While walking their dog, a California couple found a hidden treasure lying in plain sight when they discovered eight cans containing some 1,400 gold coins dating back to the Gold Rush. Now known as the Saddle Ridge Treasure, the trove is worth an estimated $10 million.
A dirty pile of rusty cans is certainly an unlikely location for such a massive windfall. But there is a long history of other valuable finds, discovered completely by dumb luck, that shows big things really can be found hiding in small places.
In 1992, Peter Whatling lost his hammer. While searching for it with friend Eric Lawes, who had a metal detector, they instead stumbled upon an old oak box that held roughly $5 million in ancient treasure.
Thanks to the efforts of archaeologists, who took the lead on the excavation after Whatling and Lawes alerted authorities of their initial discovery, the treasure trove yielded gold jewellery, silver spoons and nearly 15,000 Roman-era coins. All of the items were carefully packed within a series of small wooden boxes within the larger chest, though the reason the hoard was hidden remains unknown.
In yet another farmer's field in Staffordshire, England, Terry Herbert, unemployed, though in full possession of a metal detector, would stumble upon the largest stock of Anglo-Saxon treasure ever found in a single location.
Consisting of approximately 3,500 pieces generally dating back to the 17th century, the collection likely belonged to a military outfit, rather than a household, given the lack of domestic objects. The treasure trove includes golden sword hilts, early Christian crosses and jewels intended to be embedded in armor or weaponry. In total, the hoard was worth nearly $5.5 million.
On April 11, 2010, 63-year-old Dave Crisp patrolled a farmer's field near Frome in Somerset, England with a metal detector when he heard what he described as a "funny noise." Inspecting further to see what his detector had turned up, Crisp spotted a ceramic container with a small coin at the very top. After more digging, Crisp unearthed what would be the largest trove of Roman coins ever discovered in one place.
In total, Crisp uncovered more than 52,000 silver and bronze coins dating to the third century. The entire collection is currently housed at the Museum of Somerset in Taunton.
In 1912, a shepherd boy in Mala Pereshchepina, Ukraine tripped on the protruding edge of what turned out to be a golden vessel. The vessel itself led the way to a larger hoard at what is believed to be the grave of Khan Kurbat, also known as the founder of Bulgaria.
Further excavations yielded more than 800 items, including ornate weaponry, Kurbat's signet ring, gold and silver jewelery, gemstones and an elaborately crafted rhyton in the shape of a bull.
A bad habit as much as good fortune was responsible for the discovery of a trove of some 15,000 small gold pieces tracing back some 4,500 years.
In 2005, archaeologists in central Bulgaria taking a break off a dig stopped by a local shop in Dabene to buy cigarettes. Admiring a necklace composed of gold rings around the store clerk's neck, the archaeologists asked about its origin. The clerk's husband, a farmer, found them while plowing his fields, she replied.
The researchers later found that those same fields were once a primitive graveyard to a group described as "proto-Thracians." In addition to the gold, they also found bronze artifacts and pottery.
Assaf Peretz, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority
An archaeological dig isn't exactly an unexpected place to find ancient treasure. But finding a cache of coins and other valuables in an ancient Byzantine garbage pit was something excavators didn't expect.
A hoard of 400 Byzantine coins, 200 intact Samaritan lamps and gold jewelery dating back to between the fifth and seventh centuries was discovered at a site near the ancient city of Apollonia-Arsuf at a site north of Tel Aviv. The treasure was sprawled throughout an ancient garbage pit filled with animal bones, pottery, glass fragments and more.
One of the most well-known sculptures in the art world, the Venus de Milo, may have been lost to history had it not been for the good fortune of one farmer named Yorgos Kentrotas.
On April 8, 1820, on the Aegean island of Melos, Kentrotas was scavenging for stones at an ancient site when he uncovered the Venus statue, which had been broken into several pieces. An ensign with the French navy, Olivier Voutier had been on the island searching for Greek antiquities and helped unearth the sculpture.
Another French naval officer, Jules Dumont d'Urville, later joined Voutier, and later claimed that the statue's arms were broken in a melee to prevent Ottoman Turks from acquiring it, a fabrication, as the complete arms were in fact never found.
Perhaps the modern-day equivalent of the Venus de Milo find is the discovery of this bronze statue of Apollo off the coast of Gaza. Last August, a Palestinian fisherman named Jawdat Abu Ghurab discovered the statue during a dive while fishing, originally believing it to be a corpse until he touched the face and discovered it felt more like stone, according to BBC News. After an initially unsuccessful attempt to haul in the statue, Ghurab returned with relatives to assist and hauled the statue from the depths.
Although Ghurab at first intended to sell the statue, unfortunately for both him and the art world at large, the statue was taken by militants last year and hasn't been seen in public since.