Armed with a metal detector, Ruth sets out on a mission to find buried treasure – with mixed results.
“Shame you won’t find any Viking treasure. That’s what they look for in England. Viking hoards.” That’s what my husband said when I told him I wanted to get a metal detector. He was quite keen on the idea, but mainly so I could find scattered nails from his various DIY projects so he doesn’t run them over with the mower.
It’s true that there’s no chance of finding Viking treasure, or Roman coins or the Ark of the Covenant buried here in West Auckland. But I have always wanted to live the life of a beachcomber, so I’ve bought a low-end metal detector and I’m going fossicking for my fortune.
Maybe it’s the fantasy of getting something for nothing, or maybe it’s a weird faux nostalgia for a place I’ve never been: a shack on a windswept beach, filled with the flotsam and jetsam of unknown sea journeys. Nets hanging from the ceiling, green glass buoys filtering watery light onto the walls. Beachcombing is melancholy romance, gathering the foam-flecked mementoes of shipwrecks and jettisons. It’s all treasure: most of the value is in the fact that it returned to shore at all, that once sunk beneath the waves it ever returned to human sight. Little junky miracles.
But, like, really junky. After two hours with my detector on Te Atatu beach, I have two beer bottle caps and a rusty hook. And here’s the annoying thing: I was pleased to get them. Yay, a filthy bottlecap! Because the rest of the process is just waving a long stick around. It’s like weed whacking without the smooth lawn at the end of it. Weed whacking, except someone else drank the beer you were expecting afterwards and left the cap in the mud, and you’re actually excited about it.
The rusty hook is of course the pride of my beach haul, because what’s more maritime than a rusty hook? I can use it for a new hand if a pirate cuts one of mine off. Typing will be tricky, but what a power move when I take my laptop down to the cafe! I wish I could say it’s a nautical kind of hook, but it’s quite small and might be off a wooden coat hanger. But what if the coathanger was once on a boat? A boathanger! It’s possible, just let me have this.
After pointlessly digging a bunch of holes in the sand like a toddler on holiday, I asked a Facebook group what I was doing wrong. I’m told wet sand is the enemy of cheap detectors and to stay on the dirt. Someone else says there’s lots of deep iron in that area. Perhaps the half-buried old slipway rails should have clued me in.
Stay on the dirt though, I can do that. I’ll do some home-combing instead. There was an old farmhouse demolished before our house was built, and there’s always bits of glass and broken pipe popping up through the dirt. Surely there’s some metal there too?
It doesn’t take long to get a ping. I dig down. I hadn’t anticipated just how much of this hobby is digging. I might as well weed the garden for all the thrills I’ve had so far. But this ping is real. It’s a lead ball! A musket ball perhaps, from some important conflict! Or just, you know, a fishing weight. The Facebook group would probably know but I don’t want them to find me annoying yet, it’s the first day.
There are more pings. A Rheineck can. A Lion Red can. What a party that must have been. The detector alerts again and I rummage in the dirt for my biggest find yet: half a house-painting brush, rigid bristles still attached to the metal binding but the handle long gone. Then there are just scraps and lumps, both ends of a broken lever and the head of a roofing nail. In a way it’s as melancholy as things lost at sea, but it’s also just a pile of straight up garbage.
I promise I’m not making this up, but I fully understand if you don’t believe me, because I didn’t believe it either. I found Viking treasure.
Well, what I found was two metal dome buttons with Viking longships engraved on them. Unmistakably Viking longships, with square sails and dragon-shaped prows. Close enough, right? Actual Viking treasure in my backyard! And there are two, so it technically counts as a hoard. A Viking hoard on my first day. I might be (rusty) hooked.