It’s likely that Kevin Kinard wasn’t planning on making his fortune when he joined friends on a day-trip to an Arkansas state park. But as he spotted something glistening on the ground, he got a lot more than he bargained for. Stooping to pick up what he thought was a piece of glass, he had no idea that he was about to make a life-changing discovery.
For most people, a trip to a state park is simply a chance to experience nature – and maybe snap some good Instagram shots while you’re there. But visitors to this destination near the city of Murfreesboro sometimes come away with a lot more. And on September 7, 2020, Kinard would join their lucky ranks.
For years, Kinard had been visiting the park with friends, hoping to become one of the fortunate visitors to uncover its hidden treasure. But ever since the second grade, he had gone home empty-handed. Then, one sunny Labor Day, his luck changed – and he made a discovery that brought him to tears.
At first, Kinard thought that he had discovered a piece of glass, glinting on the surface of the recently-plowed soil. But when he took it to park employees hours later, he got the shock of his life. Because it wasn’t an everyday object that the Arkansas man had found – it was a rare find likely worth tens of thousands of dollars.
Of course, Kinard was far from the first person to uncover a valuable treasure out in the American wilds. For example, in June 2020 it emerged that an unnamed man had made an incredible discovery somewhere in the Rocky Mountains. Yes, he’d uncovered a bronze chest crammed with precious gemstones, jewelry and gold.
Had the man stumbled across a cache of valuables hidden by outlaws during the days of the wild west? Or perhaps something even more historic? As it turned out, the chest was actually buried much more recently. In fact, it was the infamous Fenn Treasure, stashed in a secret location by an eccentric art dealer in 2010.
For an entire decade, a community of treasure hunters had been desperately searching for the chest, following cryptic clues weaved into a book of short stories published by Fenn. And in a gruesome turn of events, a number of people had even lost their lives hunting in vain for the loot. But eventually, it was a lone man from somewhere in the eastern United States who discovered the jewels in an undisclosed location.
But how common is it really to discover treasure while wandering the American wilderness? Perhaps more so than you might think. Over in Arizona, for example, businessman John Hornewer stumbled upon an abandoned mine while out hiking with his brother in the Sonoran Desert. Inside, they found gold – and a whole lot more.
After deciding to polish a piece of ore from the mine, Hornewer and his brother realized that they had discovered an entirely new type of gemstone. Dubbed Sonoranite, it was officially brought to the market in 2018 and is believed to fetch around $35 per carat. And now, sourcing and finishing the rock has become a family business – not a bad outcome for an innocuous hike.
Yet not all of the treasures found in America’s forests and parks are quite so glamorous by nature. In 2009 a hiker was out exploring near Moab in Utah when he stumbled upon a strange footprint embedded in the ground. And experts determined that these were dinosaur tracks, left behind by creatures some 125 million years ago.
Two years later in 2011, another civilian unearthed a similar find in Arkansas – the same state where Kinard would make his own discovery. This time, it was a collection of dinosaur footprints stretching for hundreds of feet across the landscape. But it’s not just prehistoric treasures that can be found hiding in the region dubbed the Natural State.
So what might Kinard have found in the wilderness of Arkansas? For those who like to explore, the region offers plenty of opportunities to get back to nature. In fact, there are no less than 52 state parks scattered across Arkansas, offering everything from rocky mountains to scenic lakeland vistas.
And in total the Arkansas State Parks cover more than 54,000 acres and welcome around eight million visitors every year. Mostly, they tend to stick to the more popular locations, such as Devil’s Den State Park, situated in a valley in the Ozark Mountains. Or perhaps they while away the hours in Lake Catherine State Park, boating and swimming in the clear waters.
But chances are, none of these visitors will have a visit quite as memorable as Kinard’s. Because his fateful trip didn’t even take place at one of Arkansas’ more popular parks. When the bank manager made his discovery, in fact, he was visiting a relatively small attraction in the southwest of the state.
Dubbed Crater of Diamonds State Park, this area covers less than 1,000 acres, a mere scrap of land when compared to some of Arkansas’ larger parks. But despite its size, the site in Pike County has been a passion for Kinard since he was in the second grade. That year, a field trip launched an obsession that would last for more than 20 years.
After visiting Crater of Diamonds State Park with his school, Kinard returned at least once every year – and sometimes more. In 2020 he had already made one visit in May, despite world events keeping many people at home. But come September, he was ready to make a second trip.
Three months previously, Arkansas State Parks had launched a passport system so that visitors could document their travels around the region. Keen to add a Crater of Diamonds stamp to his collection, Kinard planned a return to his beloved park. And on Labor Day, the 33-year-old from Maumelle, AR, arrived with a group of friends in tow.
Purchased by the State of Arkansas back in 1972, Crater of Diamonds State Park has been welcoming tourists like Kinard since the 1950s. So what exactly is the attraction of this forested patch of land and the bare, 37.5-acre field at its heart? Well, it apparently all began some 95 million years ago, when a volcano formed and spewed magma out across the landscape.
As a result of this upheaval, diamonds that had formed deep beneath the continent were dredged up to the surface. And, to the endless fascination of tourists, they remain there to this day. In fact, Crater of Diamonds State Park is the only place in the world where the public can explore a site renowned for producing the coveted gemstone.
So it’s no wonder that Kinard was so keen to return year after year. But it seems as if these outings were more for pleasure than any serious treasure hunting. Because the bank manager had never discovered a diamond on any of his previous visits, and had no reason to suspect that this trip might be different.
Not to be discouraged, however, Kinard and his friends brought along the equipment needed to sift for diamonds during their visit. But after just ten minutes, he decided to take a different approach. Rather than pick through the soil in search of something shiny, he decided to walk between the rows of plowed earth, keeping his eyes peeled.
“Anything that looked like a crystal, I picked it up and put it in my bag,” Kinard explained in a September 2020 News release from Arkansas State Parks. And when he reached the southeast corner of the field, something caught his eye. There, glinting on the ground was a small, round object with a dimpled exterior.
So what had Kinard found? He explained, in the statement, that the object’s appearance had made him stop and take note. But it would be hours before he would realize exactly what he had discovered. He said, “It kind of looked interesting and shiny, so I put it in my bag and kept searching. I just thought it might’ve been glass.”
Some hours later Kinard and his friends were done with diamond hunting and dropped by the park’s Discovery Center to get an expert to look at their finds. At that point, the bank manager still didn’t think he’d found anything – save for the rounded piece of glass. So he nearly skipped getting his haul checked altogether, a move which would have proved a disastrous mistake.
But Kinard decided that he may as well ask an employee to look over his finds. And it’s a good job that he did. After successfully identifying most of the haul as non-precious minerals and rocks, the park worker set the strange, rounded object to one side.
At first the employee whisked the glass-like find into the office for closer inspection. And after a few tense moments, Kinard was invited to join the park managers in person. What they told him would blow his mind: he had discovered a massive diamond more than nine carats in weight.
For Caleb Howell, who works as the superintendent at Crater of Diamonds State Park, it was a powerful moment. In the release, he explained, “I always love to see the reactions and excitement of our visitors when they find large diamonds. When I met Mr. Kinard, it was immediately evident that he was shocked and speechless.”
Later, Kinard agreed. “I honestly teared up when they told me,” he admitted. “I was in complete shock.” And he had good reason to be. Because his diamond turned out to be the second largest ever discovered at the park, after the 16.37-carat Amarillo Starlight unearthed in 1975. So just how much might such an impressive gem be worth?
Although the value of Kinard’s find is yet to be disclosed, the Amarillo Starlight is believed to be worth around $175,000. As such, this gem – which is roughly half the weight of the Amarillo – could fetch a six figure sum. Understandably, it took the lucky treasure hunter a few weeks to come to terms with his potential windfall.
Towards the end of September, Kinard returned to Crater of Diamonds State Park to talk about his discovery. Speaking about the diamond, he explained, “It weighs 9.07, and I found it on 9/7 [September 7]. I thought that was so unique.” And when naming the gem, as is tradition, he decided to recognize the friends who had accompanied him that fateful day.
After all, it was only because Kinard’s companion was having her finds checked that he had decided to do the same. And if she hadn’t done so, the 9-carat gemstone might have gone overlooked. So he decided to dub his discovery the Kinard Friendship Diamond. He said, “We love to travel together and had such a great time out here,” Kinard said. “It was a very humbling experience.”
And Kinard urged other visitors to the park to always have their discoveries looked over – even if they don’t think that they’ve got anything special. He said, “Have the park staff check everything, because you never know. I would have never in a million years dreamed that I had found anything. Always have them check it.”
But Kinard didn’t have to spend long puzzling over where to keep his valuable find. After returning to Maumelle, he simply locked up the diamond in the bank where he spends his working days. In a September 2020 interview with the news site Good Morning America, he explained that he would not let the probable windfall change him.
“I’m not sure what it’s worth, but I can’t do anything with a 9-carat diamond,” Kinard explained. “My boss said, ‘You may be a millionaire. Are you going to quit?’ I said, ‘Absolutely not.’ I’m too young for that. I’d still work. I’m just a regular guy.” But how exactly did this ordinary man from Arkansas land such a significant treasure?
According to Dru Edmonds, the park’s assistant superintendent, a number of different factors were at play. He explained in the news release, “Conditions in the diamond search area were perfect for Mr. Kinard. Park staff plowed the search area on August 20, just a few days before Tropical Storm Laura. The sun was out when Mr. Kinard visited, and he walked just the right path to notice the sunlight reflecting off his diamond.”
To many observers, it might seem strange that Arkansas State Parks allowed Kinard to keep his valuable discovery. But believe it or not, Crater of Diamonds actually operates a finders keepers policy with regards to its precious gems. In other words, visitors are entitled to pocket whatever treasures they might uncover during their visit. God bless America!
According to records, the first diamonds to be found on the land where the park now stands were discovered in 1906. And in 1924 prospectors discovered a record-breaking 40.23-carat gemstone, later dubbed Uncle Sam, on the same site. But despite these promising finds, the location did not turn out to be a profitable one for the mineral industry.
Eventually in the 1950s, the land became a tourist attraction, inviting paying guests to hunt for gemstones themselves. That same decade, a lucky visitor unearthed the Star of Arkansas, a 15.33-carat diamond. And even though the park was taken over by the state in 1972, hopeful treasure hunters continued to arrive in droves.
Since then, more than 30,000 diamonds have been discovered by tourists in the park – an average of around two a day. Before Kinard’s find, the second biggest gem was an 8.82-carat example unearthed in 1981. And the last big find was in 2019 when a woman found a yellow diamond weighing 3.72 carats.
For now, Kinard is letting the thrill of his discovery sink in. But as news of his good fortune spreads, it’s likely that more people will flock to Crater of Diamonds State Park in the hope of landing their own windfall. But will they return empty-handed – or is another similar gemstone still waiting to be discovered?
If you’re not flocking to the park anytime soon, though, don’t worry. There’s always a chance that you could make an accidental discovery worth millions in other – perhaps more unexpected – parts of the world. That’s what happened to Eric Lawes from England, anyway. The metal detectorist never imagined he’d find a life-changing haul of Roman treasure on his friend’s farm. But luckily for him, that’s exactly what happened.
It’s November 1992, and Lawes is trudging around British farmland in search of a missing hammer. Then, all of a sudden, his metal detector starts going haywire. As Lawes begins digging into the ground, though, it isn’t the lost tool that he finds. No, the metal detectorist has just uncovered an incredible haul of Roman artifacts. And the discovery will change his life forever.
Eric Lawes was born on May 1, 1923, in Hoxne in Suffolk, England. He had two siblings and was raised by his mom, Florence, and dad, Joseph. His father worked as a gamekeeper, but it seems that Lawes had a modest upbringing. Indeed, he reportedly grew up in poverty, with little in the way of a formal education.
You see, Lawes’ formative years fell between World Wars I and II. And this interwar period was a tough time for nearly everyone in Britain – even those living in rural areas that one might have imagined would have been less affected by conflict. Indeed, in villages such as the one where Lawes grew up, many children didn’t attend school and were instead educated outside the walls of the classroom.
Lawes, himself, spent his youth in Hoxne – a small village located around 100 miles northeast of London. And with a population of less than 1,000, Hoxne may at first appear as a charming yet unremarkable place. However, it is in fact rich in ancient history – not that Lawes knew this when he was young.
But although Lawes’ early life was seemingly as ordinary as the village he grew up in, he later actually played a part in uncovering Hoxne’s history. You see, Lawes found a haul of treasure in the area. And not only did the discovery put the village on the map, but Lawes himself also became a minor celebrity and made a small fortune as a result.
But all that must have seemed worlds away when Lawes was younger. You see, his formal education came to an end when he was 14 years old, and for a time he helped out on a farm. Later, he delivered bread for a local bakery, but he quit when the store’s manager realized that the takings were short by a mere halfpenny.
The young Lawes then found some work as a gardener. However, in 1942 he was summoned by the Royal Marines to serve in the Second World War. And when he had returned home safely, he went back to farm work for a time before landing a job with a regional electricity board.
Lawes went on to work at the Eastern Electricity Board for 30 years. And when he retired, his colleagues asked him what he would like as a reward for his service. But he wasn’t interested in what you might think of as a more traditional gift. No, Lawes requested something far more unusual.
As Lawes explained in an interview with the Hoxne Heritage Group, “[The electricity board] asked me what I’d like [for my retirement]. Would I like a watch? And I said to them, ‘No, I’d like a metal detector.’ Why, I don’t know.” But regardless of what compelled Lawes to ask for such a device, it would eventually bring him unexpected fortune.
Yes, in November 1992 a friend of Lawes called on the metal detectorist for his help. The man in question was a farmer, and he had lost a hammer somewhere on his land. The farmer, therefore, asked Lawes to help find his missing tool. And while scouring the fields, Lawes’ metal detector suddenly picked up a clear signal.
So, when his metal detector indicated that he may have found something, Lawes began to dig. But what he ended up finding wasn’t the hammer that his friend had lost. No, as it turned out, the find was actually something far more valuable – so valuable, in fact, that Lawes felt he should seek some additional help.
What had the metal detectorist found, then? Well, the first things that Lawes unearthed were some coins. But he soon began discovering other relics, too – including numerous silver spoons. And when his haul had amounted to two plastic bags filled with artifacts, he realized that he might have uncovered something significant. As such, he reported his find to the landowner before contacting the police and a local archaeological group.
It quickly became clear that Lawes had acted with the utmost diligence, too. Indeed, by informing the authorities as he did, Lawes allowed the Suffolk Archaeological Unit to perform a thorough excavation. And this, in turn, permitted the group to gain a better understanding of what had been found.
For instance, archaeologist Jude Plouvier and his team carefully removed a chunk of earth from the site. The slab was subsequently taken to a laboratory, where its contents were analyzed under a controlled environment. This way, then, the archaeologists were able to determine the artifacts’ age and how to handle them. And what the team found out was impressive.
As it turns out, Lawes had unearthed thousands of gold, silver and bronze coins from the late-Roman era – as well as silver cutlery and gold jewelry. The discovery was so substantial, in fact, that it is recorded as the largest find of its type in Britain. And its value was quite astonishing.
The treasure trove has become known as the Hoxne Hoard. And since its discovery more than 25 years ago, much has been learned about the origins of the treasure. In fact, the hoard dates back to a time of great unrest in Britain’s long history – a time when a large portion of the island was still a part of the Roman Empire.
It is fair to say, of course, that the Romans left their mark on the world. Indeed, in the early centuries A.D., they ruled large territories across what is now Europe, the Mediterranean, West Asia and North Africa. But by the beginning of the 5th century, the Empire had lost its grip on Britain.
Indeed, the southern portion of Britain was subject to the rule of the Roman Empire between 43 A.D. and 410 A.D. But while it was once generally believed that the province’s economy had headed into decline at the turn of the 5th century, subsequent archaeological data has tended to suggest that this idea was incorrect.
In any case, the Roman influence on British shores began to wane. And without the support of the Empire, Britain lay vulnerable to raids from other nations. Battles would be waged from Scotland and Ireland, which existed outside of Roman rule. But ultimately it was Germanic migration that the Empire was unable to withstand, and Roman troops were redeployed from Britain to defend its mainland European territories.
And for those living in Britain at the time, this climate of uncertainty led to what is believed to have been a period of hoarding. That’s right: it seems that Romano-British people hid valuables in the earth to keep the items from falling into the hands of the invading Angles, Picts and Saxons.
In fact, an excerpt from a 9th-century text called the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle makes reference to the time. “The Romans collected all the treasures which were in Britain and hid some in the earth so that no one afterwards could find them,” the script reads. “And some they took with them into Gaul.”
The idea behind hoarding was that owners would one day return to collect their valuables. But the fact that hoards have been dug up in recent years may stand as proof that whoever they belonged to never managed to return. There are difficulties, however, in accurately dating the artifacts, which makes telling their story less than straightforward.
What’s more, precise dating techniques couldn’t be used on the Hoxne Hoard due to a lack of organic materials present in the find. Radiocarbon dating, for example, couldn’t be used on the coins because the method relies on the presence of plant or animal matter. Instead, the team had to apply more rudimentary techniques.
The archaeologists hence studied the inscriptions on the coins, which allowed them to draw out clues as to the hoard’s age. And the evidence seems to suggest that the treasure dated to around 410 A.D. What’s more, this is a view supported by Peter Guest – an archaeologist specializing in the Roman era.
As Guest relayed to the Smithsonian magazine in January 2018, “[Based on the age of the coins] the date after which Hoxne must’ve been buried is 408 or 409. And the traditional model would suggest it was buried around about that point in time.” But the archaeologist’s experience also led him to another theory.
“My perspective is that, actually, we’ve been misdating these hoards,” Guest revealed. “If you look at them a little more carefully, then they should be dated to the period after the separation of Britain from the Roman Empire.” And the archaeologist had, in fact, spotted an anomaly with the coins which might support his hypothesis.
By Guest’s reckoning, it’s possible that the coins could have been in use for many years after the Romans left Britain. You see, the archaeologist had spotted evidence of a method of altering the coins known as “clipping.” And this procedure appeared to have been performed on as much as 98 percent of the 15,000 coins unearthed in the Hoxne Hoard.
The clipping process involved removing the edges of coins and shrinking their size by up to a third. Using chemical analyses, then, Guest – alongside other scientists – determined that the clipped metal was used to manufacture identical coins. And these coins could have subsequently been utilized after the era of Roman rule in Britain.
“The Roman Emperor wasn’t supplying Britain with new gold and silver coins,” Guest stated. “In light of that, the population tried to get over this sudden cutoff in the supply of precious metals by making the existing supplies go further.” But there were other findings, too, that made Lawes’ haul stand out from others.
Coins can be commonplace in finds such as the Hoxne Hoard. But although its 15,000-odd coins make it the largest discovery in Britain, the hoard found by Lawes also contains other artifacts that make it unique. Yes, as well as the aforementioned spoons and jewelry, there were also some other unusual pieces among the treasures.
One of the most prominent objects in the hoard is, in fact, what has come to be known as the “Empress” pepper pot. The trinket is made of silver and was molded to resemble a regal woman. The attention to detail in its original makeup is impressive, too, with focus placed on attributes such as her hair, clothing and accessories.
What’s more, on the underside of the pot is a disc that could be spun to three different positions: one left the pot open for the purpose of refilling; another closed off the pot; and the third position uncovered a series of holes to allow for the distribution of the pepper contained inside.
But while we may think of a pepper pot as being pretty mundane, the “Empress” is an incredibly rare discovery. You see, in the days of Roman Britain, pepper was not at all common. The condiment was a luxury item, in fact, that first showed up in the Roman Empire – from India – sometime during the 1st century. Given the scarcity of pepper at the time, it can therefore be assumed that the Hoxne Hoard once belonged to a wealthy family. But who were its original owners?
Well, given the lack of written records from the times of the Roman Empire, the precise story of the treasure’s burial will likely never be known. But some of the items contained within the hoard give a clue as to the treasure trove’s origins. You see, some of the objects were inscribed.
Among the treasure were around 100 silver ladles and spoons. And although some of these relics were in a state of disrepair, others had clear inscriptions. Yes, the utensils were marked with the names Aurelius Ursicinus and Silvicola, which appeared alongside the Latin phrase vivas in deo. Could these markings be an indication of the treasure’s owners, then?
Sadly, there are no historical records of anyone named Aurelius Ursicinus from the Roman Empire. And although the moniker is the most common inscription found in the hoard, other names can be made out across several artifacts. It would, therefore, be overly presumptuous to ascribe the full hoard to one owner.
But even though there is nothing written of the hoard’s owner, the man who discovered the treasure carved out his own place in history. Yes, Lawes acted with the utmost diligence when he made the discovery – and he was rewarded handsomely for his part in the recovery of the Hoxne Hoard.
In fact, Lawes was given a finder’s fee of £1.75 million – or around $2.32 million. And although the metal detectorist had no legal obligation to do so, he split his prize with the farmer on whose land he found the stash. What’s more, Lawes also seems to have brought the term “metal detectorist” into the common lexicon. Indeed, before the Englishman shot to prominence, the title wasn’t traditionally prescribed to people in the field.
The Hoxne Hoard subsequently came into the possession of the British Museum in London. There, various artifacts from the haul have been on display since April 1994. And for anyone who’s wondering, Lawes also managed to locate the farmer’s missing hammer. The missing tool is on display in the museum too, in fact.
But what did Lawes do with his share of the spoils? Well, using his newfound wealth, the metal detectorist built a single story house in Denham – a village located not too far from his childhood home. And he continued to pursue his passion of metal detecting to the end of his days. Then, just weeks after his 92nd birthday in May 2015, Lawes passed away peacefully in his sleep. Thanks to the Hoxne Hoard, though, his name will likely live on for a good many years yet.