Tuesday, April 14, 2015

To the Manor Drawn (part 2)

THERE was to be a five month wait until the trees were stripped of apples by the pickers, which gave me plenty of time to reflect on the previous search of the manor house site. After a battle with silver paper, a battle with the trees and about one hundred hours detecting I had wrestled out of the ground about twenty worthwhile finds. Pleased as I was with four hammered silver coins, three Roman bronzes and some nice artefacts, one find for every five hours of searching didn't seem to be an awful lot to me. Was there a way of speeding things up, I wondered?

It was during this time that I read of a detectorist making a number of good finds by employing a map dowser to identify the find spots prior to searching. Now this was food for thought! If I could know for sure where the good finds were before I even switched on my machine, my finds rate ought to go sky high!

The first problem was where to find a map dowser, for the dowser I had read about had very inconveniently passed away. The solution soon came from an advertisement in The Searcher: "I will dowse your maps for you ...Ring J. Longton".

Nothing ventured, nothing gained; having no idea what to expect, I rang Mr. Longton. Jimmy turned out to be a very friendly, likeable soul who had retired from the wrestling ring and developed a passion for dowsing. His major claim to fame in metal detecting circles was the locating of a hoard of Viking silver brooches which earned him a share of a £43,000 Treasure Trove award. What might he do for me, I wondered?

"What sort of area do you want dowsed?" Jimmy asked. Rather naively I replied: "Could you do the entire farm? - It's 300 acres." "I could dowse a map of the entire country but you would be lucky if you recovered anything, because I would only be able to pinpoint large objects to within a few square miles. If you want to find coins and the like, I'll need an A4 size map of a small area — a few acres at most." I made a photocopy of the plan of manor site and its immediate surrounds — about 30 acres in all and sent it off with the £10 fee requested.

A few days later the phone rang about 10 p.m. Trouble at work, I thought. Happily, it wasn't. It was Jimmy who very excitedly told me that he had just been dowsing my map and had been getting gold and silver signals all over the place. "That's some site you've got there!" he said. I bet he says that to everyone, I thought.

When the map arrived, I eagerly scanned it to see what jimmy had made of it. The first thing that struck me was that nearly all Jimmy's markers (over 80%) lay within the boundaries of the wood that had surrounded the manor house (a random distribution would have been 50%). The next thing I noticed was a row of ferrous markers which I knew immediately corresponded with a series of large iron stakes on the site. This was quite impressive especially as Jimmy lived 300 miles away and I had been very careful to reveal as little as possible about the site!

I noticed also that quite a few non-ferrous crosses were on the part of the site that I thought I had searched thoroughly. This reminded me of a conversation we had, where Jimmy had said that owing to various "technical" difficulties such as dowsing going deeper than metal detectors, I could have problems in finding the targets that he had marked. You really should learn to dowse, he told me. I had little faith in my ability to dowse traditionally even though Jimmy had sent me instructions on how to make and use dowsing rods. Years ago I had taken an interest, bought a pair of L-rods, found they didn't work and discarded them!

Coincidentally there was, at this time, a flurry of advertising and dialogue concerning a machine from the States that could find gold and silver, find it fast and find it from a mile away. They called it a long range locator. Now this did sound much better than a pair of modified coat hangers! The major snag, apart from it being by no means clear as to whether these machines actually worked or not, was its hefty price tag. I sent for the literature and convinced myself that, as litigation was America ’s national sport, the manufacturer would have been sued out of existence if their claims weren’t at least substantially true. What’s more, all my detection equipment to date had paid for itself so my hobby owed me nothing. I bought an Electroscope Model 20.

If you haven’t seen an Electroscope, it consists of a more or less rectangular box (similar to a detector control box) with three adjustable antennae protruding from one end. Underneath, the box is joined to a pistol grip handle via a gimbal which allows the box to pivot in the horizontal plane. The general idea is that you keep the 'Scope balanced, wave it from side to side to determine if there is anything worth finding out in front of you and when the machine indicates that there is something, the antennae lock on to the target and you follow in for the kill with your metal detector. Simple!

Reality was somewhat different. The machine was easy enough to handle but most perplexing in what it seemed to be locating. The first field test yielded a broken bicycle spanner. The second had two of us digging a hole three feet deep only to uncover the farmer's water supply flowing through an iron pipe! Further tests produced bits and pieces of mainly non-ferrous scrap but none of this gold and silver the 'Scope was supposed to find. Yet metal objects were turning up which at least showed the machine was doing more than just keeping me amused until the autumn.

I arrived back at the manor site, just as the last box of apples was leaving, clutching the dowsed map, a 30 metre surveyor's tape and my detector of course. The corners of the field were the obvious places to measure from and there were only three of them as the field was triangular. I ran out the tape to the centre of the first cross and started searching with my metal detector. There was no hint of a signal. I carried on searching, carefully working out from the cross until eventually about 20 metres away I received a good signal and dug up a dinner fork, 20th century silver plated. I don't know if that was the object that had caused Jimmy's pendulum to gyrate but it did contain a very small amount of silver and I didn't find anything else in the vicinity.

I moved inwards to the next cross. It quickly became apparent that the further into the orchard I went the more the trees got in the way and the more difficult it was was to translate the crosses on paper into a search area on the ground. I didn't find anything anywhere around this second cross. I searched around the nearest crosses to the other two corners of the field and drew a blank there too; perhaps not surprisingly as I had thoroughly searched that end of the site last season. Back to the drawing board!

The following weekend I took the Electroscope with me. I didn't find much other than four pence in old money but I did discover that the Electroscope could be used just like a dowsing rod — I could simply walk around with it and it would indicate the location of metal objects to the left or the right of me within a few square metres. All I then had to do was to search the defined area with my metal detector. Using the 'Scope like this it wasn't long before I was holding my first decent find of the season — a well-preserved large rumbler bell with a blacksmith's hammer in shield motif.

Having now developed a working method, I started searching at the opposite end of the orchard to where I had worked the previous season, systematically working along each row. Not far in, from a depth of eight inches a Roman dupondius surfaced. A lump of bronze I uncovered became recognisable as part of a medieval pot-leg when I later dug out a complete one from a depth of 12 inches. From out of another seemingly bottomless hole came one of the nicest small crotal bells I have seen. This one is pewter with a bleeding heart motif, in perfect condition and good working order.

Just before I reached the point where I had finished searching last season I found an 18th century silver cufflink stud engraved with an abstract flower design. In the very next row I unearthed a similar silver cufflink stud engraved with the letter "T".

I was now going over old ground, as they say, searching the area that I had "thoroughly" done previously. I was amazed at what I had missed, although it was mainly junk. Two good finds did turn up, however. The first was a penny of Edward IV, very unfortunately clipped as it was a scarce Bristol mint issue. This was the smallest hammered coin I had ever found for two weeks until a cut farthing of Henry III put paid to that particular record. With that, I had completed the search of the main site in half the time that it had taken me to search a third of it conventionally.

According to the dowser there were still four treasures waiting to be found outside the main site, one at the west end and three at the east. I tried the west first and almost immediately found an As of Vespasian in quite presentable condition. At 69-79 AD this was the oldest datable metal object I had ever found and that record stood for a very long time. Further searches in the West produced nothing of note so I turned to the east.

At the eastern end of the main site lay another former wood of four acres. I decided to systematically search the lot rather than just go for the three dowsed targets which were close together in almost a straight line. The first find of note was a small rumbler bell, damaged and minus its ball. The second was an old style petrol can top proudly displaying the legend: PRATTS. The third find was a penny of Edward I, in good order and on the same day this was followed by two signals that produced most of a Henry III long cross penny. The following weekend brought the four acre search to an end with one final find — a half groat of Henry VIII. When I plotted the find-spots onto the map, the position of the three hammered coins coincided almost exactly with Jimmy's crosses!

What I didn't know, of course, was how thorough my searching was or how reliable was Jimmy's dowsing. I therefore used the couple of months I had left of this season and part of the next, to conventionally detect some of the area again and to see if I could find anything to the north or south of the main site. In terms of finds it was a complete waste of time but it did convince me that I had recovered everything worthwhile from the site — a total of forty good finds (including nine hammered silver coins) covering 1900 years!

​From The Searcher March 1997

Sunday, February 22, 2015

To The Manor Drawn (The Searcher, Jan 1997)

I suppose it was the searching of my mother-in-law’s garden with a metal detector that gave me the first inkling of how interesting the sites of old houses can be. Not that “mother’s” house was anything special; just a town house in a London suburb, built soon after the Great War. In one afternoon I found 52 coins and a ring. Everything was made of base metal with nothing earlier than Victorian but it was the sheer quantity that intrigued me. “What if it had been the garden of a Medieval house?” I thought. “Would I have recovered 52 hammered silver coins and maybe a gold noble or two?”
I thought no more about it and carried on searching the one very small farm that I had permission on at that time. This farm continued to be productive for some while nothing extra special but enough to keep my interest: one Roman, two hammered silver coins, a bucketful of Georgian and Victorian finds. Eventually finds started dwindling which precipitated a visit to the library with a view to finding a new and worthwhile site.
It is strange how it often seems that you are being lead to a place and this, my first serious attempt at site research was remarkably easy. Many counties had a gentleman historian or two who sauntered around the countryside a couple of hundred years ago compiling a dossier on places and events, often comprising several large tomes. The county where I live is no exception, and it was to this work that I turned to start my research. Looking a step ahead, I figured it would be easier to get search permission if I found a site close to where I was already welcome and began reading the chapter relating to that Parish. I hadn’t read more than a couple of pages when the words leapt at me:
“The manor houfe flood, for there hath not been any remains of one left time out of mind, in the midft of a wood of the fame name.” The author went on to tell me that the site was a Roman camp before the manor was built and gave the location by way of a farm name.
Consulting modern maps I learned that the farm still existed, but not the wood. I eagerly scanned several older maps looking for a more precise indication of the manor site but it wasn’t until I tracked down the tithe map that anything convincing emerged. The cartographer had obviously felt the fifteen acre wood important enough to name it on the map.
Having narrowed the site down to a workable area and ascertained that it hadn’t been built on — it was now an orchard — all I had to do was obtain search permission! My friendly neighbourhood farmer gave me the landowner’s name and address and suggested I write or phone. I decided that writing was the least painful and potentially the most effective since I could communicate my request clearly, without embarrassment and hopefully would not inconvenience the recipient too much.
It worked! Within twenty-four hours of posting the letter, the landowner phoned me: “I don’t know whether you’ll find anything” he said, “My father bulldozed the site some years ago; but you’re welcome to try.” (Incidentally I always write first when seeking search permission and I am usually successful either right away or after a follow-up visit if I don’t get a reply. The important thing is to have a good reason for wanting to detect on the land.)
The weekend took forever to arrive but at last I was off with my detector anticipating all the gold nobles I was going to find. After the first session all I had discovered was that someone around the farm had a penchant for chocolate bars and fancy cakes. The next search also produced nothing but silver paper. I couldn’t believe it! I re-checked all the references to make sure I was in the right place. By the end of the third search, having still not made one single non-junk find, I was starting to believe that my historian had been in collusion with the brothers Grimm. The fourth session just about confirmed it! Half way through the fifth search a silver coloured ring, just visible in a clod of earth, had me cussing the fancy cake fiend for starting on the fizzy lemonade, when I noticed the milled edge. It was a William III sixpence. After eighteen hours’ searching I had actually made a find!
Almost immediately I unearthed a crotal bell quickly followed by another and from then on it became a completely different site. Almost every visit over the next few months produced something of interest: a follis of Diocletian, a Medieval casket key, two Roman asses, two Medieval buckles, three Edward III pennies and a half groat. Some Georgian coppers gave themselves up, then two more crotal bells, a silver cane, umbrella or parasol ferrule, a livery button and a copper-alloy ring brooch. The next weekend after finding the brooch a particularly awkward extraction from tree roots had me staring at a silver pin in the bottom of the hole. I pulled it out; the pin seemed to have been part of a buckle or something. I passed the detector coil over the spoil which I had removed and was greeted with two signals which produced the source of the pin — two halves of a silver ring brooch frame. I chastised myself for breaking it, then noticed the tarnish which said “broken in antiquity”. Later, at home, with a smear of removable glue (the experts advised not to attempt soldering) the brooch was complete once again. Gentle cleaning had revealed that the brooch was completely plain except for a letter A on the reverse.

The apple trees had leafed, blossomed and now, full of developing fruit were becoming fragile to an accidental brush and very difficult to search around. I arrived at the site having decided this was going to be the last search for this season. The first hour or so produced nothing but silver paper (this is where I came in, I thought), then a sharp signal produced the only find of the day. This was a small enameled heraldic shield with a fairly long spike protruding from the reverse. I had seen horse harness pendants in this magazine but nothing like this.
Having abandoned the site to the farmer, at least for the time being, I now had a bit of time to try and have these last two finds identified. With much help from medieval expert Nick Griffiths, I learned that the brooch is fairly typical of thirteenth century style, the single letter A on the back, however, is unusual indeed. The consensus of opinions is that there are three possible solutions, none easy to parallel!
(i)“A” stands for the maker — unusual since jewelry is hardly ever marked by the maker at this period, and marks put on by makers usually give the full name — at least more than a single letter!
(ii)   There is a well-known passage in Chaucer, the prologue to the Canterbury Tales — describing the nun, (The Prioress), he says she wore “a brooch of gold ful sheene on which ther was first writ a crowned A and after, Amor Vincit Omnia” However, in Chaucer, the A appears on the front where everyone could see it, not on the back.
(iii) It may stand for a Saint’s name — e.g. Anne, or possibly the beginning of Ave Maria, the prayer to the Virgin, which was used as a charm against all dangers. If a Saint’s name, it might be a patron saint; in both cases these would be put on the back of the brooch to be against the person so as to give maximum effect!
The shield (picture top left) portrayed six beasts but obviously reverse. (In heraldry, all sideways facing devices should face left, when viewed from the front of the shield.) The reversal is probably the result of an incompetent metal worker who cut the mould the wrong way round. The style of shield appears from the 1280s onwards. It is likely that the object was a mount for a wooden casket or travelling chest. Initial thoughts were that the beasts were lions rampant which would have been the arms of The Earl of Leyburn if the lions had been silver or Lord Salisbury if gold.
Apart from not being able to fit a full lion rampant into any of the cavities on the shield, and every time I looked closely I could see the head and shoulders of a smooth-haired “cat” — I was quite satisfied until I discovered that the first incumbent of the manor bore the arms: Azure six leopard heads, couped at the neck, 3,2,1 or. (Picture top right).
Considering the relative scarcity of these objects it seems highly unlikely that someone in obscurity who had a coat of arms so very similar to that of the owners of the Manor itself, should lose his mount there. Further, as the border of the mount had obviously been gold-gilt, logic (albeit twentieth century logic) dictates that the beasts would have been gold. While gold itself does not normally deteriorate in the ground, the loss of the gold beasts could be explained by corrosion of the bond between the gold and the base metal. The contrary argument is that the mount clearly portrays more of the beasts than just heads; however, if the cavities on the shield could be taken to represent full rampant lions then equally could they not represent leopard heads? If the maker had made one blunder might he not have made two?
I’ll never know for sure, of course, but I like to think that the mount came from the first lord of the manor. I wonder if he’s left anything else for me to find?

Sunday, January 18, 2015

On the Third Day of Christmas…


…I dug up what you see.

Using the Anderson rod to guide my Detech EDS metal detector, I was delighted to find this third or fourth century gold Roman child’s finger ring. The engraving on the bezel is of a palm leaf or branch, having the possible intention of protecting the wearer from disease. These rings are said to be rare in Britain but common in the eastern Roman Empire.

The bottom of the hoop has been flattened and this is so regularly executed that I believe this wasn’t accidental. As the child grew up, they would be unable to wear the ring on a finger and I wonder if it was flattened to wear, or possibly as a result of wearing, on a wrist strap. Under the British Treasure Act I have reported the find to the coroner and Finds Liaison Officer and we’ll see what comments the experts have.

I wish you all a very Happy New Year and hope you make some great finds in 2015.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Claire Liebig-Denham's New Book Reviewed.


 

If you are just starting out in the fascinating hobby of metal detecting or treasure hunting, or even if you have been in it for a while, who do you turn to for advice? Someone who has only recently got their feet wet in the hobby or an old hand who can hardly remember what it was like to be a beginner? Personally I would go for both views and this is the excellent well-researched starter’s view I can thoroughly recommend.

I like the way Claire has put this book together, with the main text covering the essentials, in 130 pages, together with many links to videos and web pages leading to more in-depth information.

The contents include: eight pages of useful TIPS to get the best out of your detecting. This is a boon for newbies and a refresher for old hands.

There are ten pages of RESOURCES with many links to excellent sites related to metal detecting, such as maps, soils, site finding, history, finds identification and dowsing. This section is invaluable, for here I discovered a fantastic website, which led to nearby land where several Roman gold coins had been found. A cache hereabouts is likely and needs investigating.

Sixty pages of INFORMATION follow that you can dip into at will. The information is divided into three main sections covering clubs, associations, forums and websites; a comprehensive section on voluntary codes, finds reporting, rules, regulations and laws around the World and finally a glossary of metal detecting terminology essential to beginners.

The find of a lifetime starts with getting permission and the PERMISSIONS section gives good coverage of techniques you can use to persuade landowners to grant you access to their land so you can make those great finds.

Everyone in the hobby knows the importance of research to find sites of human activity in the past but few carry out the research. I once asked a group of thirty detectorists why they did not do research and the answer came back; “we don’t know how.” The SEARCH section gives plenty of ideas on places and clues to look for, so you will know how and what to research.

Even though I have been in the hobby for over 40 years I was still able to learn from this book. It contains a goldmine of tips, resources and information, not only for beginners but for all metal detectorists and treasure hunters.

For more information please visit:

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Gold!


I switched back to baiting the Anderson PMR-II with pure silver on the basis that it should cover almost the entire spectrum of desirable finds, including solid gold, while reducing the apparent sensitivity to gold plate. It worked! It wasn’t long before I was holding an Iron Age gold stater coin, which I had dug up after the Anderson had led my detector to it. One swallow (or is it one stater?) doesn’t make a summer, they say, so I ended my summer with a second gold stater found in exactly the same way.

The coins are Gallic War Uniface gold staters of the Ambiani tribe who were centred around Amiens in Northern France, dating c.60-30 BC. It is believed they were mainly brought to Britain by way of payment to mercenaries fighting Caesar’s armies in Gaul.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Metal Detecting on the Coast: The Ultimate Guide by Edward Fletcher


Coastal detecting is quite neglected in Britain but if you know how to work beaches and foreshores it can be more consistently rewarding than searching inland sites. And not just for modern coinage and gold and silver jewellery aplenty, for with a little application you can make the same range of finds from Bronze Age to modern that you can make on inland sites.

 

There are very few British books on coastal detecting but Ted Fletcher’s, Metal Detecting on the Coast: The Ultimate Guide, first published in 1997 and reprinted in 2003, has stood the test of time. The principles explained in the book are still true today, quite simply because coastal forces re-distribute lost finds in much the same way they have always done, the World over. I bought a copy of this book soon after it was published and applying what I learnt, I have found Iron Age gold coins, as well as Roman, Saxon, medieval and modern silver coins, all on beaches and foreshores. So if you can get to the coast, there is much to be found and what’s more getting access is much easier than on farmland, as formal permission is rarely needed.

 

Edward (Ted) Fletcher has been writing books for metal detectorists ever since the hobby began in Britain, in fact I think he started the hobby here - he certainly got me started in metal detecting. Ted really knows his stuff and happily passes his great knowledge on to us all.

 

The topics in this indispensible book include:

 

  • Why do holiday beaches make such good detecting sites?
  • What happens to coins and jewellery after their owners lose them in sand or surf?
  • Eyes only plus two sample tools: A beachcomber’s way to make finds on the foreshore.
  • Metal detectors and accessories for coastal sites.
  • Britain’s 100 best beaches and how to locate their gullies and glory holes.
  • A look at some continental coasts and their top resorts.
  • How to detect history around the coast.
  • Legal aspects.

 

I have seen such high prices being asked for Metal Detecting on the Coast: The Ultimate Guide that it is probably in short supply, however I have managed to secure a small stock of brand new books from the 2003 printing that I am able to pass on at the very reasonable price of just £8.97 each, plus shipping. So pop along to www.truetreasurebooks.net and invest now and improve your coastal detecting before they are all gone!

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Detecting with the Anderson Rod


Using the Anderson rod in one hand and my detector in the other worked surprisingly well. I had absolutely no issues balancing the Anderson, I suspect its weight keeps it stable. I did initially have a bit of a problem storing the Anderson when I needed to dig. I started by carrying a cloth to lay the Anderson on, when I put it on the ground, but that became a bit of a chore. Then I discovered that the Anderson could be rested across the handle and against the control box of my Detech EDS detector and would sit there quite happily when I was still holding my detector while digging. I do keep my hand on it though, as should it fall it may damage the antenna. The antenna is replaceable but why have the hassle of buying and importing a new one from the manufacturer? If the digging gets a bit tough I need to lie my detector down and I found that the Anderson will rest in the detector’s arm cup.

 
So I started by baiting the Anderson with silver and that seemed to work well in that I found silver coins and silver plated objects as well as copper-alloy (the Anderson is constructed of brass, I believe) and lead (old lead tends to contain silver as an impurity). So far so good!

 
I then baited the Anderson with gold, which I expected to turn up gold coins but that did not happen. Over the past 200 years many fields in the south of England have been fertilized with rag waste, which was contaminated with buttons and other metal objects associated with clothing.  The Anderson took a great liking to gold plated buttons (as in picture) and the like as well as copper-alloys. I guess this is because I was using almost pure gold bait and gold plating generally consists of high karat gold so to the Anderson it is a perfect match.

 
Now I was hoping to find Iron Age gold stater coins which have a variable mix of gold (70-80%), silver (10-20%) and copper (5-10%). This is a moving target effectively so even using a gold coin as bait there would be no guarantee that the coins buried scattered in the field would be a match. I could persevere with the gold bait or on the basis that all man-made gold objects contain either silver or copper or both I could switch back to silver bait…