10 extraordinary treasures that archaeologists unearthed this year

The small, gold ring displays an intricate chevron and herringbone pattern.
The small, gold ring displays an intricate chevron and herringbone pattern. (Image credit: © Amgueddfa Cymru — Museum Wales))

As long as humans have been minting coins and crafting beautiful jewelry and other stunning collectibles, an equal number of people have been right behind them searching for these precious finds. Here are 10 extraordinary discoveries made in 2023 that prove that the hunt for buried treasure never gets old.

1. Massive coin collection in Japan

If you look closely, you can see square holes in the middle of the coins where a string could have held them together.  (Image credit: Courtesy of Maebashi City)

During a factory construction project north of Tokyo, workers were wowed when they unearthed a stash of about 100,000 coins buried at the site. The collection of currency was divided into 1,060 bundles and dated to between 175 B.C. and A.D. 1265. The former originated from China and contained the Chinese inscription "Banliang," which translates to "half ounce." So far, researchers have examined around 334 of the coins, and it's anyone's guess what other treasures will be unveiled.

2. Underwater temple overflowing with sunken treasure in Egypt

A collection of treasures found inside a sunken temple in Egypt.  (Image credit: European Institute for Underwater Archaeology (IEASM))

Underwater archaeologists exploring a canal off the Mediterranean coast of Egypt found a partially collapsed underwater temple brimming with treasures. Further exploration of the temple, which collapsed sometime during the mid-second century B.C. and was built for the ancient Egyptian god Amun, revealed a wealth of "treasures and secrets," including silver ritual instruments, gold jewelry and alabaster containers.

3. "Lost" rainbow cup minted by Celts in Germany

The motif of the four-pointed star surrounded by four arches is rare, as there are only three known Celtic rainbow cup coins with this design. (Image credit: © Photo Stefanie Friedrich, Archaeological State Collection (Munich))

A 2,000-year-old rainbow cup minted by Celts was found alongside a river in Germany. The cup-shaped gold coin contains a rare design element: a four-pointed star surrounded by arches. The find is one of only three known rainbow cups to contain this motif. Rainbow cups get their name based on a Celtic legend that they are drops of gold that fell to Earth at the end of a rainbow.

4. Civil War-era coins buried in a Kentucky cornfield

About 95% of the hoard is composed of gold dollars dating to the Civil War-era. (Image credit: Numismatic Guaranty Co.)

A bounty of 700 Civil War-era coins was discovered by a man working in his cornfield in Kentucky. The cache, dubbed the "Great Kentucky hoard," contained hundreds of gold coins minted between 1840 and 1863, as well as a handful of silver coins. Researchers think the collection was buried prior to a Confederate raid during the summer of 1863. 

5. "Eye-catching" gold hair ring in a Bronze Age burial in Wales

The small, gold ring displays an intricate chevron and herringbone pattern.  (Image credit: © Amgueddfa Cymru — Museum Wales))

A "glitzy, golden hair-ring" was part of a Bronze Age burial discovered along a road in Wales. As archaeologists excavated the burial site, they also unearthed a wooden comb that's thought to be the oldest of its kind ever found in the U.K. Both objects were buried alongside the 3,000-year-old cremated remains of a person who was likely of high social status, the researchers concluded.

6. Bronze Age swords and thousands of medieval coins in Germany

Archaeologist Detlef Jantzen (left) and Bettina Martin, Minister for Science and Culture, view the latest archaeological finds from Germany, including Bronze Age swords and thousands of silver coins. (Image credit: Markus Scholz/dpa via Alamy Live News)

A group of volunteer conservationists discovered approximately 8,000 medieval coins and seven Bronze Age swords while working at three separate sites in Germany. Archaeologists think the 3,000-year-old weaponry may have been placed there as part of a sacrificial offering. The coins, which were divided between two locations, were part of the largest Slavic coin hoard from the 11th century.

7. Iron Age glass workshop littered with Celtic coins in the Czech Republic

A selection of glass bracelets and beads found at Němčice in the Czech Republic. (Image credit: Ivan Čižmář, et al; Antiquity Publications Ltd)

In the Czech Republic, archaeologists discovered the oldest known glass workshop north of the Alps, and they think it may have been used for ritualistic purposes. The 2,300-year-old workshop contained a number of finished and complete glass and amber items, including beads and bracelets, as well as 2,000 gold and silver coins struck by Celts. They also found a square structure similar to other ancient buildings located across Europe that were used for rituals.

8. Gold necklaces revealed by a landslide in Spain

The new finding resembles this golden bracelet, called a torc. Such rigid neck rings or bracelets were crafted by the Celts in Spain. (Image credit: Andres Victorero via Getty Images)

A landslide in northern Spain exposed two "richly decorated" gold necklaces that were buried around 2,500 years ago. The first of the C-shaped necklaces, known as torcs,  was discovered by a utility worker, while the second was unearthed by a metal detectorist. Based on the style and technique used to make the jewelry, archaeologists concluded that the necklaces were crafted around 500 B.C., during the Iron Age in Iberia, and were likely worn by members of the upper class.

9. Coin stash unearthed at an ancient Buddhist shrine in Pakistan

The hoard of copper coins have fused after centuries of corrosion into a single lump that weighs about 12 pounds (5.5 kilograms). (Image credit: Sheikh Javed Ali Sindhi)

Archaeologists in Pakistan found a collection of 2,000-year-old bronze coins among the ruins of an ancient Buddhist shrine known as a stupa. The coins and shrine are connected to the Kushan Empire, a mainly Buddhist polity that ruled the region from about the second century B.C. until the third century A.D. Corrosion has caused the coins to fuse into a single, green-tinged lump that weighs about 12 pounds (5.5 kilograms).

10. Copper coins tucked away in a clay jug in Poland

Archaeologists think the clay jug containing the horde of coins was deliberately buried on a farm in the east of Poland in the second half of the 17th century. (Image credit: Paweł Ziemuk/WKZ Lublin)

A metal detectorist searching for spare tractor parts in a farmer's field in Poland was surprised when he instead found a hoard of 1,000 copper coins buried beneath the topsoil. Further digging revealed a broken clay "siwak" — a locally made jug with a single handle and a narrow neck — overflowing with coins minted in Warsaw during the 17th century. Even when in circulation, however, the coins weren't very valuable, and the entire hoard would have been enough to buy "about two pairs of shoes" at the time, experts said. 

Jennifer Nalewicki
Live Science Staff Writer

Jennifer Nalewicki is a Salt Lake City-based journalist whose work has been featured in The New York Times, Smithsonian Magazine, Scientific American, Popular Mechanics and more. She covers several science topics from planet Earth to paleontology and archaeology to health and culture. Prior to freelancing, Jennifer held an Editor role at Time Inc. Jennifer has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from The University of Texas at Austin.