A metal detectorist spent two nights guarding the hoard of £100,000 worth of silver civil war coins he had discovered for fear that “nighthawks” would steal the trove if he went home.
Luke Mahoney, 40, was scouring for precious metals near the Lindsey Rose Pub in Ipswich with two friends last Sunday morning when he found a “beautiful” gold coin and a sixpence on the field.
They took a break for lunch and returned to the site to find that a plough had cracked a clay earthenware pot buried 2ft beneath the ground.
By the end of the afternoon, Mr Mahoney, who has been metal detecting for more than a decade, was “delighted” to have helped unearth 1,078 silver, hammered coins, including some possibly dating back to the 15th century.
“They were everywhere. It was pandemonium. After ten minutes of searching I hit this massive signal and I thought 'this is it'. We dug and saw the pot. That feeling of scraping the dirt away and seeing the coins is indescribable,” he said.
The coins were likely to have been buried by a wealthy landowner who had gone off to fight in the English Civil War (1642-1651), according to valuation experts, who believe they will sell at auction for a minimum of £100,000.
To protect the finds, Mr Mahoney spent two sleepless nights in his car on the field watching for so-called “nighthawk” detectorists hoping to loot the coins under the cover of darkness.
Nighthawks, the term for illegal metal detectorists, have previously targeted numerous historic sites, including the Brunton Turret section of Hadrians Wall in their search for ancient artefacts.
Mr Mahoney feared the treasures he discovered would be sold onto the black market by unscrupulous dealers who would use the history of the coins to boost their prices online.
He told The Daily Telegraph: “I had to stay up because I didn't want other people going into the fields and stealing the coins. I was getting an hour nap here and there for around two nights in a row.”
“These nighthawks are professional thieves who make their living by waiting for detectorists to leave the fields and scavenge anything that is left over.”
His anxieties seemed to be validated a few days ago when he found a casing from a headphone in the field, indicating someone had sneaked in to search for any remnants of the hoard.
Despite the threat from these nocturnal scavengers, Mr Mahoney, who owns Joan Allen Electrics, a metal detecting shop in Kent, is encouraging more people to take up his beloved hobby.
He credits his success to the “unique” metal detector he was using, the Minelab Equinox 800, and thanks the owner of the Lindsey Rose Pub for allowing him to search there.
Following the discovery of his “biggest hoard”, Mr Mahoney immediately contacted the local finds liaison officer, who is currently assessing the coins, and declared the treasure to the coroner, as the law dictates.
“I want the coins to go to a local museum and the money from their sale as a little something for me and my two friends, Dan Hunt and Matt Brown, who found them with me,” he added.