“Piiiep, peeep” – “That hits really well,” says Carsten Konze. The 47-year-old from Cologne hasn’t been in the field for two minutes when he already has his first good signal. The metal detector reports it with a loud beep. Treasure hunters like Konze also call themselves probers or detectorists. Konze is a celebrity in the scene.

He is one of the very few of an estimated 30,000 treasure hunters in Germany who have been able to turn their hobby into a profession. His channel “German Treasure Hunter” has almost 160,000 subscribers on YouTube and 213,000 followers on Tiktok. Seven million saw his most successful video there.

His best finds are lined up in a glass display case: an arrowhead from the Bronze Age, 3,500 years old, a Celtic coin from 290 BC. BC, sestertii and denarii from the Roman period, a Roman spearhead. But one find is missing: an artistically decorated fibula from Roman times made of solid gold. Rich Romans closed their cloaks with such jewelry.

Because the primer has a special scientific value, it was placed on the so-called treasure shelf. Konze received 5,000 euros in compensation from the state for his spectacular find. “I’m very happy with that,” he says. “I report everything that is older than the Middle Ages. Once a year I take these things to an archaeologist from the Rhineland Regional Association. I get 99 percent of the pieces back.”

That’s one thing about what is scientifically valuable: a single musket ball is not relevant, but hundreds of musket balls indicate a historical battlefield.

The barriers to entry for detectorists like him vary from state to state. In order to search, the treasure hunter not only needs an official research permit, but also the green light from the owners of the land on which he wants to search. Archaeological monuments are taboo, and digging is generally not permitted in forests either. So the fields, plowed up countless times, remain the natural terrain of the treasure hunters.

Archaeologists fear the robbers

“Illegal archeology is a big problem,” says archaeologist Marion Brüggler, who heads the branch of the Office for Archeological Conservation of the Rhineland Regional Association in Xanten (North Rhine-Westphalia). “There are a large number of detectorists who do not follow the rules of the game.” In the Rhineland, a Sondler who applies for a permit is familiarized with these rules during an initial interview.

Because searching – alone and outside – became even more popular during the corona pandemic, the number of detectorists increased sharply. “We have a problem when scientifically relevant finds are not reported,” says Brüggler. Some time ago, robbers near Goch on the Lower Rhine plundered a Franconian burial ground from the 6th to 8th centuries. “We found out about this site when the area was already being used for gravel mining. The burial ground is lost to posterity.”

Trustworthy detectorists, on the other hand, sometimes receive a specific search order from official archaeologists, because they cannot all explore the many blank spots and suspected cases on their maps themselves, says Brüggler.

In countries like the Netherlands, things are a step further and much more digital, reports Konze: Finds can still be photographed on site and quickly reported via the app along with their location without any paperwork.

Hobby probers encountered an unknown battlefield

Sensational finds such as the Nebra sky disk or the barbarian treasure of Rülzheim were not reported to the authorities on several occasions. How valuable the hobby hunters can be was shown on the edge of the Harz in southern Lower Saxony. There, about 15 years ago, hobby hunters came across a battlefield from a Roman campaign for which there was no evidence in historiography – 200 years after the lost Battle of Varus, when Romans were no longer suspected of being in Germania. A large group of amateur detectorists was involved in the exploration of the area and unearthed more than 1,500 artifacts.

If you’re not interested in antiquities and history, but rather in making as much money as possible, your best bet is to look under a roller coaster or under a beach bar. A third variant is private search orders: the lost wedding ring, or the family silver that was buried and no longer found.

The fact that Konze finds what he is looking for so quickly in the field is thanks to his preparation: he not only has his GPS location on a current map on the display of his cell phone – he can also overlay historical maps on top of it. “There was a trade route here in the 19th century that led to Cologne,” he says, marking out an area that used to be a crossroads and is now an inconspicuous piece of potato field.

Konze’s first find fits the old trade route: a decoration of an old harness or carriage. Then things happen in quick succession: a bronze ring, a medieval book clasp and a coin from the imperial era emerge from a depth of just a few centimeters.

Not everything that beeps is gold

In addition, one aluminum can pull tab after another ends up under the detector: “85 percent of all finds are garbage,” says Konze. After the fifth can closure, he has a suspicion: “I think the farmer regularly quenched his thirst here while sowing, harvesting and plowing.”

The metal detector not only beeps, it also shows a conductivity value: conductivity values ​​up to 10 are iron and usually scrap. Very high conductivity values ​​of 80 or 90, on the other hand, indicate gold.

In addition to the golden Roman brooch, a coin hoard with several hundred coins is one of Konze’s best finds. The most viewed video of him on YouTube shows him with a series of rocket-propelled grenades and mines from the Second World War.

Konze has the greatest respect for such war relics. “It’s best not to touch them at all and call the police immediately. They’ll then call the explosive ordnance disposal service.” Despite all his successes, professional treasure hunter Konze still has one big wish: “I still want to find a real treasure chest. I haven’t had that yet.”