Tag Archives: OBMDC

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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Treasure!

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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OBMDC Dig in St. Leonard

28 Apr

Sunday, 26 April 2015, Drayton St. Leonard

Attended a club dig today on a large manor pasture site with an airstrip running through it. Mike had a lovely Edward IV groat, using his modified Deus Fast program (2 tones; freq. usually to 12 though down to 8 on Sunday because of targets deep in pasture). Kevin had a nice Roman. I found this buckle and a bronze ring; also a ferule-type object. I called it a day fairly early, as I was still tired from larking the day before, and I was scheduled to see The Avengers: Age of Ultron with friends in the evening. Incidentally, the lads at the club enjoyed seeing the mudlarking finds prior to the dig. Many of them are fans of the show.

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April Searching

24 Apr

I’m going to include a pic of my new(ish) finds pouch here, since I forgot to do so earlier. Detecting Goodies sewed it for me, and even stitched an image of my choice on the front (obvious what that choice was):

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I like the pouch a lot looks-wise, but I’ve found it has some issues; the velcro on the flap isn’t big enough, so it often pops open. I’ve gone to the standard Minelab finds pouch myself, but I’ve attached this one to a secondary belt for guests (Dad?)…

April has been a slow month so far, as most fields are under growing crops, and I’ve needed to concentrate on my thesis. I got out for an evening hunt on

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and found another bent lead trade token and some unidentified bits, as well as a spectacular giant spindle whorl:

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12 April 2015, OBMDC Dig in Cumnor

We had a massive ploughed field as a club today, but not much came up. I had arguably the best outing with a milled silver sixpence of Victoria (1901), and a local trade token from an Oxford mercer, or cloth merchant (1657). The pics below show the silver out of the ground and cleaned up.

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14 April 2015, Sir Thomas

A quick evening hunt on Roman Alley turned up three Roman radiates of indifferent quality, though one has a nice reverse:

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19 April 2015, Northmoor OBMDC Dig

I finished a thesis draft at 5:30 am, but still tried to make a club dig at 9 to clear my head. Unfortunately I slept in and didn’t show at the dig site until 11. It was on fields near the Thames in Northmoor that the club has visited many times. People were already leaving in frustration when I arrived, and as I have a P nearby, I decided to try my luck on the latter. Shortly after I left, however, Mike H. found a gorgeous hammered silver Soldino. I searched on my P for an hour or two on pasture but only found this George III half (1799), which I gave to the landowner:

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23 April 2015, Sir Thomas

A short hunt found me this knackered Roman radiate on Sir Thomas:

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24 April 2015, Ulmo

Ulmo has just been ploughed, and as most the other fields are under crops, I thought I’d take a try before it begins growing. I managed to turn up two Romans, one of which was damaged but with a nice portrait, with the other illegible. I also found a bit of medieval buckle and an as-yet unidentified object.

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OBMDC Hunt in Cumnor and Several Hunts on my Permission

8 Apr

4 April 2015, Cumnor (and Reedy & Noah)

I joined an OBMDC dig today on Cumnor pastureland, although I was (and remain) skeptical of the fecundity of the site. It’s not that no archaeology is to be found there, but rather that clubs have been on the land for so many years that it has mainly been picked over. The farmer himself told me that nobody finds much.

Using the techniques gleaned from Gary’s tips about detecting deep signals, I chased a few phantom targets, managing to turn up a toasted Roman nummus (as far as I know, the only one found on the day).

Roman nummus topmost

Roman nummus topmost

The aluminum button in the pic above had my heart racing, as it looked entirely like silver in the hole. I also found a bit of beaten-up thimble, part of a fibula brooch (?), a detailed lead strip, and a button head (see pic above).

When I left the dig, I went straight to my P, as I was itching to find something. I guess I’ve been spoiled by the richness of my sites over the last couple of weeks. I had an appointment in the afternoon, so I only had about forty-five minutes to detect; I figured the easiest spot would be on Reedy. All I found was a treacherous gold-looking button with a costume jewel set in it; some other buttons; and a couple of knackered coins. FullSizeRender_3

I still wasn’t satisfied, so after my meeting I returned to my P, this time on the lower part of Noah, a field obviously rich in medieval and Renaissance finds. FullSizeRender_4

In short order I found various bits of lead, including a couple of bag seals (one engraved with ‘DiXON’), a weight, and a token (see pic below). I also found some sort of copper plate, some bits of buckle, medieval pins, a casket key, a bit of coin, and a penny (?), badly beaten but with the date, 1701, and the legend ‘GUILLEL[…]’ visible; William III, therefore.

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This lead token or tally was interesting, as it was the third I’ve found on Noah (I found two on 2 April; one of them was folded in half).

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All in all, it was a successful day. I didn’t have the spectacular find I obsessively sought, but I did uncover some nice artefacts, and I confirmed that Noah is and will be a field of importance for its medieval provenance.

6 April 2015, Sir Thomas and Oscar Wilde

Spent the day taking in the spring sunshine with a friend: picnicking, tramping through the fields, and of course, detecting. I had hoped to replicate recent success in ‘Roman Alley’, showing off the capabilities of the Deus, but signals were few and far between there. I’m not sure whether my settings were poor, or whether I’ve picked clean most of the easy Roman targets. It was two hours before I found one grotty nummus (outlines of the portrait barely visible) in a corner of the field I hadn’t searched earlier. I kept two nails because of their location on the Roman field, along with a lead weight with a suspension loop, a large bag seal (or possibly a token), some buttons, and a fragment of a silver coin with no extant image.

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A bit of blank silver

A bit of blank silver

We shifted to Oscar Wilde to relax in the soft grass and hopefully improve the finds rate. I did find another Roman, but it was as badly knackered as the first. FullSizeRender_3

Otherwise I merely found a bit of a badge, some buttons, leaden lumps, a massive spike (which I also kept due to its find location) and a large (pre-decimal penny sized) silver-plated coin or cap. There is no portrait or image visible on it, but here is a video showing its finding:

I also spent about twenty minutes digging for a hoard; got to the point of believing I had found one. I was shaking and feeling giddy, as even the Deus audio-discrim pinpoint feature was whining upwards as I approached the bottom of the hole with the coil. In the end, though, it turn out to be a skein of rusted barbed wire buried about two feet down. Argh!

7 April 2015, Noah

I craved a break from thesis matters, so I rushed off at 5:30 pm for a late-evening hunt on Noah. I searched for almost four hours, until after dark, but my detector wasn’t working properly. From the moment I stepped on the field it was on the fritz, spitting and popping, and nothing I changed, frequency, sensitivity, programme, made any difference. It was maddening to feel that I’d regressed in my ability with the Deus, but no matter how I worked at it, the machine was only finding things on the soil surface. The only recognisable signals gave the rapid double beep of objects lying directly beneath the coil and shallow. As I walked and fiddled with the remote control, I composed complaint emails in my head to XP, and query emails to various metal detecting fora to request help. How would I frame the issue though? I had no idea what was wrong.

It wasn’t until I’d returned home and was lying in bed with the Deus manual (stimulating bedside reading, I know) that I recognised my error — in fact, this was the only time in my life that the ‘Troubleshooting’ section of a manual has actually resolved a concern: I’d committed the cardinal error with the Deus and turned it on near metal. I’d rested the detector on a metal gate while I fiddled with the headphones and turned the unit on. Doing so doesn’t harm the detector, but it messes with the calibration for that session and causes it to function improperly. It was amazing that it had managed to find anything at all. The solution would have been the IT Crowd one: turn it off and turn it on again.

Still, it was amazing what I found at or very near the surface: some massive musket balls; various old-looking plates with holes in them (badges of some kind?); the obligatory buttons; and my first Roman brooch (I believe), with its pin still in place (update: Not a Roman brooch; thanks to Allectus from the MDF, this has been identified as a medieval candle holder, with the slots on the lug allowing the candle cup to be fixed in various positions. Other examples include this from the PAS, and a complete one here):

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I also found this object, which looks for all the world like the buckle to a small modern watch. It probably is just that, but it looks so old. I’ll definitely set it aside until I’ve determined its identity for certain (Update from muddy fingers off of Gary’s forum: medieval, probably from a spur):

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I’m not sure whether this lattice-form object is a strap end, but it seems clearly medieval (update from Allectus off of MDF: it’s a late-Saxon stirrup-strap mount, like this one):

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And finally I found this small token, which has the same six-petalled floral image on the obverse (reverse?) as this larger lead token, found elsewhere in the same medieval field last week. Strangely, the reverse of the larger petalled token bears a ‘GH’

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while the smaller floral token (and this one, found just the other day on 4 April) have the same boxed image on the reverse. The larger token in the image below has a wagon wheel on the obverse, however, rather than a flower.

Two 'floral' tokens. The far left was found today.

Two ‘floral’ tokens. The far left was found today.

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Not bad really for a hunt that went until after dark with a malfunctioning detector (or rather, detectorist). If this is lying on the surface in Noah, imagine what lurks below.

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 Hunt with NEL Big Coil

28 Feb

I’m posting this about a week late, as I’ve been busy with my latest thesis chapter. Last Sunday, the 22nd February, found me at an OBMDC dig in Rycote. The fields had apparently given up a gold half stater on a previous dig, but this was the thirteenth (13?!) time the club were visiting, and the bashed fields had nothing left to give. It was as quiet as a cemetery at midnight, so not ideal conditions for testing the depth capabilities of the new NEL Big Coil which just arrived from the Ukraine.

NEL Big Coil compared to stock AT Pro coil

NEL Big Coil compared to stock AT Pro coil

I searched for an hour and a half anyway, until the battery in my Propointer died, but all I managed to find was a modern 20p and a (possibly Tudor) clothes fastener (Update: this looks like a base metal clog clasp, like one of these).

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Due to the conditions, it’s too early to say whether the NEL coil will do what I need it to on the pasture land of my P. I know there is a hoard out there; the location, its unspoilt condition, and proximity to settlements from all major phases of British history practically guarantee it. But at the end of the day, you still have to walk over it (and have a machine that can see far enough into the ground).