Archive | January, 2015

I.3: Aliases and More Coins

31 Jan

Part I: On Coins &c. 
Yesterday I was back for a brief (3.5-hour) hunt on the permission. There was some beautiful afternoon sunshine, and I managed to turn up coins at the rate of about one per hour. The first showed up in my second hole after only five minutes on site. However, they had all had it and were nearly blank. The other interesting find was a piece of harness kit, stamped with ‘[J] Dewey / Harness Maker / Eynsham’, which pleased me because my friend Gabriel (a friend of the blog) lives in Eynsham Village.



Can you find the coin in this pic?

Can you find the coin in this pic?


Here’s a live recovery of one of the coins I found:

Part II: On Aliases

I’ve been thinking about nicknames lately, since most serious treasure hunters have some kind of alias — ‘Coyote Bill’ or something in that vein. For quite awhile I liked ‘Deseret Kid’, because it resonates with home, and it’s the moniker of the protagonist of my novel-in-progress, but ‘Kid’ doesn’t really work with a guy my age. ‘Will o’ the Green’ is another name I liked; it’s the name of the chief outlaw in Sherwood before Robin’s time, and it evokes my love of the forest as well as alludes cannily to my permissions. ‘Will o’ the Wood’ was another thought, as was ‘[….] Will’, with the placename of my permission in the square brackets. I still like the latter idea, but it would announce to the world the location of my permission, which is meant to remain between the landowner and me.

During a text conversation today, quite out of the blue, my detecting buddy started chatting about nicknames. He mentioned that he didn’t have one yet, and I asked him whether they ought to be bestowed or self-selected. I suppose by way of suggesting that they be bestowed, he replied that I should be called ‘Will o’ the Wisp’; I think he was joking, but I immediately liked the name, given that I study English magic and folklore. Later in the day he sent me this image of a Magic card:

WillotheWispIt does sound a bit like ‘Will o’ the Green’. My friend said the nickname was due to the will o’ the wisp’s association with bogs, sinks, and swamps (I think the muddy conditions the day before yesterday made an impression on him). Anyway, perhaps I’ll cultivate the name. I hope it sticks.

Update to I.2: Dagger Chape!

31 Jan

My friend submitted pics of the odd conical object he found with me on the 29th January to the friendly (and expert) folks of the MDF forum ( They identified it as a chape, or the metal point of a dagger scabbard. Quite a find! I like to think that the owner of the scabbard dropped it on the way to or from the building whose ruins I was investigating. Obviously the leather of the scabbard has long-since rotted away.

More pictures of the chape:

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The chape would have looked something like this:


I.2: This Time With a Friend

30 Jan

I returned to my permission for several hours this morning. I brought a friend along, who’d offered me the opportunity to visit his permissions well before I had any of my own or the prospect of any. I was hoping for a good day also for my friend’s sake, but this field was much quieter. I had a nice musket ball, a modern Liz II penny, a series of buttons, a lead fishing weight, and a strange little image of a barrel. The stellar find of the day was an apparently ancient key. My friend found some sort of modern trade token or seal, a George VI ha’penny, and an interesting, unidentified conical piece (below).

My friend's finds.

My friend’s finds.

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My finds.

My finds.

The barrel.

The barrel.

I.1: First Dig on the First Permission

28 Jan

I decided I just couldn’t wait to get out on the fields now available to me. I set out to find the ruins of a building which the landowner described to me when we met yesterday. It dates from the early 17c., and now only a few remaining stone walls lie mouldering in the brambles on his land. I found the spot easily enough, but it was nigh unsearchable: a combination of ferrous trash from the ruined building and ‘green waste’ on the surrounding field made searching an audio-maze of beeps and bops from my detector. Green waste is a fertiliser of sorts made from notionally biodegradable waste products but often also materials from the breaking up of old sheds and structures — it contains a lot of wood pulp but also bits of aluminium, nails, brick, you name it. It usually spells death to the effectiveness of metal detecting, as each sweep of the coil brings with it a cacophony of chirps and whirrs.

Today’s conditions were complicated by intermittent hail and the awful sort of squelchy, viscous mud that makes your feet two times their usual size in minutes. Still I managed to turn up four coins around the thicket that hid the building’s foundations; they are in pretty bad shape but look like Victorian copper-alloys. I also found a French 10-centimes coin from 1901 lying on the surface. Buckles, bits of ironmongery, a floral device, an Army Service Corps badge, and an interesting cylindrical object that looks like a pendant or a vial stopper rounded out the day. To thank the landowner for his kindness, I plan to prepare a display case of these objects along with little placards interpreting their provenance.

I also found lots of clay pipestems and bowls on the surface, as here.

I also found lots of clay pipestems and bowls on the surface, as here.

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Can anyone help identify this coin? It has a faintly discernible left-facing bust with a laurel crown.

Can anyone help identify this coin? It has a faintly discernible left-facing bust with a laurel crown.

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Perhaps a curtain rail support?

Perhaps a curtain rail support?

Despite the tough going, it was obvious that this permission holds many secrets in its soil. I hope to return tomorrow to see what else I can turn up.

First Permission!

27 Jan


I sent out my permission letters on Saturday, and today, Tuesday, I received a call from a local farmer. I went to meet with him in the afternoon, and the conversation went very well. I can’t say much here, but I have permission to search on his farm near Oxford — and there is a lot of history on that land and nearby. I’m going to tutor the farmer’s son in history, which will be apt: teaching about history while searching for it in the soil. I can’t wait to get started! I may take a first look tomorrow, though we’re anticipating rain.

Foreshore Detecting Permit Renewed for 2015

26 Jan

Foreshore Detecting Permit '15-'16

Though I only detected two or three days on English beaches over the past couple of years, it always makes sense to be prepared for an excursion. The application for permission to search beaches and tidal rivers, which unless otherwise owned are the property of the Crown, only takes moments to fill out, and the resulting permit (pictured above) is delivered to the applicant’s inbox within minutes. Here is the link to apply:

That’s me covered for another year.

Pursuing Permissions

24 Jan

I sent out my first batch of twenty-four permission letters today. Most were to local farmers, though I also sent specially tailored letters to the owner of a local manor house (a writer!) and to the Islamic Azad University in Oxford, a branch campus of an Iranian university located near Eynsham. The letters may be pitched a bit formally: I used my academic business cards and Pembroke letterhead and envelopes. I thought, though, that I should leverage what sets me apart from other detectorists; in this case, I really do study early modern history and literature on a daily basis, a sort of cognate endeavour to detecting for antiquities. I also included a tearsheet with a picture of me and pictures of my recent recorded finds — the bottom of the sheet can be torn away and mailed in the attached SASE to indicate whether the recipient is willing to discuss the possibility of allowing access to his or her land.

I’m hoping the old sales saw applies: talk to a hundred; interest ten; convince one. (I’m also hoping that that one from my first hundred shows up in the first twenty-four)!

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It would be great to have a permission, not only because I’d be able to hunt an hour or two in the evenings anytime I liked, but also because I’m trying to lure my Dad over to Blighty for an uninterrupted week of searching, and we’ll need private land to make that happen. Also, I do feel that having a permission or two would feel like another milestone in the hobby for me, sort of like getting my mudlarking license or finding my first Roman.

Catching Up to 2015

22 Jan

I left New York at the end of summer, and I felt that it was best to sell on my Surfmaster P.I. Dual-Field. I only ever got two hunts with her, so I didn’t learn her ins and outs; I would have liked to, but it didn’t make sense to keep hold of a detector that I used so infrequently. Still, it was a pleasure meeting treasure-hunting legend Mike McMeekin, who sold me the detector. His shop on Long Island, Treasures Unlimited, is a veritable museum of coins and artefacts (more a pirate’s hoard, really).


Back in Oxford in the autumn, I went on a few digs with the Oxford Blues. After renting a car to travel to the first one, I sent round an email to the OBMDC list asking whether anyone might be interested in sharing travel costs. A wonderful fellow named Gerry Townsend responded and offered to take me along with him.

In the event, he did much more than provide transportation. He introduced me to his mates in the Blues (he knows everyone), and he made sure that I felt comfortable socially — actually, it was the first time I hadn’t felt like an outsider with the Blues, as I’d only been on three prior digs with them. This new friendship proved lucky, as toward the end of that Saturday dig (a rarity with the clubs, which mostly dig on Sundays) in driving rain, I found my first Roman coin.

A couple of the old-timers who’d braved the rain thought it might be a Constantine II, but Anni Byard, the Oxfordshire FLO, provisionally ID’ed it via Twitter as a Julian II.

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Musket ball found on the same hunt as the Roman (Fox Lane near Boar's Hill)

Musket ball found on the same Saturday hunt as the Roman (Fox Lane near Boar’s Hill)


A week or so later, Gerry drove my partner and me to the British Legion Hall in Littlemore where the club have their monthly meetings. There is a little bar onsite, so the club members can have a pint and a chat and share round any finds or gossip. I loved it! There was also a find of the month contest and a raffle — I participated in both, but didn’t win either. Anni Byard was present, and she confirmed that I’d found a Julian II…she and another club member who is very knowledgeable about coins went further: It was a Julian II siliqua, and though it had oxidized over the 1700 years it had lain in the ground, the coin was silver! I turned the coin and my king’s head buckle over to Anni for recording with the PAS.

About a month passed, and the holidays were upon me before I received word that the recording was complete. When Anni sent me links to the PAS database entries for my two recorded finds, I felt like I was part of something significant — not just hunting for treasure but joining with thousands of other individuals to preserve and document the history slumbering beneath our feet. Here are my finds to date: BERK-57CD9B and BERK-1DA34A.

A dig on December 7 yielded an object Anni identified as a 16th c. hooked clasp (similar to this one: BERK-47901A). I plan to submit it for recording at the next club meeting.

pin two pin one

I spent the holidays in Italy and the States, only recently returning to Oxford. This past Sunday, the 18th January, I went on my first dig of 2015 (I now have a cheapo Fiat Punto to facilitate transportation). The dig was on land in Stanton St John, quite near a Roman road, and the signals were plentiful. I found a Georgian half-penny (or penny?) straightaway, in bad shape. Then another grotty coin. In the early afternoon, I found my second-ever Roman, though this was grotty and impossible to make out.

Near the end of the dig, my AT Pro started pinging with the high, pure sound that almost always indicates a coin rather than foil or a button. My heart was thumping against my ribs as I caught a glimpse of silver in the muck…my first hammered? Actually, no. I soon realised that the edges of the coin were milled, but no matter. I’d uncovered a George III silver shilling from 1816! I’ve found Roman silver and Georgian silver; now all I need is a hammered! Also on this hunt I found a thimble, which a club member (Bill, the discoverer of the Didcot Hoard kept in the Ashmolean Museum) told me was used by women when bringing in the corn harvest to prevent bruised or bloodied fingertips; a (medieval?) buckle bent neatly in half; a half dozen flat buttons; a chunk of bored lead that may have been used as a whorl; and various other bits and bobs.

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I love this hobby! I would happily do it full time. Now I’m turning my attention completely toward finding permissions: I’ve prepared a letter, envelopes, and a ‘my finds’ insert to send round to local farmers. More on this in the next instalment.