How To Use Historic Maps to Locate Top Treasure Hunting Sites

By Michael Bernzweig

Many newcomers to the hobby of metal detecting want to dive right in without taking time to research where they will search for treasure. It may be because they’re overzealous or simply think that research is a waste of time. Successful treasure hunters will tell you just the opposite—research will save you time and can greatly increase the kitty of treasure you come home with.

If you visit your local library, you can seek out information about nearby places that may yield metal treasures. The town room usually houses reference materials with each city’s establishment date, the first town buildings, population numbers and maps of old roads. One of the best strategies for selecting good search sites is to get a current and a historic map of your town (or the city/town you plan to search) and to compare the two. Maps will indicate parks, trails, public land and all of the topography needed to decide where you should hunt. Take note of gathering spots from years past that may no longer be located in popular areas. You might find a hidden gem deep within the woods or off the beaten path.

Print-Version Paper Maps

Many paper-version city maps include “points of interest” that show you grassy areas or undeveloped land that could make for good detecting. Private property may not be your first option, because you’ll have to get permission first to hunt there. But the sidewalks, paths and surrounding landscape is often on public land. If you’re looking at local zoning or development site maps, look for “soft sites” for potential development. This refers to anything you can dig—such as grass, sand, low-lying ground cover, gravel or plain dirt. This will be easiest to dig once you have located a coin, relic or other treasure. Most hotels and visitor bureaus have maps with points of interest, too. Start a collection of these maps to see where people visit. Also, atlases like Rand McNally have indexes in the back where you can find lots of detecting spots. Based on your maps, you can make a list of search sites. Always take note of local and national laws and request permission before hunting private property. Places to look for include:

  • Ball fields
  • Beaches, lakes, quarries
  • Campgrounds
  • Fairgrounds
  • Parks and preserves
  • Picnic and recreation areas
  • Schools and churches
  • Sight-seeing viewpoints
  • Movie theaters
  • Racetracks
  • Shopping malls
  • Bus and train terminals

Older Paper Maps are Worth their Weight in Gold

What you really want to get your hands on are old versions of city and town maps. Old maps are a powerful resource! If you can locate an old paper map from the 1960’s, you’ll be surprised by how different the landscape looked then. So much of the land was undeveloped or the main street (maybe even dirt road) was in a different location. Don’t assume that town activities or the town hall are in the same spot today. One veteran treasure hunter suggests: if you can’t locate an old city map at the library, try searching on eBay. Another alternative is to buy a topographical map from the U.S. Geological Survey that is well dated. They usually provide lots of details like the locations of schools, parks and campgrounds.

Since the U.S. stopped minting silver dimes and quarters in 1965, if you find a map from this time period- you’ll know exactly where to go to find these coins. It’s important to note that the maximum monetary value in coin hunting comes from finding old, valuable coins. This goes for relics, too. You can’t expect to know where to find these treasures without doing a little research. For a great article about researching treasure hunting sites at your local library, read: “Metal Detecting Locations: Digging into Research at Your Local Library - Uncovering the Best Sites for Locating Treasures.”

Utilize Google Earth and Online Maps

With so many maps online offering aerial and satellite views, it makes sense to check out your search sites ahead of time. Internet views can offer much greater detail than other types of maps. Even if you’re familiar with your area, an online map can still be useful. Satellite views show you entrances, trails and paths that may be hidden when you’re on foot. MapQuest, Google Maps and Google Earth are regularly used by treasure hunters throughout the world. You can also find online topographic maps. A site called TerraServer provides free public access to a huge data store of maps and aerial photographs of the United States. Lastly, the internet is a great tool for finding out the age of a house. Real estate websites list the year a house was built, so you can tell the decade or time period of a group of homes.

Check out “My Metal Detecting Finds” Stories

Lots of detectorists have exciting finds they want to talk about, and it can help you get inspired! has a special website section dedicated to noteworthy metal detecting finds. Everyone is welcome to submit real treasure hunting stories with photos of their metal detecting finds. Then, readers vote on their favorites—and the best finds win prizes. Curtis from Massachusetts submitted Diamond in the Rough. He was hunting in a school field and got a target ID that made him think it was just another pull tab. However, when he dug up the target, he was greeted with a shiny surprise.

Copyright 2014 Detector Electronics Corp.