Spring is one of the best times for those using metal detectors to look for ancient treasure as farm work often ends up unearthing more than old roots. While one might be tempted to dig up the treasure oneself, it could considerably lower the eventual finder's fee.
The government paid out €85,000 in finder's fees last year, with €65,000 going to two detectorists who unearthed a treasure consisting of 2,000 coins from the time of the Great Northern War. It is the second largest finder's fee ever paid in Estonia.
"Great Northern War coins fetch a good price to begin with, while this is only the fifth treasure from that era that has been handed over to the state this century. Treasure is found all the time, while artefacts from certain periods immediately end up on the black market," said Mauri Kiudsoo, curator of the Tallinn University numismatic collection.
Nele Kangert, archeological adviser for the National Heritage Board, said that black detectorism and the devastation of archeological heritage are serious problems in Estonia. That is why the finder's behavior is always taken into account when determining the finder's fee. The experienced detectorists who found the Virumaa treasure two years ago notified heritage protection immediately after finding the first coins.
"Archeologists got the chance to do field work with the detectorists that allowed us to recover the bottom of the treasure – an old cauldron – with some of the coins still intact," Kangert said.
Kiudsoo had an example of why it is always a good idea to call in the experts instead of digging oneself. A Viking-era silver treasure from near Raasiku that fetched the finder €100,000.
"The treasure was buried at a former cemetery, an investment in the afterlife. Had the finder dug it up, we would never have learned that background," Kiudsoo said.
Heiko Vaalundi, who has been a detectorist for four years, said that this is among the best times for the work as spring tillage helps unearth treasures, whereas a disced field is better for finding artefacts than a plowed one.
"The old-timers say that everything has been found by now, while every new year, every plowing season brings new finds," he said.
Vaalundi's most valuable find has been a 250-gram silver torc found last fall and still being studied by archeologists. The piece of jewelry is likely from the 13th century.
"I found this one item and was told by the landowner that the patch had been sown. I left the field and notified heritage protection, and that was that. I'm waiting for the patch to be mowed again so I can go back and check.
Editor: Marcus Turovski