On an average soggy day, while most people are perhaps watching television at home, he was out in a field waving his machine left and right inches over the grassy soil. He’d been well used to the bad weather due to his hobby. Still, he enjoyed the methodical back and forth motions. Suddenly, a furiously loud beeping wakened his wandering mind…
Mike Smith is an avid history lover, who had been fascinated in finding buried treasure since childhood. The games he played when he was young were centered around finding hidden things, be it person like “hide and seek” or treats like “Easter egg hunts.” The anticipation in searching can be as exciting as the ultimate discovery. But it’s not a hobby for everyone.
Often, the rewards from finding buried things are pretty minimal and sometimes you can find nothing at all. In fact, the chance of finding something noteworthy is as likely as winning the lottery, unless you count old pennies. Even so, the addictive hope of a big find urged Mike to keep searching on those rainy, wet days in Pembrokeshire, Wales. But this particular day was not a penny-finding day.
To his dismay, Mike found his favorite field was entirely waterlogged due to the week’s steady downpour. He moved to a field nearby and swept his metal detector in a wide arc over the field. When he heard a loud beep, Mike was puzzled at first and thought maybe his machine was faulty. Little did he know, there, just underneath his feet, something amazing was lying in wait.
To find out what was buried in the ground, Mike began to dig the wet dirt using his trowel. He soon saw a round rusted piece of metal sticking out from the soil. He uncovered it with his hands and then pulled with all his might, but the metal wouldn’t budge however hard he pulled. He dug further around the mysterious item and saw that it was attached to something strange.
Mike found a second iron link, and then a third, and the links seemed to go on and on, deeper into the earth. Just then, Mike realized that the object was getting more and more difficult to see as it was getting darker and darker. More frustratingly, he hadn’t brought a flashlight. The mystery would have to wait to be unveiled.
That night, Mike barely slept a wink. Speculation coursed through his mind… What could possibly be attached to the old chain? What if it was something terrible? Mike knew that Pembrokeshire, surrounded by the Celtic Sea, was a land of ancient myth and legend, which had been described in the famous 11th-century folktales collection, The Mabinogion. What Mike didn’t know was that he was about to come face-to-face with a part of Wales’ awful past.
At first light, Mike was already well on his way to the field. He had to reveal the secret that had lain undisturbed for so long under the soil. The spot was just as he had left it, and Mike went on digging with some trepidation. As more of the mysterious object started to reveal itself, Mike, eyes widened, realized something smooth, hard, and brown. Then a chill went up his spine.
Turning the object over in his hands, Mike was horrified to find out that the mysterious item seemed to be a tooth – a molar, to be precise. As a metal detecting hobbyist, Mike was all-too-familiar with the law, but this object was really something out of his depth. In trepidation, he dropped his tools at once, pulled out his phone, and dialed with shaking fingers.
Mike called the officials at the National Museum Of Wales, but their reaction wasn’t quite what he had expected – they laughed down the line at him. “What the archaeologists said at the time was that because there had never been a find down here before, they didn’t believe it,” Mike said later. But the officials’ attitude changed instantly when he told them what might be there.
Mike thought there may be human remains at the field. The officials then arrived at the location immediately. “The look on their faces when they saw it said it all,” Mike recalled. Only then was an excavation launched. Archaeologists unearthed two rusted iron chariot wheels, which proved that the area held a phenomenal find – a Celtic chariot burial. But that wasn’t all that Mike had found.
“My first find was a Celtic horse harness junction piece,” Mike said. After he dug about eight inches deeper into the soil, Mike uncovered many other decorative pieces, including the handle section of tools, a brooch, and bronze bridle fittings covered in bright red enamel. “This is unprecedented, and underneath the chariot, there is still the three-meter metal anomaly.”
The three-meter anomaly was a chariot that was estimated to be about 2,500 years old. But no human remains have yet been found. The tooth found belonged to a horse that was presumably buried with the chariot. Speculation remains as to whether a chieftain was buried with the find, as chiefs in the Iron Age were often buried with their chariot, horses, and even their weapons.
Mike had only ever heard of news of burial chariots being unearthed in Europe, but in England, there had never been one found before. “I’ve read other people’s finds. I’ve watched them on telly, and I’ve always thought, I wouldn’t mind finding that, it’s still surreal, and life-changing. I still can’t believe it.” Mike added, “I’d just wished it could have been me.” But now the treasure found is under legal protection.
The site was segregated from the public, and ground penetrating radar detected something out of a science fiction movie. Researchers revealed a 12m circular earthwork, known as a ring ditch, around the burial. Two other burials were also found in ring ditches. Soon, a complex of walls and other features appeared, and it’s now believed to be a Celtic settlement. The question on everyone’s mind now is: how much is it worth?
Adam Gwilt, the museum’s principal curator of prehistoric archaeology, said: “These chariot pieces may have been witness to some of the historical events of the time, as Iron Age peoples defended their ways of life and identities, in the face of an expanding Roman empire. Something like this takes a lot of organization and funding as well so we’ve been working with a number of partners to put together what’s needed to do a continuing investigation.”
“You’re definitely talking six or seven figures,” Mike said. “It’s the biggest ever metal detecting find, as there’s never been a chariot ever discovered by a metal detectorist. There have been hoards found, but never anything like this.” The discovery was expected to land up to £1 million or more.
These treasures have become a most sought after prize now, and the National Museum Of Wales desperately wanted to secure them for its archives. As stated by the law, Mike had to sell all the artifacts he had found to the museum. Of course, he was well paid for them, but there was one catch – he had to split the money straight down the line, 50/50 with the owner of the land that he found them in.