In a field behind a village pub, a keen detectorist is scanning the ground in search of buried treasure. Suddenly, his machine sounds the alarm, indicating the presence of artifacts. Hope rises once again: this time, has he stumbled upon every enthusiast’s dream – a valuable stash that’s worth its weight in gold?
This was the scenario that played out on July 26, 2020, in the tiny village of Lindsey in the English county of Suffolk. That day, 40-year-old Luke Mahoney met up with his friends, Matt Brown and Dan Hunt, to search a field located close to the Lindsey Rose pub. But what he discovered was more than any of them had expected.
For years, Mahoney has searched the fields around Lindsey, hoping to stumble upon a find that would make all his hard work worthwhile. In fact, the pub landlord has grown used to his enthusiasm for buried treasure. But up until recently, the valuable haul of which all detectorists dream had continued to elude him.
Then, Mahoney caught his lucky break. Behind the Lindsey Rose pub, his metal detector led him to an incredible cache of historic coins. Numbering more than 1,000, some of them date all the way back to Elizabethan times. Meanwhile, others were minted around the time of the English Civil War.
Excited by their discovery, Mahoney and his companions rushed to share the news with the landlord of the Lindsey Rose. And for several nights afterwards, they kept a vigil in case looters moved in on their precious find. Eventually, the truth that they suspected was confirmed – they had stumbled upon a small fortune buried beneath this Suffolk field.
Of course, Mahoney and his friends were far from the first people to uncover treasure in the British countryside. In fact, one of the largest hoards of coins ever discovered in Britain was the result of the work of dedicated detectorists. Back in 2019 enthusiasts Adam Staples and Lisa Grace had made their own startling find in the Chew Valley region of Somerset in south-west England.
At the time, Staples and Grace had been teaching a group of friends how to use their metal-detecting equipment. Then, part of the way through the session, the beeps began to sound. After an exhausting day uncovering relic after relic from the site, the group had managed to unearth more than 2,500 Norman coins.
At the time, Grace and Staples’ discovery was valued at an astonishing £5 million – the equivalent of $6.5 million. However, artifacts don’t have to date all the way back to the 11th century to be worth a fortune. For example, in November 2018 detectorist Michelle Vall made an incredible find while on a visit to Scotland’s Loch Lomond.
There, on the shores of the lake, Vall uncovered a gold ring believed to date to the 17th century. And although she was not able to sell it to the Scottish government, her discovery eventually fetched over £17,000 at auction. After further research, the vendors had determined that the piece had probably once belonged to Edward Colman, who had worked as a bodyguard to King Charles II.
Even more recently, in August 2020 a young boy struck gold while using his new metal detector for the first time. After receiving the device for his birthday, ten-year-old Fionntan Hughes took it out for a test run close to his home in County Tyrone, Northern Ireland. And before long, he had uncovered a sword believed to date from the 18th century.
Although the exact history and value of Hughes’ discovery is yet to be determined, it seems likely that the boy will now have a hobby for life. In fact, Mahoney has likened the appeal of metal detecting to fishing, where enthusiasts chase the thrill of landing a record catch.
Presumably, it’s this love of the chase that has kept Mahoney engaged in his search for buried treasure year after year. For the last decade, he has been a fan of metal detecting and has even traveled to foreign countries in order to indulge his passion there. And when he moved to Lindsey back in 2015, he brought his hobby with him.
In fact, Mahoney is so obsessed with the world of metal detecting that he runs his own store, Joan Allen Electrics, supplying equipment to fellow enthusiasts. Speaking to the Daily Mail newspaper in August 2020, he even encouraged others to take up the hobby. “If you think you have a bit of Indiana Jones in you, you should do it,” he told its website.
By July 2020 Mahoney had begun taking his metal detector to the field behind the Lindsey Rose pub. And soon, all his hard work would prove worthwhile. On the morning of the 26th, he was joined by Brown and Hunt, and the three men began scanning their equipment over the recently-harvested field.
Even from the beginning, it seems, the trio were off to a good start. “We did some detecting in the morning and found a beautiful gold coin and a little sixpence,” Mahoney told the Daily Mail. Then, it being a Sunday, they retreated to the Lindsey Rose for a traditional pub lunch.
Their appetites sated, the three men returned to the field for another session with their trusty detectors. “Almost immediately I hit a signal and I pulled out this Charles I coin,” Mahoney explained. “Then I hit another signal, then another.” Before long, the trio realized that they had stumbled upon something big.
Using a specially designed shovel made from stainless steel, Mahoney began to dig. And as he did, a number of hammered, silver coins emerged from beneath the ground. “They were everywhere,” the detectorist said. “It was pandemonium. After ten minutes I hit this massive signal and I thought, ‘This is it.’”
Eventually, Mahoney’s shovel uncovered an earthenware vessel that had been buried underground for hundreds of years. And inside, they found even more treasure just waiting to be revealed. “We dug and saw the pot,” he said. “That feeling of scraping the dirt away and seeing the coins is indescribable.”
Overjoyed at the find, Mahoney reached out to Charlie Buckle, the landlord of the Lindsey Rose. Having just finished his own Sunday lunch, the 25-year-old was skeptical at first. In an interview with the Daily Mail, he explained, “Luke gets quite excited about everything he finds, so at first I was like, ‘Yeah, sure.’ But then he kept ringing me and told me I had to come down and see what he had found.”
In England, it is a legal requirement for detectorists to declare any finds to the local authorities. And so, Mahoney duly reported his discovery to the coroner, as well as the region’s finds liaison officer. However, the excitement was far from over, and he spent the next two nights keeping watch over his historic haul.
But what exactly was Mahoney afraid of in this bucolic English village? Apparently, Britain’s detectorists are at war with illegal scavengers known as nighthawks. Up and down the country, it seems, these unscrupulous treasure hunters are known for looting historic sites such as Hadrian’s Wall. Could the Lindsey hoard be the next on their list?
“I had to stay up because I didn’t want other people going into the fields and stealing the coins,” Mahoney told The Daily Telegraph newspaper in August 2020. “I was getting an hour nap here and there for around two nights in a row. These nighthawks are professional thieves who make their living by waiting for detectorists to leave the field and scavenge anything that’s left over.”
Apparently, Mahoney feared that nighthawks would raid his stash in order to sell the coins on the black market. And so, he turned vigilante in order to protect his find. Speaking to the Daily Mail, he said, “I waited in my car watching all night making sure no one tried to sneak in and take the hoard. Even now I am a bit paranoid.”
Shockingly, Mahoney’s fears appear to have been well-founded. Some days after the initial discovery, the detectorist discovered a discarded headphone casing in the field behind the Lindsey Rose pub. To him, it was evidence that someone had snuck into the field in an attempt to steal the valuable cache of treasure.
Currently, experts are still working to determine the exact age and history of the coins. However, it’s believed that they were buried intentionally around the time of the English Civil War. Lasting from 1642 until 1651, this conflict saw Royalists, also known as Cavaliers, battling the pro-Parliament Roundheads for control of the country.
As the war raged on, both sides were obliged to conscript members of the local populace to assist their cause. And in Lindsey, experts believe, one particularly wealthy citizen found themselves called upon to fight. Hoping to protect their riches, they hid them inside an earthenware container and buried them in the field that now borders the Lindsey Rose pub.
Their fortune safely hidden away, it seems, the owner of the coins went off to fight in the war. But sadly, they never returned to dig up their buried treasure. Given that in excess of 180,000 people are thought to have died in the conflict, it seems likely that they met with a bloody end before they could return home and reclaim their riches.
For centuries, the container full of coins remained hidden, resting just feet beneath the surface of the field. It’s possible that recently a piece of ploughing machinery had struck the still-buried pot, causing it to crack. After that, it was only a matter of time before a detectorist like Mahoney uncovered the valuable stash.
According to Mahoney, the oldest coin amongst the cache is a shilling from the Elizabethan era, believed to date from between 1573 and 1578. However, much of the collection is made up of half crowns minted in the reign of Charles I, between 1641 and 1643. As such, they were likely issued during the early stages of the civil war.
Interestingly, this connection could make the coins particularly significant to any collectors. During the civil war, the Royalist cause needed a constant supply of cash in order to secure the loyalty of its troops. And so, temporary mints were set up inside four English castles located in Carlisle, Pontefract, Newark and Scarborough.
There, craftsmen repurposed precious metals such as silver and melted them down, creating coins. Meanwhile, the official royal mint was moved to Oxford along with the rest of Charles’ court. As such, currency issued during this period comes with a fascinating history that could boost its value to potential buyers.
According to Nigel Mills, an expert in valuation, each Charles I coin in the Lindsey hoard could fetch as much as £75 at auction. However, if the seller can prove a connection to a specific historical event, they would be worth a lot more. In fact, he believes that Mahoney’s find has the potential to rake in an astonishing amount.
Currently, Mills estimates that the stash of coins discovered behind the Lindsey Rose pub is worth something in the region of £100,000 – the equivalent of $130,000. For an amateur detectorist like Mahoney, it’s the sort of windfall of which dreams are made. However, he does not seem to have let success go to his head.
“I want the coins to go to a local museum,” Mahoney told The Telegraph in August 2020, “and the money from their sale as a little something for me and my two friends, Dan Hunt and Matt Brown, who found them with me.” Under U.K. law, the men will need to split any profits with the owner of the land, but they will still pocket a decent reward.
Meanwhile, Mahoney has credited his favorite piece of equipment, the Minelab Equinox 800, as the secret to his success. “I knew the other nighthawks wouldn’t find anything because they weren’t using the same detectors as us – they weren’t using the Minelab detectors,” he told the Daily Mail.
Manufactured by the Australian electronics company Minelab, the Equinox 800 is one of the most advanced machines on the market. In fact, according to Mahoney, it works so well that he never uses an alternative piece of kit. “You switch it on and it does all the work for you,” he explained. “It would be able to tell me a piece of metal in the ground was a key, for example.”
Over at Minelab, the team was delighted to hear about Mahoney’s once-in-a-lifetime find – and optimistic about what he might uncover in the future. Speaking to the Daily Mail, Michelle Meyers, the company’s Vice President of Global Marketing, explained, “When we first found out about Luke’s discovery we knew he was on to something.”
“He told us he’d been using one of our metal detectors and the whole Minelab team were thrilled for him, we knew what an incredible feeling unearthing a find like this is,” Meyers continued. “Luke is a seasoned metal detectorist and knows what to do but we immediately offered our help in making sure he had access to the proper authorities in the U.K.”
On this note, Meyers had a few words of caution for anyone wishing to follow in Mahoney’s footsteps. “Starting your journey to becoming a metal detectorist is very easy and very rewarding, but you must follow the laws in your own country. In the U.K. that means abiding by the Treasure Act 1996 and reporting all finds,” she said.
Finally, Meyers explained that the team was looking forward to seeing what else Mahoney might discover using his trusty detector. But will his windfall inspire others to take to the fields of Suffolk and beyond? After all, there is no telling how many stashes such as this one are out there just waiting to be discovered.