The first day in the life of a rookie Metal Detectorists. By Roy Goutté.
Well, Christmas had arrived and with it a metal detector in my stocking. Wow! I knew it was coming of course as I made mention of it in Part 1 of this article, but now it had. In waiting I found myself reading all sorts of articles and watching YouTube clips on detecting and detectors themselves and I couldn’t wait to get started! Everyone seemed to be finding coins, modern-ish and otherwise, with all the other stuff such as ring-pulls, fencing staples and bits of wire conveniently overlooked. That was encouraging and I couldn’t wait to get out there!
However, I needed first to become ‘accustomed’ (as the supplied video advised) to the detector and its settings. Blimey, looking at them it reminded me of the inside of the cockpit of a stealth bomber! There were settings for All Metals, Jewellery, Relics, Coins and what they termed a ‘Custom’ one. A table showing the depth the object was at from 2” down to 8”+. Buttons were various… Power, Mode, Sensitivity, Discrimination, Pinpointing and Eliminator. That last one sounded rather ominous I thought! But wait, there was more to come, as it could also distinguish by way of bleeps and their tone, the type of metal it was. Magic!
Well that was Christmas, but due to the appalling weather we have been having I wasn’t able to get out and give it a test drive until very recently, and only if I wore waders and a trench coat! Jeepers haven’t we had some rain! Anyway, after playing around with a few modern coins buried in various places around our lawn I set off into the big wide world with my detector slung over my shoulder for my first trip out on a windy dull day with showers.
As I mentioned in Part 1, I am very fortunate inasmuch that I have loads of land at my disposal owned by various friends, but for starters I chose a 50 acre field very close to home because if the weather really broke I wasn’t far away from the dry and warm!
I had chosen to ‘sweep’ an old track used many, many years ago by church goers who had a one and a half mile walk from a hamlet of about a dozen cottages to a chapel in the closest village. Naturally I had gained permission to do so as it is the number one rule. In the summer it would be an idyllic walk, but not on the day I was there it wasn’t! Slopping about in mud on a gravelly base, I was frequently finding an odd selection of rusty pieces of metal. One find was expected… the old fencing staple from the sheep netting fence that had been erected along the length of the path and was now a sorry sight, rusting away as it was so old and not galvanised. The other objects I was not sure of but I suspect were broken bits off a plough hitting the gravel under the topsoil and no doubts some more fencing bits. Doesn’t seem much does it but keeps you totally focused on what you are doing.
I never found a thing of any real interest (I mustn’t say value because in some quarters I’d be seen as a heritage thief) but actually had a very successful day in respect that my detector was a joy to use and for the first time realised why the hobby is so popular… the complete concentration that takes you over and clears your mind of all your worries and problems. It is extremely therapeutic and calming while at the same time very exhilarating which is a wonderful experience.
My first finds
Getting home earlier than planned because of the weather and having time to spare, I once again began doing a bit of trawling on the net with detecting in mind as I had decided to buy what is known as a ‘pinpointer’. It is a hand-sized small version of a metal detector with a projecting point on it to seek out the actual position of the ‘find’ amongst the removed earth which may have to be broken up a little. Now ordered off the ‘Bay’, I await its arrival from China (where else eh to keep the price down!).
While I was doing this I received a call from a pal. He said I would be disappointed to hear that once again detectorists were getting another panning from a familiar ‘heritage’ website. I thought, ‘Here we go again’. Sure enough, on checking it out someone was hell-bent on stirring up trouble for them once again. It is a sad state of affairs when detectorists can’t go out for a weekend’s legitimate detecting without someone spoiling their fun isn’t it. To certain sad and misguided people everyone brandishing a metal detector is more than capable of being a heritage thief, raping our land of artefacts and not officially reporting them (70% of them apparently). Capable certainly, but no guarantee that they will, but let’s heavily suggest they might would seem to be the name of the game!
The situation this time was that a rally that had taken place in 2014 on land that had an interesting historical background was going to be repeated again this year, in March, the writer believed. Prior to the said 2014 rally taking place they had implied on their website that detectorists would be ‘pocketing or destroying’ artefacts that would then be beyond the reach of science. Quiet a claim that isn’t it, giving the reader the impression that the event was going to be packed out with unscrupulous villains without a decent and honourable one in sight! At first I thought it sounded like an illegal activity was going to take place but the truth was that it was a perfectly legitimate and organised event and each detectorist would be paying £35 for the weekend, or, as it was so cynically put by the usual suspect… ‘for just £35 you can help yourself for the whole weekend’! Sounds like heaven to a hobby detectorists but a nightmare for an over-reactive anti-detectorist don’t you think.
The land in question had no Scheduling on it and was not a SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) as far as I am aware and they had full permission to ‘sweep’ it which more or less confirms that, yet again the reader was being seduced into believing they were likely to be a bunch of villains plundering a site for their own benefit!
Nobody seems to have shown an interest in carrying out investigations or excavations there previously, so my first thoughts were that it would be a great opportunity for the detectorists to find out more if they were fortunate enough to discover things of interest which would then filter its way back to us via their clubs or finds officer. They gave no idea how many clubs or individuals were taking part in the rally and I don’t suppose for a single moment they even troubled to find out either, but you can be sure that because of their Codes of Conduct nothing was going to be ‘pocketed’ that shouldn’t be while they were on site and observed, but of course the anti-detectorist obsessives always think differently because they seem to be predisposed to think that way. Protecting our heritage is one thing, and to be applauded, but to give false impressions another thing altogether and shameful.
And forget commenting on one of the myriad of MD articles on said ‘heritage’ website. If you don’t agree with them you will be treated as I was; your comments are likely to be binned and you will be asked not to post there again. You won’t even be met half-way. There didn’t appear to be a balance struck at all, you either agreed with the article or were asked to leave as I was. My comments were only used when it suited them and some not published at all unless sections within it were selected, but only in an attempt to put me down to the other readers who were then denied my completely unpublished posts because, to do so, would reveal a few truths. I thought it a very cowardly and discourteous way of doing things and in doing so confirmed to myself what I always suspected about the way an individual can operate, so tossed in a few remarks of my own to balance things up a little.
For example, I asked a perfectly reasonable question on this ‘heritage’ website which was, ‘Where did the solid proof come from claiming that 70% of finds were not reported’? What I got back was a claim that four separate entities had said the same. That wasn’t ‘proof’ to me unless I and other readers could see the written documentation to back that up so asked for it. Common sense told me, as it will to others, that there is absolutely no way that every single ‘find’ found can be witnessed to substantiate such a claim so to claim that the 70% was a proven fact was complete nonsense. Where for instance was the person watching me on my first venture out in the field in case I found a significant artefact and did a runner with it… hiding up a tree? Of course the readership was denied that post and instead was told that they would not be hearing from me again! Neat eh!
It’s a great shame really as some good stuff has come out of that website, particularly when written by a certain person that I have met and who always gives a good account of himself in print with his well-balanced views and interesting well researched articles. That’s how it should be done.
Moving on, it is quite obvious that by far the greatest number of important metal artefacts found underground in the UK are discovered by amateur metal detectorists and not by professional archaeologists who, on the whole, are not looking for treasure of that kind and certainly not where the majority are found. Without detectorists there must be a very high percentage of those fabulous artefacts that would never have seen the light of day again without their help. Of course there will always be detectorists that don’t play by the rules and that will never stop no matter what legislations are put into place, as I’m sure I’ve mentioned before. I’m also sure that most level-headed people understand that obvious statistic and accept it, but some are so obsessed with only seeing the bad side of things that they treat people like idiots for thinking otherwise. I know someone like that. Good intentions without a doubt, but unrealistic.
Finally, check out this small sample of fabulous finds which without the help of metal detectorists may never have been found and I’ll catch up with you all again shortly.
The Silverdale Hoard 2007
The Hoxne Hoard 1992
A very small part of the 3,500 piece Staffordshire Hoard 2009
And finally the Jersey Hoard 2012