PERTH, Australia – Police are trying to determine who owns a treasure-trove of gold coins unearthed from a building site on Australia's southwest coast.
Western Australia state police spokesman Gerry Cassidy said workers found the 400 British sovereigns last week while digging a ditch in the port city of Albany. They handed them to the property owner who is claiming ownership.
Cassidy said Wednesday police are checking law books to determine whether the property owner or even a museum is entitled to keep the coins, dated 1800 — 26 years before Albany was settled by Europeans.
"Police have got to work out exactly how they handle it," Cassidy said.
He said an appraiser valued one of the coins at 16,000 Australian dollars ($17,000) but did not have an estimate for all of the coins.
Brett Joins, chief executive of Wauters Enterprises, confirmed his construction company had given the coins to local businessman Paul Lionetti.
"An exhaustive search was completed of the site and no other items were found," Joins told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio. Lionetti could not immediately be contacted for comment Wednesday.
Police have no theories on how the coins came to be buried in Albany.
Cassidy said the coins were found individually and did not appear to have been buried in a container.