Earlier this week, a discovery of a gold coin hoard in California made national news. While the coins’ $10 million appraisal value will undoubtedly make the finders wealthy, unfortunately, the hoard totaled only 1,411 coins so the finders will not have quite enough gold coins to pull a Scrooge McDuck.
Jokes aside, while such buried coin hoards are almost unheard of in the United States, in many other countries, they are semi-regular events. For instance, in the UK, coin hoards, mostly from ancient Rome and the medieval era, are well-publicized throughout media outlets.
After seeing the public and media fascination with this new California coin hoard, in addition to the coin hoards overseas, it would have been a travesty if this California find was not brought into the public conscious.
Unfortunately, this could have been a real possibility as in the United States there is not a system in place for finds of historic interest on private property. While there are a plethora of laws that regulate finds on public land, there is virtually nothing in place for finds on private property. Presently, if one finds historically intriguing item on their own property, the easiest avenue is to contact a local museum. If the item is deemed minor, or not a multimillion dollar coin hoard like this recent discovery, the odds of the item reaching the public conscious are slim.
In the UK, where finds on private property are a relatively normal occurrence, there is an intricate system in place which is spearheaded by the website, finds.co.uk. This website ensures finds, even minor ones, on private property do not go unnoticed. The website, fiscally backed the national government, has the purpose to “encourage the voluntary recording of archaeological objects found by members of the public.” Not only are objects recorded, but they are also published onto user-friendly maps and databases so anyone, not just museum employees, can readily view objects found in one’s own community.
While the United States does not have as many historic object discoveries as the UK, it would be worthwhile to create an American website of a similar nature for the sake of preserving our local and national history. The logistics of such a website would have to be a bit different as the United States is a much larger and geographically diverse nation compared to the UK. Another item that would need to be addressed is the lack of the Smithsonian having a true national presence in every American state as the British Museum has throughout the UK.
In order to solve these issues, the national organization in charge of the website would need to select local museums to be the authority on their surrounding area. Furthermore, a local historian from each auxiliary museum would be assigned to help verify and curate the local content uploaded to the national website.
While such a website would indubitably be a grand undertaking, there would be possibilities for the American website that the UK one does not have. First, the use of ZIP codes in the United States could provide a useful search function for objects. In addition, the United States has the added benefit of being home to Silicon Valley. Perhaps Google, who has already shown an interest in non-profit public interest maps for items such as deforestation, could use their extensive map database to help this groundbreaking initiative.