Tag Archives: hammy

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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The Deus Hot Program

28 Apr

Today I drove to Bucks to meet with the Guru himself, the man made justly famous by the most helpful Deus videos on YouTube, Gary off of Gary’s Detecting. I’d arranged to meet with him for a four-hour, one-to-one training session on the Deus. As ziggyjinx put it on Gary’s forum, ‘You spend over a thousand pound on a great machine so for the small price of his one on one training session you will get the max out of the deus and unlock it’s full potential’. I couldn’t agree more.

Gaz welcomed me into his home and over a cuppa we discussed where I was with my detecting — two years in the hobby, but only one month with the Deus — and where I wanted to go. Gaz showed me an interview he’d just shot for the XP blog: one of the hoard-finder ones that always make my cerebellum tingle and my hand itch for the handle of my detector. Then he let me have a crack at the test garden he’d made up, including the buried hoard. My 13″ coil did ‘find’ the hoard, I suppose, but I knew it was there; I’m not sure I would have dug it on my own in the field. Gaz says some days it’s findable and other days not; depends on atmospherics and soil conditions and angle of attack — and probably on luck too.

We worked through the heavily iron-infested test garden so I could get my ear in, and Gaz quickly punctured some of my mistaken concepts about depth — not just with the Deus but with all detectors. He also pointed out the problems caused by wonky coin orientations, on-edge for example. You might think I was disappointed to learn that in some tricky soils and junky conditions, even the Deus just won’t penetrate that deep into the ground. I wasn’t. The reason I went to Gary was so that I could begin to be confident that if something detectable passed under my coil, that my Deus would get it and I would know how to interpret the information the detector was giving me. I have that confidence to a much greater degree now, and it is based at least partly on the fact that I know better what to expect from my machine — what it can do, and equally importantly, what it can’t. And as you Deus users out there know, it can do a hell of a lot.

After spending some time in the test garden, we piled into Gaz’s motor and drove to one of his local permissions. I went in with the understanding that this wouldn’t be some special ancient site, just a common pasture where I could try out the Hot and Cold Programs under Gary’s watchful eye (and ear). Imagine my surprise, then, when my third target was this hammy, found about six inches down with Deus Hot:

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I got to keep the hammy as a memento of the dig (Gaz pointed out that if I’d found anything truly spectacular, we’d have divvied it between us and the farmer). The day would have been brilliant, and a phenomenal value, even if I’d found nothing whatsoever, because I was able to develop that little bit of extra confidence that can make all the difference to your finds rate.

We continued searching, this time in the Cold Program. We were getting quite good depth on that easy-digging pasture, and not long later turned up this medieval locking-bar buckle with its tongue and pin still intact:

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When we’d spent a good three hours working and talking through set-ups on the field, we returned to Gaz’s place for another cuppa and an after-action review. From my time in Forces I recognised Gary’s to be an ideal training methodology: Prepare; Teach; Train; Revise (and Reinforce). Gaz cleared up any remaining questions I had and gave me a booklet he’d written covering and reinforcing many of the topics and tricks we’d gone over together. As we parted he invited me to contact him anytime if I had further questions and encouraged me to continue participating in the forum.

I had a great time; Gaz is a friendly bloke and a gifted teacher. His course would have been a steal at twice the price. I guess I can sum up my advice like this: if you’re thinking about doing a training session, go for it. It will be the best ‘accessory’ you purchase for your Deus, and the one best calculated to help you get the most from your machine.

My finds on the day:

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Hammered Lizzie (First Silver with the Deus)!

2 Apr

It’s my mom’s birthday today, and she must have brought me luck, because when I sneaked out for a cheeky late-afternoon hunt on Noah field, I found my first hammered silver with the Deus, my third hammy of the year. The coin is an Elizabeth in great condition; seems to be a penny (Spinks 2558), but still awaiting a precise ID.

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I had wanted to have a short hunt to try out the new Garrett Propointer AT, which arrived in the post today. I bought it so that both my dad and I would have a pinpointer during his visit. It’s like my trusty Garrett Propointer except newly waterproofed and orange to prevent accidental loss:

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During the hunt I also found a lead token and this lead cloth bag seal:

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An indeterminate Georgian penny, a fishing weight, a thimble, and two medieval/post-medieval buckles (the larger of which was broken), along with some buttons and lead bits rounded out the haul. FullSizeRender (17)

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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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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)