MCR Mudlark

10 Jul

This morning I met my friends Ed Adkins and Sam Wills at the Tate end of Millennium Bridge for a bit of mudlarking. The weather mainly cooperated and the company was excellent; it was fun to sift the history of the city while performing a Brexit post-mortem with an economist and a historian — like discussing causes of death with our hands in the cadaver.

We scraped on the south side of the river for awhile but nothing of note turned up. When we crossed the Thames we had more luck. Sam found a 17th c. trader’s token of Robert Booth, Holborn Bridge. I had a couple of buttons and modern clad, and Ed collected a handful of pipestems and fragmentary bowls. Sam’s find was definitely the class of the day, not only in our little group; it attracted the envious attention of others on the foreshore, who asked repeatedly to have it out for a look. Definitely one to record with the PAS.

After our lark we had lunch at a pub overlooking the river, and then coffee on the sixth floor of the Tate Modern. We watched the river rise to cover the foreshore where we’d searched, and we looked out over the city, trying to descry the future in the lineaments of its grey stones and steel.

Forrest Fenn Update

5 Jul

“On the Hunt, ‘Where Warm Waters Halt,’ for a $2 Million Treasure” , an article about the Forrest Fenn Treasure, ran today in the New York Times. 

Vicky Brexit London

2 Jul

The title here reminded me vaguely of Vicky Cristina Barcelona. Gabriel and I spent Saturday as part of a 40,000 person protest of Brexit, marching from Hyde Park to Parliament Square. Afterwards we went mudlarking for half an hour on the South Bank, and I was able to offer proof of method, plucking a knackered Vicky 1858 sixpence from the river mud. I asked Gabe to give it to his mum, who is interested in such things — her own mother, the wife of celebrated novelist PH Newby, was a bit of an amateur archaeologist.

Treasure Donated to the Oxfordshire Museums Service

22 Mar


The landowner of my P and I have agreed to donate the cufflinks to the Oxfordshire Museums Service rather than to receive a reward ex gratia following the Treasure Valuation process. It would have been interesting to have the treasure valuation go forward, as I would have loved knowing from independent assessors how much the cufflinks are worth. But donating them at this stage actually magnifies the public good by saving the museum funds it would spend on the appraisal process.

As we went through the donation process, Mr B ____ and I worked with Ian Richardson, Treasure Registrar for the PAS and the British Museum. Without telling us, Ian arranged certificates of appreciation for me and Mr B ____ from the Minister of Culture and the Digital Economy. David Moon, Curator of Archaeology for the Oxfordshire Museums Service, agreed to attach Mr B ____’s name and mine to the donor card for the cufflinks and to let us know when they are displayed in local museums. The Woodstock Museum is currently being remodelled, but they anticipate establishing a gallery section focused on local metal detecting finds when they reopen.


Cufflinks Declared Treasure

3 Mar

This is from an article in the Oxford Times, which I happened across by accident. The last line of the piece indicates that at the Coroner’s meeting a pair of cufflinks were also declared treasure. Those are the ones I found! The landowner and I are now keen to donate them to the Oxfordshire Museum, which has declared an interest in acquiring them.

Treasure hunter finds at least £1m worth of Viking artefacts in Oxfordshire (From The Oxford Times)

On the Baltic

2 Mar

Gdynia, Poland, 6 February 2016

My Polish friend Ania was keen to try detecting, and as Polish antiquities laws are draconian in the extreme, I suggested a visit to the seashore. Gdynia is about five hours from Warsaw, but watching the wintry landscape flash by offered the chance to clear my head.

Once on the beach, we started to get loads of signals with the Deus’s Wet Beach programme, but most of these were bottlecaps from a who’s who of Polish beers. We did find some modern clad, and as The Hat says — quoted often here at EoW — ‘a coin is a coin’. We also found one earring with lots of plastic leaves depending from it (not a keeper).

As we searched, we noticed several mainly elderly people jumping into the Baltic. The air temp was probably zero or near that; lower with the windchill. The water can’t have been much warmer. The bathers turned out to belong to the local ‘Mors’, or Walrus, Club, what we would call polar bear swimmers in the States. Not to be outdone, I stripped off to my pants and jumped in.

OBMDC at Radley

19 Oct

Sunday, 18 October

This was Gez’s last dig for awhile, and I attended to bid him farewell. We shared a Tesco’s Victoria sponge cake, but not much else besides aluminium waste. Mike the Hat had a lovely George V sixpence, as well as a Roman radiate in which some long-ago person had drilled a pendant hole. The only find I had was another of the mysterious bronze rings, which could date from the Iron Age or be much more recent.

Later in the day I spent some time on my P to see if I could have a bit more luck. I did find some coins, including a George V penny (1927) and a Victoria ha’penny (1862). The others were too worn to make out, but probably Georgian.

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The other object in the pictures is a bit of a floriate button, possibly medieval, which turned up at the club dig near Scotsgrove on the 27th of September. I didn’t include it earlier and thought I would here, as I might end up recording it.

American Summer and English Autumn

16 Oct

I spent the summer with my siblings on Long Island, where I wanted to improve on last year’s lacklustre beach detecting results. To do so, I purchased a Minelab Excalibur II multi-freq detector and a chest harness for the machine; the Excal II is a heavy beast but it has a solid reputation on wet sand and in the surf.

I only took it out once, during a camping trip with my family while my parents were visiting. My dad had just expressed skepticism that anyone ever found anything of note on the beach when we were approached by a distressed and crying woman who related that she’d lost her wedding band and engagement ring. My dad and I each searched the general area she indicated, and there were smiles all round as we recovered both rings. Minelab retweeted my pics of the overjoyed couple; good advertising for them!

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I sold the Excal II after that one use. I loved it, but I didn’t have the time to spend on the beach. Frustratingly, I also lost my 300£ Deus backphones in a park near my sister’s place, so the summer’s detecting wasn’t all it might have been.

Soon, though, I was back in Blighty. During my first dig with the OBMDC lads and lasses in Fritwell, I found a grotty Roman, as well as a nice gilt flat button and some medieval and post-med buckles.

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The next week, along with my friend Gez, I attended my first rally, a small Rotary affair in the Chiltern Hills involving several clubs from the Southeast. The surroundings were lovely and it was nice having a food tent onsite, but stalks were thick on the ground, and I found nothing of note.

Soon after returning to the UK, I was hired as an archaeologist by MOLA and applied for membership of the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists. Unlike last year when I worked as a site assistant in Oxfordshire, this time I am a full field archaeologist on an urban Roman/medieval site, which has meant lots of on-the-job learning.

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Excavating a post-medieval well/cesspit, and finding a broken chamberpot in the fill:

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My first excavation, a wattled pit, which I dug with a co-worker, Matt:


Because our dig site is only about 50 meters from the Thames, I pop down on lunch breaks whenever I have the opportunity. During my first week with MOLA, I found a Charles I twopence on Thursday, and a silver (Henry III?) penny the next day.

Mudlarking at Southbank in front of the Globe Theatre:

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The silver penny, along with an Indian coin, a modern twopence, and a bit of iron pyrite:

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The good luck continued at the excavation site near St Paul’s, where I surprised my coworkers by troweling up this Roman from a patch of plastered Roman concrete called opus signinum:

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Bolstered by my recent success on the Southbank foreshore, I set up a meeting with Ian Smith, Chairman of the Society of Thames Mudlarks, to ask about induction into the society. I have had a general foreshore permit for three years, and I am keen to apply to be one of about sixty real mudlarks. We met on a Saturday near Queenhithe, and he was kind to allow me take a picture of the hole he was digging with a mate (as mudlarks, they are allowed to do so).


On Sunday the 27th September, I attended at OBMDC dig at Scotsgrove, near Thame. There were many Romans found on the field, upwards of thirty I think, and I had mine as well.



Afterwards, I met with my friend Gabriel to help out with his cousin’s short sci-fi film featuring metal detecting:


A picture on the reverse of one of my single context sheets from our excavation site. It shows a brick privy or soakaway in rough profile and bird’s-eye view.


Pat C., one of my fellow archaeologists, is a sometime member of the Society of Thames Mudlarks. After work he showed me some of his favourite spots to lark and we shared some riverside libations. I found a handful of clad coins; Pat found some bag seals and the forked end of a push pole, which would have been used to keep boats off of the wall and bridge piers. It was clad in iron, and it had the initials of the probable former owner carved in it, ‘H H’.



He also turned up (and gave to me) half of an 18th c. pipe-clay wig curler (upper left to the right of the pipe bowl). This is how a gentleman in the 1700s would have kept his elaborate wig looking fresh.


This week while excavating a pit, I found a wooden box, possibly once used for the storage of valuables, though later it was backfilled with food waste and ultimately was buried. In the box I found 17 lead discs or flans. One of them was stamped with the shortcross design associated with medieval silver pennies, indicating that the lead was used either for practice die strikes in a minting operation, or else somehow for counterfeiting. I also found a quantity of waste lead. I may have surprised my colleagues by making the shortcross ID, which I wouldn’t have been able to do without my detecting and larking experience.

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Wooden planks at the base of the box where I discovered the minting supplies.

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Club Dig in Northmoor and to America Then

28 May

10 May 2015

It has been difficult to swing the Deus this month, as I’ve been harried by thesis concerns. I did make it to a club dig in Northmoor, the last dig before my mate Gez left for his summer holidays. The dig saw him off in high style, as he had his first sestertius, on what were very quiet fields. Not long afterward, I found this badly worn dupondius.


Most of the day I spent detecting in a small paddock right next to the farmhouse and parking area, despite tips from longtime club members that it was either detected out, or else covered in aluminium waste. In the paddock I found a small annular brooch with a bit on gilt on it but no pin, and just before leaving for the day I found a George III penny (1799). It was badly corroded, but cleaning it turned up a nice portrait.


I had the right idea with the paddock, but not enough persistence. Earlier in the day, a club mate told me semi-seriously that he was going to find a posey ring in the little paddock. Not five minutes after I left for the day to do some tutoring, I got a text from another friend, Michael, with pictures of a gold ring he’d turned up just steps from where I’d been detecting. The inscription inside the band reads: ‘I love and like my choyce’:


It has been declared treasure, of course, Michael’s second treasure find in two weeks. It goes to show the truth of the adage ‘You have to walk over it’, and also any number of old saws about persistence. That paddock was maybe two hundred feet to a side, and despite what oldtimers said about its being detected out, it gave up the best (and some of the only) finds of the day. Follow your hunches!


It’s now the end of May, and I’m heading to the States for the summer to visit family and do some work. No more field hunting until the autumn, but do check here gentle readers (all four of you) for updates about beach hunting on Long Island and how I get on with my newly purchased Excalibur II.


8 May

I spent most of the day in traffic school in Abingdon, by way of avoiding points on my licence after ‘getting done’ by a traffic camera. To clear the cobwebs, I stopped off for the better part of an hour on Reedy Crown, which has been seeded but has not yet sprouted. As I recently turned over many finds to Anni for recording, I didn’t really have anything to put in for the club find-of-the-month competition that evening, and I was hoping to get lucky.

I had only flat buttons for half an hour, and then I found a medieval lead trade token in good nick, a tiny two-pronged buckle, and a George V penny (1918; the penny was actually found on Ulmo, the adjoining field). I also found another pigeon tag, like this one:

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Reverse (?) of lead token from image above

As I was leaving the field after forty-five minutes — very short trip, this, and I didn’t even change into grubby trousers — I got a nice crisp signal from the Deus (running Gary’s Cold Program without the remote control). I dug down about six inches and saw the unmistakable field-light of silver in the hole. I brought up the object, which appeared to be a connected pair of cufflinks, probably silver but seemingly modern. I dropped them into my backpack with a shrug, thinking that I’d enter them into the competition anyway; silver was silver, after all, and in terms of design, they had a cool, retro flaming heart that looked like nothing so much as a biker tattoo.

At the club meeting, several members exclaimed over the links, suggesting that they looked similar to a pair that Jill, a club member, had had declared as Treasure. Later, when the links rested with the other find-of-the-month hopefuls, Jill herself approached and said, ‘Just wanted to let you know that you have Treasure on the table’. The Crown Coroner had indicated regarding Jill’s that to find a linked pair is a rarity; the heart motif is seen as celebratory of the marriage in 1662 of Charles II and Catherine of Braganza. You are required to report any Treasure find within a certain number of hours; more to the point, I have wanted to report such a find since I first heard about the Treasure Act. It is one thing to be treasure seeker and quite another officially to be a treasure finder. Anni came over and had a look at the cufflinks, indicating that they did indeed need to be deposited with the Crown Coroner. I might not see them again for some time, so I took lots of pics. Jill’s were eventually disclaimed and returned, but the process took eighteen months. There is also the possibility that the Crown will retain them and sell them to a museum.

I also had two raffle wins, which I used to pick up a book about England’s hammered coinage and a stack of The Searcher back issues. It would have been a clean sweep if the links had placed in the find-of-the-month runnings, but word about the Treasure designation didn’t get round until after the voting; I imagine most people suspected, like me, that they were modern.

When the meeting broke up, I hurried home and wrote an email to the landowner with pics to let him know about the find — that I’d found Treasure and turned it over to the Crown. I do feel a bit differently in an ineffable way, like I’ve been the beneficiary of an invisible level-bump, a D&D fighter who’s gone from 4th to 5th level and without realising why, just feels stronger.

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