Lured by gold, treasure hunters scour beaches with metal detectors

The Associated Press ~ staff The News
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Last summer Roy Evans, history buff, outdoorsman and amateur treasure hunter, set off in search of buried riches.

Last summer Roy Evans, history buff, outdoorsman and amateur treasure hunter, set off in search of buried riches.

Five hours a day, he scoured the fine, white sands of Georgias Tybee Island and within a week hed struck gold: 23 separate pieces including two crosses, 12 rings, a handful of medallions and broaches and one chain necklace a bounty worth several thousand dollars at least.

It was amazing, what I found that week, said Evans, of Greer, S.C. It might have been a new record for me.

But the loot wasnt buried by pirates. The jewelry, like countless other valuables all over the country, was lost by distracted and forgetful sunbathers, tucked into a shoe or under a corner of a beach blanket before a swim only to be misplaced in the confusion at the end of the day. To cash in, Evans needed only luck, a little patience and his trusty MineLab metal detector.

This summer, amateur treasure hunters predict the beaches will be filled with people just like Evans. Lured by the skyrocketing price of gold now well over US$900 for about 30 grams and the thrill of serendipity, new would-be treasure diggers are joining the ranks of experienced beach metal detectionists, as they call themselves, in what might be a modern-day gold rush.

Gone are the days when most of the beep-beep-beeps meant digging a big pit only to pull out a penny or crushed soda pop can, said Stu Copperwheat, president of the Electronic Archaeological Recovery Treasure Hunters club of central New York state. Metal detection technology has improved considerably over the past decade and todays machines are sensitive enough to tell the difference between gold and platinum, nickel and quarter, necklace and kabob skewer.

The detectors run from US$800 to several thousand dollars, but unlike other specialized hobby equipment, metal detectors almost always pay for themselves, Copperwheat said. You find one or two valuable things and theres the price of your machine.

While most serious detectionists arent primarily gold seekers the most prized finds are historical relics like 18th century coins or Civil War uniform buttons buried in the woods and fields of former battlegrounds beaches do hold a particular appeal, Copperwheat said. A detectionist might search and dig all day on a buggy, hot field and find nothing but rocks, but rarely do beach hunters come away empty-handed. Plus its fun and easy to shovel light, loosely packed sand amid volleyball games and barbecuing families.

Evans himself switched entirely to beaches for his treasure hunting about 15 years ago, when he just got too old to fool around with picks and mosquitoes and snakes on Revolutionary War battlefields. The change has proved to be a lucrative one: all told hes found 150 diamond rings on beaches, including two that were appraised for nearly US$4,000 each.

And those are just the engagement rings; unfortunate beach-goers lose all kinds of jewelry. If its made of precious metal, Evans has found it in the sand: class rings, confirmation rings, earrings, necklaces ... even a few solid gold false teeth.

Evans said hes motivated in part by the adventure of the hunt and the money, but also by sympathy for what others have lost. It must be a real heartache, losing something that means so much, he said.

Sometimes initialled or inscribed memorabilia provide enough clues to track down an owner most metal detector enthusiasts tell stories of triumphantly reuniting former high school football stars or Vietnam veterans with their class rings and dog tags but most baubles found on beaches are plain and unmarked.

The goal is always to try to return something, said Ross Soderberg, of the Great Lakes Metal Detector Group. But stuff with no name on it, well, thats just too tough to find the owner.

Organizations: Electronic Archaeological Recovery Treasure Hunters, Great Lakes Metal Detector Group

Geographic location: Georgias Tybee Island, Greer, S.C., New York Vietnam

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