Tag Archives: hammered

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:

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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).

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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.

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

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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.

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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’.

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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.


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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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Three Roman Hunts

17 Mar

Friday the 13th

This was the day of the monthly OBMDC meeting, which happened also to be the Annual Group Meeting, and I tried to sneak in one last hunt before the evening, so that I’d have more to record. I wanted to be on pasture rather than battling mud, so I selected Oscar Wilde. I was also keen to see if it had any Roman to offer up, given its proximity to Ulmo where I’d had Roman luck.

Did it ever! By the time my short hunt was finished, I’d found five Romans: two have some sort of visible image on them, a bust and what looks like a dolphin, respectively; I’ve prepped them for PAS recording in hopes of ID’s. Two more are grots, and the last is only potentially a grot — it could also just be a grot-shaped bit of nonferrous metal. While digging what turned out to be a chunk of lead, I also found, eyes-only, a bit of garnet that looks like it might be a Celtic intaglio, or engraved material.

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I also found a bit of embossed copper alloy that may be a bracelet; a lead bag seal; a bronze oak-leaf badge; a lead weight (actually found in Reedy on the way back); the usual buttons, buckles, and musket balls, and some strange, massive bits of lead as pictured:

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Besides the Romans, my favourite find was a little heart-shaped padlock in sterling silver, complete with a silver lion hallmark on the back.

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Though Anni wasn’t at the club meeting, I did have a chance to compare finds with the other members. I also won a prize in the raffle, selecting this book from the prize table:

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The Ides of March

The other day I’d seen that a field I call Peter Quince was being ploughed, and I thought I’d try my luck.

Clearly Caesar’s oracle didn’t apply to me, as about midway through the field I found my second-ever silver hammered! This was a tiny coin, lying on the surface. The obverse looked blank, but later when I viewed it through a jeweller’s loupe, I could plainly see Queen Lizzie and a rose. The reverse is quite clear, featuring a shield and the date, 1575. Probably a three farthings or a farthing, considering the minuscule size. I was thrilled finally to have a coin from my research period.

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Not long afterward I found a lovely fragment of Roman coin, with a nose and eye in profile plainly visible. If only the coin had survived entire, it would be a thing of beauty. The fragment was hard to isolate from the mud and gave a very iffy signal; I’m glad I stuck with it.

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After finding a few other bits and bobs, I crossed into Falstaff, which had also been ploughed. My hunch paid off, as no sooner had I started detecting in the corner of the new field than I found my finest Roman to date, a Claudius II Antonianus.

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Also in this field I found another spindle whorl, a couple of pennies, Edward VII (1907) and George V (1920), and a George V ha’penny.

Edward VII Penny (1907)

Edward VII Penny (1907)

Perhaps most interesting of all (besides the Antonianus) was a lead seal or medallion, quite haggard at the edges, featuring Edward VII and Queen Alexandra in profile on the obverse, and a crown and the royals’ names on the reverse:

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Can you make out the faint profiles?

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Returning to Peter Quince I got a strong signal for a Victorian ha’penny in very nice nick (1872).

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Overall, my best hunt so far, I believe.

Peter Quince finds

Peter Quince finds

Falstaff finds

Falstaff finds

Roman Romanorum (16 March 2015)

It was raining this morning, so although I was keen to follow up yesterday’s fascinating finds, I was reluctant to face the newly turned earth of Peter Quince. Instead I started out in pasture on a little field in near the farm buildings that I call Charlotte Shed. I found a nice button with the legend ‘Water WLB Lane’ (apparently once a brand of workman’s trousers), an old, possibly Victorian coin, much abraded, a modern 10p, and a pre-decimal three pence.  FullSizeRender_2

In the end I thought it would be better to be muddy and in the finds, then clean and targetless, so I made my way over to Sir Thomas, another field that had recently felt the plough. I hadn’t been detecting long, maybe an hour all in, when I saw silver winking at me from the rocky hole I’d just dug. It proved to be my most exciting find to date, an antonianus of Gordius III (c. 242-244).

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I was so excited when I turned this up that I spent a half hour or so on the spot, digging down to see if this was some outlier from a deeper hoard. Alas, it appears the coin was a singular pocket drop; in any case I didn’t find any other signals in the area.

Later on the periphery of the field, I found a beautiful lead bag seal featuring an oyster shell on both sides:

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One target I dug turned out to be the hollow leg (in a stirrup) of what must once have been a lead toy.

Bag seal and lead toy leg.

Bag seal and lead toy leg

I also found a bit of patterned copper-alloy wire that may have been a bracelet:

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A picture of my Sir Thomas finds, including the obligatory buckles:

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First Hammy Ever!

7 Mar

I started off on Ulmo with the intention of proceeding to Falstaff after finding my first coin. This proved more difficult than I’d anticipated. The field had dried out quite a bit thanks to the lack of rain over the last few days, but for the first time, Ulmo failed to give up Roman. I was seventy minutes into the hunt before I found my first coin, an Edward VII farthing (1906).

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Some time later, still on Ulmo, I found my second Edwardian coin of the day, this one a penny (1904). Unfortunately, the penny later slipped out of my finds pouch — probably while I was sat taking a rest — and was lost. It was a bitter lesson, though I didn’t find out that it was missing until the end of the day’s hunt.

After about two and a half hours on the field, I got a warbling tone whose number on the VDI nevertheless held steady at 60. I dug the signal and about four inches down found my first-ever silver hammered, in beautiful condition. I cleaned it reverently, or as reverent as one can be with spit, and the bearded face of a medieval king shone at me.

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I tweeted out a request for ID assistance, and The Searcher magazine boosted my signal. Within minutes someone had ID’ed the coin as a Henry III voided longcross penny (1240s). This will definitely be one to record with the FLO!

Other bits and bobs from the hunt:

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Video

First Dig with Oxford Blues MDC

7 Apr

I had hoped to post this before midnight but didn’t quite make it, so when I write ‘today’, I am actually referring to yesterday, the 7th of April. It was the day of my first dig with the Oxford Blues Metal Detecting Club, on two fields in stubble at a place called Radley, about two miles southwest of Oxford.

My dad came with me as a guest to experience his first metal detecting trip. We only had about two and a half hours, as we had planned a trip to Bath later in the day, but we made the most of the restricted schedule. We took turns detecting and digging, and once the detectorist called out a target, we switched roles, whether the find was rubbish or not.

Within about a half hour, I found my first coin ever. I was sure it was a ‘hammy’, a hammered coin, but one of the old timers said that due to its thickness, it was probably a jetton — a token circulated as money in times of currency shortage. The coin/jetton is so corroded that no image or legend is visible on either side, so I’m not sure that I’ll be able to identify it. Still, a thrilling find.

Soon thereafter, my dad turned up a small-bore lead musket ball. If he hadn’t been hooked on the hobby before then, I’m quite certain that did it. In fact, we were so excited about our finds that we brought Kurt back with us for an additional hour (like children begging for a final two minutes of playtime). We only found aluminium in the last phase, but we did get to see a beautifully preserved Saxon silver penny that another detectorist turned up in the field.

It is remarkable to encounter history in this way — to think, for example, of the fellow who must have dropped the jetton from a pocket several hundred years ago, or the farmer (or soldier!) who fired the ball. Our experiences definitely inflected the trip to Bath, where several hundred Roman coins are on display in the Roman baths museum. During the museum visit, I tended to think more about the metalsmiths, the merchants, the buyers behind the coins than about the objects themselves (though to be honest, some of them were of silver or gold, and dead pretty)…

(hours detecting: 3)