Metal Detectorists Scanning for War Relics in the Woods Stumble on Hoard of Gold Coins From WWII

Metal Detectorists Scanning for War Relics in the Woods Stumble on Hoard of Gold Coins From WWII
(Courtesy of Stowarzyszenie Szczecińska Grupa Eksploracyjna)
Michael Wing
12/5/2023
Updated:
12/11/2023
0:00

The woods just outside Szczecin, in northwestern Poland, are rife with weather- and time-worn wartime relics. Some have languished, unseen amid the tree roots, soil, and leaves, for over 75 years—and among them was the treasure of a lifetime.

Finding these, however, takes the right equipment and a special kind of obsession.

Lukasz Istelski is a passionate metal detectorist. While he’s uncovered World War II-era pins, a fine decorative latch, and even a metal lighter that had been shot through, his greatest and most important find came in early November. Now, if he and his detectorist friends get their way and are allowed to keep it, their personal worth could increase by tens of thousands of US dollars.

Together with his companions, Mr. Istelski saw the glint of gold mixed in with the dark soil and autumn leaves on the outskirts of Szczecin.

“We went on a standard search for things left over from World War II—buttons, coins,” he told the Polish Press Agency (PAP).

Mr. Istelski joined the detectorist club Szczecin Exploration Group in 2020. They’ve unearthed rings, spoons (for chowing down on combat rations, presumably), a various assortment of antique metal projectiles, buckles, and even a rusted half helmet.

Detectorists from the Szczecin Exploration Group unearth a cache of World War II-era gold coins in the woods near Szczecin, Poland. (Courtesy of <a href="https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100093311079911">Stowarzyszenie Szczecińska Grupa Eksploracyjna</a>)
Detectorists from the Szczecin Exploration Group unearth a cache of World War II-era gold coins in the woods near Szczecin, Poland. (Courtesy of Stowarzyszenie Szczecińska Grupa Eksploracyjna)
The gold coins found by detectorists near Szczecin, Poland, on Nov. 5, 2023. (Courtesy of <a href="https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100093311079911">Stowarzyszenie Szczecińska Grupa Eksploracyjna</a>)
The gold coins found by detectorists near Szczecin, Poland, on Nov. 5, 2023. (Courtesy of Stowarzyszenie Szczecińska Grupa Eksploracyjna)

Last fall, he and two of his associates, Andrzej Lemański and Kordian Ciesielski, struck out into the woods hunting for traces of fighting from the Battle of Szczecin, from early 1945. No one expected anything like the treasure they would produce from underground.

As the men scanned the forest floor with their metal detectors, one of Mr. Istelski’s friends shouted out, “Guys, this isn’t what I think it is!”

A heavily corroded metal can buried beneath more than a foot-and-a-half of earth was recovered. It fell apart in his friend’s hands, and bright yellow treasure came spilling out.

The searchers counted 70 gold coins in all—some American dollars, some rubles—weighing 404 grams. “No one expected to find gold coins,” Mr. Istelski told PAP. “This is a dream come true for every detectorist, every seeker. It’s not only a material treasure but, above all, a great event.”

The Szczecin Exploration Group display the gold coins and container they unearthed last November. (Courtesy of <a href="https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100093311079911">Stowarzyszenie Szczecińska Grupa Eksploracyjna</a>)
The Szczecin Exploration Group display the gold coins and container they unearthed last November. (Courtesy of Stowarzyszenie Szczecińska Grupa Eksploracyjna)
Images showing the cache of gold coins found by the Szczecin Exploration Group in the woods near Szczecin, Poland, on Nov. 5, 2023. (Courtesy of <a href="https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100093311079911">Stowarzyszenie Szczecińska Grupa Eksploracyjna</a>)
Images showing the cache of gold coins found by the Szczecin Exploration Group in the woods near Szczecin, Poland, on Nov. 5, 2023. (Courtesy of Stowarzyszenie Szczecińska Grupa Eksploracyjna)

Quite possibly the wartime stash could be connected to the Battle of Szczecin, the Polish Ministry of Education and Science stated in a press release, though their origin can really only be guessed.

The find’s worth could exceed 100,000 zloty ($25,164), Mr. Istelski said. Yet for the group, he says, it’s priceless. “We are trying to show that a detectorist is not only someone who goes around and digs up farmers’ fields because unfortunately such people also exist,” Mr. Istelski said, “but that [detectorists] are people with passion.”

The cache will be held securely in a bank vault until authorities deem the original owners unfindable.

“If everything goes well, the coins will come back to us, but it is a complicated process,” Mr. Istelski told The Epoch Times. “Polish law says that you need to find the owner. It is logical that [he] no longer exists.”

If authorities don’t annex the coins, the most likely scenario is they’ll be split fifty-fifty, he adds. The finders will get to keep half and the state the other half. So far, no one has come forward to claim them.

He said, “I wish everyone to find a real treasure because it is an amazing feeling.”

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