Cornwall maths teacher discovers 2,000-year old Roman gold in his front garden

Mike Burke had only been metal detecting for a year after his wife bought him the device for Christmas. Credit: BPM Media

A metal detectorist from Cornwall is "still getting shivers" after discovering what is believed to be ancient gold in his front garden.

Maths teacher Mike Burke, from St Just, dug up his greatest treasure to date just after Christmas, and has now passed on his discovery to Cornwall’s Finds Liaison Officer.

The retired US military police officer had only been metal detecting for a year since his wife, Julie, bought him a Garrett Ace Apex for Christmas after their shared love for ‘The Detectorists’ TV programme.

Despite being new to the hobby, Mr Burke appears to already have struck gold after he uncovered a Roman intaglio ring, dating from around the 1st or 2nd century AD.

Once confirmed, this significant find could help to challenge previous theories of the absence of Roman influence in West Cornwall.

It is believed to be a Roman intaglio ring, dating from around the 1st or 2nd century AD. Credit: BPM Media

This was the 54-year-old's first gold, and one that he had been walking past on his garden path for years.

It was one day between Christmas and New Year’s Day when Mike decided to go metal detecting for a few hours.

With permission to dig at some fields close to where he and Julie live near St Just, Mike found a few coins and some iron scrap, but wasn’t having much luck, so headed back home.

Passing the patch of bare soil as he walked up his garden path, normally planted with flowers, Mike said he usually doesn't metal detect there as his wife has a lot of flowers planted there.

"But I decided since everything was dying back and we were getting ready to rake everything up – I was like, it’s no problem, she won’t mind me going in there", he said.

“Next month when she starts planting seeds again, I won’t be able to do it again, so it was now or never.”

Having spent 20 years in the US Army as a military police officer, including seven years as a prison guard in military prisons, and now working as a GCSE Functional Skills maths lecturer at the local college in Penzance, Mike goes metal detecting to unwind.

Credit: BPM Media

“It helps me relax. Even if I’m out (at a rally) with a group of 40 other people – I stick on the headphones, go walk around a field and I’m all by myself in peace and quiet except for the beeps and bops that are coming off the metal detector.”

Mike started his metal detecting in the garden only to find a 2 pence coin and some iron scrap, but then in the corner of the muddy flower bed, the numbers on the detecter suddenly settled on a solid ‘81’, so he started to dig.

"Around 6-10 inches down, I noticed a little fleck of gold – well, something that looked like gold" he said.

"I didn’t know if it was an old bottle top or something, because I find them all the time. But when I pulled it out, it was a gold ring.”

Mike says that, because they had friends round at the time, his wife didn’t really pay attention to him at first when he said he had found a gold ring. But after people had left and she had a proper look at it, her first thoughts were that it was Roman.

Mike's find has been reported to the local Finds Liasion Officer, who will try and trace back its history. Credit: BPM Media

Thinking that it could be something important, he rinsed it off with water, but says he was careful not to do any more to clean it.

After taking a few pictures of the ring, Mike posted it into a metal detecting Facebook group, asking if he ‘had something’. The first response was ‘That’s treasure! You need to contact FLO (The Finds Liaison Officer).

Any potentially historically significant finds by metal detectorists need to be reported to the local Finds Liasion Officer, who will then pass on any potential treasure to the county coroner to get officially confirmed and recorded.

At this point, museums can purchase the treasure from the finder and landowner for their collection, or, if it is not of interest to museums, the treasure is returned to the finder.

Mike and Julie’s terrace cottage near St Just was built in the 1870s on a riverbed, so there is a chance that this Roman intaglio ring was dropped, buried, or offered into the river somewhere upstream.

Although the ring will now need to be officially recorded and confirmed, Mike and Julie have done a fair amount of research and contacted several experts.

For now, the theory is that the ring that came out of Mike’s front garden flower bed is a Roman intaglio ring, made of gold and weighing 12.8 grams, with Ceres, Roman goddess of agriculture, grain, justice, peace and motherhood, engraved into a chalcedony gemstone.

Mike says he is becoming more and more transfixed with the 2,000-year-old gold ring.

“Every day I look at this and I still get a shiver, you know, I just can’t imagine that I found something like this", he said.