Digging History

A farmer's story of moles could have led to lost city

(Stuart Wilson)

(Stuart Wilson)

Stuart Wilson says people thought he was crazy when he gambled $39,000—his life savings—on a 4.6-acre field in Wales. Having heard a farmer's story about moles digging up bits of pottery on the land, the amateur archaeologist tells the Guardian he had a hunch that something important lay beneath, and when the parcel went on the market in 2004, he bought it.

Now, it looks like his bet is paying off: He believes his land is sitting atop the lost city of Trellech—Wales' largest city in the 13th century, reports the BBC—and the Guardian reports his theory is starting to gain traction.

Wilson, a former toll collector who got his undergrad degree in archaeology, estimates the project has cost more than $200,000, funded in part through donations (you can be an archaeologist for a day for $61).

With help from some 1,000 volunteers, Wilson says he has so far discovered eight buildings, and he intends to spend 2017 working on the remains of what he believes is a manor house surrounded by a moat.

In 2006, he told Archaeology.org that excavating the field "will probably take about 50 years, so basically the rest of my life." As for the history of the site, it was founded by the de Clare family in the 1200s as a hub that produced iron weapons and armor, and its population exploded.

Per Wilson, in just 25 years it grew to 10,000 people—a quarter of London's size, though Wilson points out it took London 250 years to amass its 40,000 people.

The BBC reports the de Clares' settlement is thought to have been destroyed in 1296. (Read about the seven biggest archaeology finds of 2016.)

This article originally appeared on Newser: Man Follows Hunch, Says He Has Uncovered Lost City