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800-Year-Old Buried Treasure Found By Trainee Detectorist

How's that for a first week on the job?


Dr. Katie Spalding

Katie has a PhD in maths, specializing in the intersection of dynamical systems and number theory.

Freelance Writer

Byzantine gold earrings found in Germany, with scale

These earrings appear to follow the Byzantine goldsmithing tradition. Image Credit: © ALSH

We’ve all been there: you put your keys, glasses, or some loose change down, only to completely forget where you left it within a few moments. Usually, it’s nothing to write home about – but for one person, traveling through what is now the very north of Germany about 800 years ago, it couldn’t have been more significant.

A treasure hoard, comprising around 30 silver coins and a collection of elaborate gold and gold-plated jewelry, has been discovered close to the World Heritage Site of Haithabu-Danewerk. Originally a Viking trading center, the settlement of Haithabu was destroyed in 1066 – and it was after this point that the unknown traveler buried their loot at the site.


Originally left in a fabric bag, the artifacts were moved around over time thanks to agricultural activity over the centuries. Presumably, whoever it was had every intention of retrieving the treasure at some point – but, like so many squirrels, they never returned. Instead, centuries later, the hoard was discovered by chance during a metal detector training session.

Most eye-catching among the ancient gold jewelry was a pair of elaborate gold earrings, set with stones in various colors and shapes. Likely dating to after 1100, they appear to follow the Byzantine goldsmithing tradition – techniques which would have originated thousands of kilometers away from where the hoard was located.

Other finds include gold and gold-plated brooches – one of which has been designed in imitation of an Almohad gold dinar, an Islamic coin dating from between 1147 and 1269. While the Almohad Caliphate covered a vast expanse of North Africa and Southern Spain, the piece has clearly been absorbed into the local Scandinavian tradition: it has been converted into a robe clasp to follow the northern European fashions of the time.

As well as another gold brooch, this time in the shape of a ring, two gold-plated rings for fingers, and a once gold-plated disc, the treasure also included a collection of silver coins. While heavily fragmented, these were crucial to dating the finds: an initial inspection revealed that they date from the reign of the Danish king Waldemar II, who ruled between 1202 and 1241.


The collection was likely buried in the first half of the 13th century, experts at the Archaeological State Office of Schleswig-Holstein concluded – making the hoard almost exactly 800 years old. Now properly reported to the local archeological authorities, the discovery stands as another success of the long-term citizen science project in the area, officials say.

“Thanks to the commitment of the detectorists, the artefacts still in the ground can be better protected,” the statement from the Archaeological State Office of Schleswig-Holstein notes. “However, it's not just about finding. Rather, [we] also [aim] to preserve artefacts and their surroundings.”

“Preserving the historical references to the landscape is important as it allows the viewer to empathize with history,” they conclude.


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