Farmland hides treasures. Catch a furrow following a winter rain, check a ridge after a field is flipped or walk a turn row months after grain trucks have gone silent—the dirt continuously reveals its secrets.
What lies beneath? Arrowheads, fossils, petrified wood, meteorites, marbles and coins are a portion of an endless list pulled from the trappings of yesteryear. With a bit of fortune and instinct, a sharp-eyed hunter can find a stone tool untouched for millennia or a child’s marble lost for a century.
U.S. farmland isn’t home to traditional buried treasure, but it’s a haven for seekers who are simply chasing the thrill of the history hunt.
Glass-shard graveyards glitter in the sunlight, exposing the location of sharecropper homes long since torn down in the 1960s and 1970s. The surrounding acres are home to pipe stems, ceramic doll parts, bits of coal, coins, shattered crockery and a child’s favorite toy—marbles.
Chris Kale, co-owner of Farmers Supply in Marvell, Ark., hunted arrowheads as a boy and began searching for marbles in the late 1980s. Untold and uncounted jars of marbles later, Kale is a marble whisperer and has honed his skills with a focus on location, timing and blind luck.
“Find a marble that hasn’t seen daylight in 75 years, pick it up and rub the grit off,” he says. “You’ll almost hear it speak.”
Farmland’s rarest treasure is difficult to locate, but it waits patiently; just ask Bruce Lilienthal. In May 2009, from high in the box, Lilienthal spotted a large rock sticking out of his Minnesota dirt. He got down and dug out a 16" long, 10" wide and 2" thick specimen weighing an unseemly 33 lb. Lilienthal had harvested the most unique item in his farm’s history—a meteorite. Between 5,000 to 17,000 meteorites pound the Earth each year, and 75% are swallowed by the ocean. The rest? Fair to say, farmland is home to tens of thousands of them.
South Dakota producer Terry Springer has amassed a collection of ice age bones, teeth, petrified wood, stone tools and a host of unidentified geological specimens. Each year, erosion draws a treasure map for Springer, even though his farmland is no-till. In the 1950s, Gregory County bulldozed a cut directly through Springer’s hills and pasture, exposing a major fossil source.
“As a farmer, I hate erosion, but for hunting rocks, erosion is key,” he says. “These rocks and fossils are simple parts of my life, and one thing is for certain, they’ll always be a part of this farm,” Springer adds.