire's "What I Learned"

9. ON MISCONCEPTIONS

"I think people think I'm more physical than I am, I suppose. I'm not really confrontational. Of course, I have a temper, but that's sort of blown out of proportion."

From an interview with ESPN

10. ON DIRECTING

"I'm a different person when suddenly it's my responsibility. I'm not very inhibited in that way. I would show up [on the set of The Two Jakes] one day, and we'd scouted an orange grove and it had been cut down. You're out in the middle of nowhere and they forget to cast an actor. These are the sort of things I kind of like about directing. Of course, at the time you blow your stack a little bit. ... I'm a Roger Corman baby. Just keep rolling, baby. You've got to get something on there. Maybe it's right. Maybe it's wrong. Maybe you can fix it later. Maybe you can't. You can't imagine the things that come up when you're making a movie where you've got to adjust on the spot."

From an interview with MTV

11. ON ROGER CORMAN

"There's nobody in there, that he didn't, in the most important way support. He was my life blood to whatever I thought I was going to be as a person. And I hope he knows that this is not all hot air. I'm going to cry now."

From the documentary Corman's World

12. ON PLAYING THE JOKER

"This would be the character, whose core—while totally determinate of the part—was the least limiting of any I would ever encounter. This is a more literary way of approaching than I might have had as a kid reading the comics, but you have to get specific. ... He's not wired up the same way. This guy has survived nuclear waste immersion here. Even in my own life, people have said, 'There's nothing sacred to you in the area of humor, Jack. Sometimes, Jack, relax with the humor.' This does not apply to the Joker, in fact, just the opposite. Things even the wildest comics might be afraid to find funny: burning somebody's face into oblivion, destroying a masterpiece in a museum—a subject as an art person even made me a little scared. Not this character. And I love that."

From The Making of Batman

13. ON BASKETBALL

"I've always thought basketball was the best sport, although it wasn't the sport I was best at. It was just the most fun to watch. ... Even as a kid it appealed to me. The basketball players were out at night. They had great overcoats. There was this certain nighttime juvenile-delinquent thing about it that got your blood going."

From Esquire's "What I Learned"

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