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Legendary treasure that apparently belonged to notorious 18th-century conman unearthed in Poland

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A trove of gold and silver coins that experts believe were swindled out of an ailing population by an 18th-century conman has been discovered in central Poland, officials said. Volunteer metal detectorists found the treasure hidden underground in multiple locations while exploring the Jeleniowskie mountain range with permission from the local government, and the fact that it exists seems to validate a centuries-old legend.

The collection includes coins that date back to the 17th century and early 18th century, said the Provincial Office for the Protection of Monuments in Kielce, a city near the mountain range, in an announcement unveiling the finds. The coins will be analyzed more thoroughly this year, but as heritage officials and explorers themselves have suggested, the treasure seems to prove that tales of the notorious Polish fraudster Anthony Jaczewicz could be rooted in true history after all.

"The coins we recovered may be part of this legendary treasure collected by Jaczewicz," said Sebastian Grabowiec, who heads the exploration group that found the coins, in comments to the government-backed Polish science organization PAP. 

Jaczewicz is said to have arrived in the Świętokrzyskie Mountains, which include the Jeleniowskie range, around 1708. He established a sort of settlement in the area as Poland entered a massive war involving most of the region's major powers, which coincided with a deadly and widespread outbreak of the plague. As civilians feared for their own lives with the disease spreading, many turned to Jaczewicz, a preacher who falsely claimed to have divine healing powers at a time when such abilities would have been in particularly high demand. 

One of many coins unearthed in the mountains of central Poland that experts believe may have belonged to a notorious 18th-century conman. Wojciech Siudowski / Kielce University via Provincial Office for the Protection of Monuments in Kielce

He was not the only trickster who tried to exploit desperate civilians and their fears of contracting the plague. But officials say that, at least as the legend suggested, people flocked to Jaczewicz's compound in the mountains in hopes of receiving his curative gifts. They also paid for his services. 

Jaczewicz's scheme was apparently so successful that donations poured into his settlement, eventually allowing him to fortify it with hired guards who then stole from other people around — sometimes taking over entire properties in the vicinity. They are also said to have robbed surrounding aristocrats. 

For his alleged financial crimes, Jaczewicz was captured by the aristocrats and imprisoned. He escaped that first detainment and may have gone back to practicing so-called healing, claiming to have received the pope's blessing to do so. But Jaczewicz was ultimately captured again and convicted in 1712 by a high court in Kraków. He faced life imprisonment as punishment.

After metal detectorists unearthed the coins, officials say they were handed over to an archaeological museum in the southwestern city of Ostrowiec Świętokrzyski. The collection will be preserved and studied with the aim of learning more about how it ended up buried in the mountains and to whom it might have belonged.

The discovery comes just weeks after officials said a metal detectorist in eastern Poland uncovered a 17th century cross icon that experts say was once outlawed by an emperor.

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