Two Minute Read

Gold, King Harold, & Other Mysteries Eluding Us

Whether it’s finding the next Sutton Hoo or a definitive sighting of the Loch Ness monster or the Beast of Bodmin, there are two things that the human psyche still craves, even in the modern digital age.

One is the discovery of hidden treasure, and the other is a not entirely solved mystery.

When so much of life is documented and imaged online, it’s nice to think there are still some things out there waiting to be found or mysteries to be solved.

For some people, the quest to find that pot of gold or spot a legendary creature or UFO becomes an obsession, not just a pastime.

Many of these tales have become the stuff of legend and media interpretation, so even those not actively searching can still satisfy their interest via the spoken word or screen.

Are There Any Significant Archaeological Finds Still Out There?

Searching for treasure has never been more fashionable, a popularity reflected in the media with films and programmes like Netflix’s ‘The Dig’ and the cult BBC series, ‘Detectorists’.

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The number of people scouring the British countryside is booming, with a figure of 20,000 quoted in 2021, and the number of recorded finds is also on the rise.

In 2019, a record number of 1,300 artefacts were found in the UK, with hotspots in Norfolk, Lincolnshire, Hampshire and Essex.

Everyone secretly hopes for the next Sutton Hoo, but are there any real finds left out there, or is it mostly just speculation?

The Jewels of ‘Bad’ King John

In 1216, King John was travelling from Lincolnshire to Norfolk and ordered his baggage train to take a shortcut through a notorious part of The Wash.

Most of the royal luggage was lost to incoming water, including his crown and jewels. However, historians are not entirely sure what sank into the mud.

King John lost the Crown Jewels while crossing The Wash
King John lost the Crown Jewels while crossing The Wash

The lure of these jewels has proved irresistible over the centuries, although anyone surveying this expanse of water would become quickly aware of the challenges.

In the 1930s, an American man founded the Fen Research Company, designed to use what were then the latest cutting-edge techniques to search for the treasure without any success.

More recently, a London barrister, Walton Hornsby, used a traditional diviner to help locate the jewels, again without success.

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Land reclamation has altered the landscape from when King John attempted his crossing, so now salt marshes have become farmland due to drainage and cultivation.

A local man believes he has discovered where the treasure lies after unearthing an object with apparent royal connections whilst metal detecting. He also thinks he can identify 21 sunken carriages on Google Earth in this location.

However, the landowner and tenant who farms the land have denied him permission to dig without first commissioning a geophysical survey which will cost in the region of £10,000.

His identity is kept a secret due to contractual restrictions agreed with the landowner; however, around 2016, he created the character of Metal Detector Man as a venture to help raise the funds required.

Pepys’s Gold

Samuel Pepys, the diarist, is said to have sent his father and wife, Elizabeth, to their home in Brampton in Cambridgeshire as the Dutch navy sailed towards London.

gold coins

Elizabeth was tasked with burying the family gold in the vegetable patch, but a few months later, when Pepys searched for it, it was nowhere to be found.

The house still remains and is now under the care of a charitable trust which, as recently as 2022 were looking for tenants to occupy part of the property and support its opening to the public at certain times of the year. Step forward, all you keen vegetable growers!

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Another Sutton Hoo

Located not far from Ipswich and near the Suffolk coast, East Anglia has always been a very fertile landscape for exciting archaeological finds.

Sutton Hoo helmet

Intensive arable farming is always bringing items of interest to the surface, and Norfolk and Suffolk were also the most populated areas of England in early medieval times.

Sutton Hoo, a 6th-century ship, was discovered in 1939, could there be another?

King Harold II

King Harold was England’s last Anglo-Saxon king and died with an arrow in his eye at the Battle of Hastings.

King Harold

His final resting place is the subject of debate, with some sources suggesting Bosham in Sussex and others stating Waltham Abbey in Essex.

With the discovery of Richard III beneath a car park in Leicester on the site of Grey Friars Priory, the appetite for discovering dead monarchs and not just their treasure has been rekindled.

The March of Science

New techniques and anthropological advances make it easier to date new finds definitively, but science is also helping in their discovery.

The use of drones and satellite imaging provides new tools for keen treasure hunters, and unusual weather conditions like the heatwave of 2022 unearth new possibilities.

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There are some significant prizes out there, like the jewels of Bad King John, but most detectorists search speculatively and without a specific historical basis; the never-ending quest to find something can become quite an addiction.

Animal Mysteries

The Loch Ness Monster, or Nessie, is probably the most famous of all the mythical creatures which form the centre of stories and folklore scattered throughout the British Isles. There are photos and sonar readings given as evidence to support Nessie’s existence, many of which are disputed.

beast of bodmin moor
The so-called Beast of Bodmin Moor has sparked stories and legends for three decades about a phantom cat the size of a puma stalking the moors of Cornwall.

The scientific community explain these away as wishful thinking, misidentification and hoaxes, one of the most famous of which was in 1934 and led to a flurry of interest in the supposed monster.

Sightings of unusual animals are nothing new. The supposed Beast of Bodmin Moor attracted widespread interest after several big cat sightings in the 1970s, but there are others like the Surrey Puma and a black panther in East Anglia.

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Most of these cats are widely believed to be escapes from zoos or private collections rather than some creature from another age.

From the probably real to the definitely supernatural and mysterious, English folklore has many tales of a ghostly black dog roaming the countryside.

Called Shuck, Black Shuck, Old Shuck or Old Shock, accounts of this dog are an integral part of Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire and Essex folklore.

A black, shaggy dog of enormous size and fiery eyes, Black Shuck, is either perceived as an omen of death, the devil or an unthreatening companion. East Anglia is not the only area of the British Isles with this legend, and the name changes accordingly.

In Lincolnshire, Black Shuck is known as Hairy Jack and Barghest in Yorkshire and Lancashire. Legends about Black Shuck date back centuries, but there are also more recent accounts.


As an island nation, there is often as much to be found on Britain’s shorelines as there is further inland.

From silver coins washed up from a wreck on Dollar Cove in Cornwall, the beach used in a famous shipwreck scene in the BBC television series ‘Poldark’, to the fossils of the Jurassic coastline, the West Runton Mammoth in Norfolk.

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And the famous Seahenge, a Bronze Age circle at Holme-next-the-Sea also in Norfolk, the shifting sands of the UK’s beaches offer plenty of discoveries for archaeologists, fossil hunters and treasure seekers.

The Great Blue Yonder

Extra terrestrial activity continues to fascinate people. In a world where so much is transparent, recorded and shared online, there is a piquancy to something unknown which cannot be easily explained.

A considerable body of evidence suggests apparent sightings of unidentified flying objects (UFOs). Unsurprisingly, our airspace is monitored by the Ministry of Defence, which keeps a log of reported activity.

UFO trail
UFO Trail Sign The “UFO Trail” through the forest.The trail commemorates the “Rendlesham Forest Incident”

Between 1997 and 2000, the British Government’s Defence Intelligence Staff (DIS) undertook a secret UFO study producing a 400-page report that examined around 10,000 sightings.

Called Project Condign, the resultant report was released to the public in May 2006 following a Freedom of Information Act request by two UFO researchers, Dr David Clarke from Sheffield Hallam University and Gary Anthony, an astronomical consultant.

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The report concluded that the vast majority of the investigated sightings can be explained as either the misidentification of everyday objects like aircraft and balloons or the result of supernormal meteorological phenomena not yet fully understood by modern science.

This is called Buoyant Plasma Formation in the report and equates to an unexplained field of energy used to account for the incidences of close encounters that create hallucinations or altered perception.

Apparently, the MOD continues to investigate the plasma phenomenon with a view to exploring ‘novel military applications’, something scientists in Russia are also doing in parallel, having also understood the connection between UFOs and so-called plasma technologies.

New sightings across the UK continue to be reported, and old cases like the famous incident in Rendlesham Forest in Suffolk in 1980 have an energy and lifeforce, which means they are talked about as much today as they were at the time.

The human psyche loves a mystery with just as much enthusiasm as the prospect of hidden treasure. There is always the chance of a significant find that no one knew was there, and part of the human condition is always to travel hopefully.