The avid treasure hunter stared slack-jawed at the glimmering metal on the ground. Had he actually found something?
But just when he thought he’d made a dramatic discovery, the real drama came storming over from the other side of the field. He was going to have to fight to keep what was his.
Terry Herbert was obsessed with treasure hunting. He allowed his friends to make fun of him for it because, in his heart of hearts, he knew he wasn’t likely to find anything valuable.
Using a $3 metal detector that he picked up at a trunk sale, the adventurous Brit would often come across old cans or bottle tops – and it gave him a real thrill every time. But what he would eventually turn up would soon wipe the smirks off his friends’ faces.
One fateful afternoon, Terry found himself running out of places to search close to his Hammerwich home. He’d scoured most of the village and was desperate for fresh turf to explore.
After several pleas, Terry’s friend Fred Johnson eventually agreed to humor him and gave permission to expand his hunt onto the private fields of his farm. Just a few days sweeping, his detector started beeping.
Terry stared long and hard at the ground. He was used to finding all manner of trash and useless things on the ground, but this looked very different.
He wanted to stay in this state of excitement for as long as possible. The moment he bent down to investigate what he’d found, the dream would be over. But he just couldn’t wait, Terry had to take a look at his discovery.
When Terry picked up the object, he had no idea what he was looking at. The ornamental piece shone brightly in the late-afternoon sun – even after cleaning the dirt off it, it was a strange-looking find.
But before he could work out what it was, he saw Farmer Johnson marching across the field towards him. And he didn’t look happy.
“What’s that?” asked Fred abruptly. He wasn’t well-known in the village for his sunny disposition. The pair studied the piece, and they were both thinking the same thing. Was this gold?
They both agreed to take the object to a historian, but not before the farmer reminded Terry that the land on which it has been found belonged to him. If this was treasure, was Terry going to have to hand it over with nothing in return?
Sure enough, Terry had discovered something very valuable indeed. After reporting the find to the authorities, an archeological team returned to the farm and unearthed a further 3,900 pieces. It was later named as the largest collection of Anglo-Saxon treasures in British history.
There were ornate fragments of swords, helmets, and intricate jewelry, all of the highest quality. But over the next few days, Terry would lose something arguably more valuable.
“Terry was never a friend, so I haven’t lost any friends,” Fred claimed after the pair fell out over what he claims was Terry being too “greedy.”
But Terry didn’t feel that way at all. “It does hurt my feelings that he has taken this stance,” he said. “Now, I’m not sure there is anything we can do to patch things up. Sometimes I wish I’d never found that hoard!” And it didn’t help that the find they were arguing over was worth an astonishing amount.
According to Terry, Fred wanted all the money for himself as he considered the fact that he owned the land on which the ancient gold and silver was discovered meant he was entitled to more of the cash. “Now he’s resentful he has had to share it. He’s acting like a child and cutting his nose off to spite his face.”
Eventually, the pair agreed to split the fee for the treasure down the middle when a few different museums offered to buy it up and the former friends went their separate ways. But their fiery feud would soon be reignited.
The Staffordshire Hoard was eventually valued at $4.3 million – making both Terry and Fred millionaires. But the situation became complicated again recently when even more treasure was discovered on Fred’s land and Terry claimed he was owed a percentage.
Now an inquest must decide if the 90 new pieces are part of the original treasure collection before it can be decided if Terry is entitled to any of it – which is likely to be worth hundreds of thousands more. But if Fred had his way, no one would be allowed to search on his land ever again.
“Some people would write to me asking permission to search, but I’d chuck the letters in the fire,” Fred said, before eventually allowing experts working on behalf of Staffordshire County Council and English Heritage to continue the hunt.
“The money was a plus but seeing the treasure coming out of the ground was a wonderful experience,” he added. But Terry believes there may be something supernatural about the treasure.
Despite now being a very rich man, Terry has called the colossal find a “curse” after what it did to the pair’s relationship, but is happy with his windfall which he considers “more fun than winning the lottery.”
Should Terry still be entitled to new discoveries on Fred’s land? Or has he already made enough from the hoard?