What is a Hoard?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

The term “hoard” is used in a number of ways, most usually to describe a collection of objects or artifacts. This wiseGEEK article focuses specifically on so-called “archaeological hoards,” hoards dug up by archaeologists which can sometimes reveal very interesting things about a people and their culture. Several notable hoards are on display at museums as complete collections, and in other cases, a hoard may be broken down into various components and displayed or studied at multiple locations.

Beachcombers often use metal detectors to look for valuable objects.
Beachcombers often use metal detectors to look for valuable objects.

A typical archaeological hoard is buried with the intent of recovery at some date in the future, and it usually contains a jumble of items wrapped in fabric, skins, or other materials to make them easier to locate. Over time, the outer wrapping often decays completely away, and some objects may migrate, causing the hoard to be distributed over a broad area. Hoards are often uncovered by people who use metal detectors recreationally, and some very notable hoards have been uncovered by farmers and gardeners who literally run into them.

There are several reasons why the objects in a hoard might go unclaimed. Commonly, hoards were created to protect treasured items from raiders, pirates, or government officials, and their owners died before recovering the items or passing on the location of the hoard. In other cases, someone might forget the location of a hoard, or be unable to return to it. In the instance of votive hoards, objects are buried deliberately for religious reasons, with no intention of recovering the artifacts at a later date.

From the point of view of an archaeologist, a hoard is like a time capsule. It is generally safe to assume that the objects are contemporary to each other, so a hoard can reveal an interesting cross-section of a very specific moment in time. Especially in the case of a mixed hoard, it is possible to learn about which classes in society owned which objects, and which sort of things were considered highly valuable by people in the past.

There are a number of different types of hoards. The most famous is probably the “hoard of loot,” otherwise known as a hidden treasure, consisting of various stolen and concealed items. A personal hoard consists of items of value to one person, which might range from mementos to money, while a merchant's hoard is a collection of merchandise and other functional objects. Collections of metal objects, whether raw or finished, are known as founder's hoards.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

You might also Like

Readers Also Love

Discussion Comments


@jmc88 - That is an interesting story and I also do not understand why a previous owner would bury all that.

I have heard instances where things are buried on purpose in order for future generations to find and study, such as some archaeological finds in China and even some place like Pompeii, where a Volcano buried an entire community.

Although this was entirely caused by nature, I have to wonder if this could be considered a hoard. The entire community was engulfed by the ash from the Volcano and this led to an incredible, buried archaeological discovery.

However, I do not know if this could be considered a hoard because it was not done on purpose and was simply a natural disaster caused by nature, that had no intention of people finding it later.


Hoards are something of surprises and treasures. I have heard that people have found hoards of weapons or loot from gangsters in the 1920' and 1930's, but sometimes people may find hoards in their yard simply from previous owners who simply wanted to bury something to create some type of time capsule.

I like to play around with a metal detector and I once found a cache of silver dollars in my yard. In this cache I found a cigar box full of silver quarters and Eisenhower Dollars.

I am really unsure as to why someone decided to bury all of this and found it to be quite strange. Maybe they felt insecure keeping it in their house for fear of robbery, but it was obvious they failed in recovering their hoard, because I found it and I have lived on my property for about 25 years.


@Izzy78 - You are absolutely correct. I have heard that the most famous pirate to bury their treasure is Captain Kidd and besides him there are very few instances in which pirates hid treasure to be recovered at a later date.

I know there is a festival in Virginia each year in which they search for a pirates presumed buried treasure. I believe the pirates name may have been something like John Halsey and he was presumed to bury much of a hoard because he was in a rush to get away from authorities.

This was just seen as an urban legend for several decades until someone actually found a small cache of silver bars that were scattered and dated back to the 1700's. Since then people have taken the legend more seriously and go to the festival every year, not sure what they will find.


Although archaeological hoarding does occur I have heard from a variety of experts that there are very few instances in which a pirate buried treasure to be found at a later date.

A pirate's life was a life that usually involved excess and was very short. Every attack on a merchant vessel could have been their last, so they lived with that thought in mind.

Most of the time when they looted merchant vessels or robbed people they simply took their share and spent it at various Pirate coves where many pirates congregated to safety.

Pirates had the intent of spending whatever they stole and chose not to bury it because they may forget it. I would imagine the ones that did simply buried their treasure only as a type of ransom in case they got caught and they could use their knowledge to its whereabouts to negotiate with their captors.

Post your comments
Forgot password?