Tag Archives: PAS

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.

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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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Two Hunts on Ulmo

6 Mar

In order to talk more specifically about fields on my P, I’ve decided to give them nicknames. I’ve been concentrating recently on a field I’ve called Ulmo. It’s where I took the landowner’s son when he found his Roman (apparently a family of Constantine nummus circa 340 A.D.). On two consecutive hunts (three if you count the one with the farmer’s son), Ulmo has given up Roman. The third day this was a very nice coin with victory on the reverse.

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March 2, 2015

The great find of the day (besides a grotty Roman) was my first Cartwheel penny, so called because of the thick rim around the periphery of the coin. They are massive and quite rare, from the reign of George III. They were produced for three years, but they all bear the mint year 1797. I’ve put the coin delicately into some olive oil to see if some of the encrustations can be teased away without damaging it.

Cartwheel Penny

Cartwheel Penny

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Cartwheel Penny

Cartwheel Penny

March 3, 2015

For this hunt I returned to Ulmo and fields adjacent. In my first hole I dug up the Roman pictured above. Anni thinks it is likely a local contemporary copy, because the victory on the reverse is facing the wrong way. This would make the coin quite rare and potentially valuable. It is currently being recorded for the PAS. Other finds included musket balls (up to a frightening caliber) and my first crotal bell, which happened to be complete. On a field I’ve called Oscar Wilde, I found a little silver-looking (but probably not silver) bow pin, as well as a George V penny (1918) in reasonable nick. Oh, and a fork…

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On Wednesday the Ashmolean Museum held their monthly find identification service. I invited my landowner to come along with me and bring the coin his son had found. The event is a great resource, with Anni Byard and three or four other archaeologists and numismatists on hand at a long table to meet with members of the public and ID finds. There is also the possibility to leave finds with the team for recording. I was very pleased that my farmer friend agreed to do so. The whole thing is like something out of Antiques Roadshow, with four lamps in a row to provide extra light, and the row of experts and the public bent toward each other, heads down over the objects under consideration. I turned twelve objects over to Anni for recording, though some are no doubt modern red herrings. Afterward, the farmer took me out to lunch at a local Thai restaurant. A lovely day all round.

Update: The bow pin found on Oscar Wilde has a lion silver hallmark on the back, so it may indeed be silver after all!

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).

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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)

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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.

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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.

Somerton, OXON (Weekend Wanderers Dig)

28 Apr

I opted out of the Weekend Wanderers dig last weekend in favour of joining an Oxford Blues dig closer to home. This may have been a mistake, as some remarkable finds were unearthed in Somerton by the Wanderers, including this Saxon gold coin:

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As a result, I was keen to join when I heard that the Wanderers would be returning to the same fields, plus an additional, previously undetected field owned by the same farmer.

Straight out of the gate, still among the cars, I made a heart-stopping find. I was certain it was a coin, and even Peter, the club director, who rushed over, initially thought it might be a medieval badge. However, a bit of cleaning and further inspection revealed that it was quite modern. By the time I got it home and reasonably clean, my medieval coin had become a children’s club badge, decorated with a couple of racist cartoons. The legend read ‘Cheery Coons Club’, and a little internet research indicated that the badge depicted Eb and Flow, cartoon characters created by Wilfred Haughton, whose strips ran in The People magazine in the 1920s and ’30s (see http://www.flickr.com/photos/23885771@N03/4429339906/).

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At 11.00 am, the club allowed us onto the undetected field. I was punctilious about the time, so I was rather dismayed to find about thirty club members already on the field when I arrived at 11.01. This is why I was feeling rather virtuous when I unearthed a jetton after only a couple of steps on the field:

ImageWhen so many people are working a relatively small area there is a temptation simply to wander over the field. Bolstered by the jetton find, however, I worked a disciplined swath of the field near its eastern border with a small stream. After half an hour, a mid-range signal turned up the find of the day (and my treasure hunting career to this point), a king’s head buckle:

ImageI had the feeling that this was a special find, so I took off one of my gloves and slipped the buckle inside a glove finger to protect it. When I returned to the staging area, Peter and a few of the club oldtimers confirmed that it was a rare find; one fellow suggested that it reflected a decorative trope of the 14th century. Soon a small crowd had gathered, enthusiastically passing the buckle from hand to hand (the first time this has happened for anything I have found)!

I also found a mini flat button and an iron buckle of indeterminate age. Junk finds included two modern bullets, half of a badge reading ‘BABY’, and a sort of modern rivet/ring (top ring?). Kurt and Kathleen arrived rather late, but they managed to turn up a musket ball.

I am eager to turn the king’s head buckle over to the PAS for evaluation and recording. Altogether it was a thrilling day!

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(3.5 hrs)

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Mudlark!

30 Mar

Mudlark!

I’ve been meaning to post about this for several days now; on the 25th of March, my Thames Foreshore Permit arrived. For the next three years, I’ll be able to dig on the foreshore to a depth of seven centimeters, scouring the banks of the tidal Thames for treasure and relics. If I report enough finds to the PAS and the Museum of London over that period, I’ll be eligible to apply for one of only about fifty mudlark permits, and to become a member of the Society of Thames Mudlarks.

The permit arrived with various maps depicting in detail which areas I am eligible to detect and search. I hope that my Maldon training lends itself to the Thames search. It would be a rare and fine thing to belong to the society.

FLO Notes on the Stagsden Finds

4 Mar

I communicated via email with the Portable Antiquities Scheme’s FLO (Finds Liaison Officer) for Bedfordshire, Mr Julian Watters. He looked at pictures of our finds yesterday, and he suggested the ring I found was early modern, rather than medieval, and that it wasn’t a brooch. From his email:

‘The ring things do turn up quite a lot and nobody’s really sure what they are. I don’t think it’s a brooch, as it doesn’t have a constriction for the pin to be attached; also it is probably not finished well enough. These rings have turned up in excavations in the early American settlements, so they go back a few hundred years’.

He was quite interested in Kurt’s ‘buckle’ on the other hand, and he wants to have a closer look. He wrote that ‘the decoration is similar to that which you see on Medieval harness pendants’.

The Portable Antiquities Scheme was established by the British government in 1997 as a way to involve detectorists, fieldwalkers, and others in preserving the UK’s archaeological heritage. Since the revision of the Treasure Trove laws in the ’90s, important/valuable finds end up in musuems, for the most part, and detectorists are both able and incentivized to funnel valuable archaeological data to researchers (http://finds.org.uk/). It is a global model for broadening public participation in the preservation of antiquities.