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Our Place in History

If you’ve found your way to our site, there’s a good chance you’re either a detectorist, a history enthusiast, or saw Ashley on season one of Cooper’s Treasure. We’ve created this page specifically to continue an ongoing dialogue about the role of metal detecting in modern-day archaeology. We are aware that opinions of our hobby vary and it is our hope that our company, and the detectorists with whom we associate, can continue to forge better relationships with academics who fear our motives.


Our business is centered on sharing authentic moments of discovery with our clients and we take this task very seriously. We follow all laws in all territories we visit, teach proper find recording techniques to our clients, and study the standards of archeology (we’ve both volunteered on dig sites and run our own with guidance from archeologists who understand our intention is always to preserve, not destroy, history). We spend hours researching the cultures whose artifacts we encounter, and, when warranted, we publish reports documenting our work.


Here, we have begun to post pieces of the conversations surrounding responsible artifact collecting representing views from both hobby supporters and critics. At times this results in heated debate, but often we see that ethical detectorists are earning the respect of archeologists and collaborating to produce amazing results. If you know of a news article or video that addresses this issue and ought to be included here, reach out to us on our contact page and we’ll give it a look.

Middle Tennessee Metal Detectors Club assisted in battlefield archaeology before hospital expansion

September 12, 2018

This project utilized detectorists to map and recover artifacts from the Civil War Battle of Stones River in 2017. The TrustPoint Hospital expansion was set to occur on 11 acres adjacent to the National Battlefield Park. Volunteer detectorists were led by an archaeologists and recorded 200 artifacts including minie bullets, a bayonet, horseshoes, a stirrup, cannonball and artillery fragments, buckles, and a spoon fragment, all of which were donated to the Stones River National Battlefield by TrustPoint CEO Dr. Jeffrey Woods.

Detectorists discovery in Yorkshire results in crowdfunded excavation of important Roman site

August 27, 2018

The discovery of an early Roman settlement has been kept a secret since detectorists Paul King, Robert Hamer, and Robin Siddle first found a hoard of 18 2,000-year-old Roman silver coins in 2015. The excavation is being managed by crowdfunded archaeology group DigVentures and has uncovered more silver coins, pottery sherds, and a tiny brooch on one of three neonatal burials.


According to Lisa Westcott Wilkins, the project archeologist, “All the coins date back to the time of the emperor Vespasian [AD 69–79], when the Romans marched north and established a centre at York.

Some of the items we have found have been very exciting. These people were burying infants with jewellery – there was a beautiful brooch – which would have been for a cloak. This suggests to us that it was high status.”

The project is the result of the detectorists reporting their finds through Britain's Portable Antiquities Scheme. To date, the exact location of the site is still secret in attempt to protect it from looting. Here's to the scheme working as designed: to teach us all more about history. 

Roman Villa site discovered by detectorist

August 24, 2018

Detectorist Keith Westcott discovered a massive Roman villa site that will likely lead to a full archeological excavation. Martin Fiennes of Broughton Castle participated in a trial dig by Oxford Archaeology and will begin discussions with universities to begin work when feasible. 

“Obviously we would like someone to do it who can involve the local community as much as possible as well as comprehensively recording the site."


“If no-one wants to do it, then it stays happily undisturbed for another 50 or 100 years until someone comes up with the money and interest.”

The project will be costly, but will also serve as a testament to the combined efforts of hobbyists with metal detectors bringing forward clues to sites of significance for archeologists to pursue. 

Click through for photos and descriptions of the early finds that this amazing site has produced. 



Anglo-Saxon Metal Detecting Discovery will be Displayed in Local Norwich Museum

June 11, 2018

A 2014 Anglo-Saxon burial discovered in Windfarthing will go on display at Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery. Detectorist Thomas Lucking discovered but left the site intact and contacted archaeologists from Norfolk County Council's Find Identification and Recording Service, who excavated the grave, which contained an aristocratic woman who is believed to have died between about 650 to 675 AD.

"Her jewellery included a large gold pendant, inlaid with hundreds of tiny cloisonné-set garnets, forming sinuous interlacing beasts and geometrical shapes," reports the Diss Express.

Fundraising efforts secured the artifacts, valued at £145,050, for display. Mr. Lucking and the landowner will split the money equally. Kudos to Mr. Lucking for restraining any urge to disturb the artifacts in context. 

A Review of Discovering Virginia's Colonial Artifacts by Bill Dancy

February 21, 2018

Back in November, Sal met up with Bill Dancy to introduce him and his new book, Discovering Virginia's Colonial Artifacts, to some of our History Hunters. They had a great visit and Sal continues to encourage detectorists to purchase a copy of what has turned out to be an excellent publication. 

The March installment of Civil War News was recently released and in it Lawrence E. Babits reviewed Bill's book. His stance on a relic hunter's approach and attempt to educate others on the importance of research and record keeping is encouraging. 

We've received permission to run the review in its entirety here. Please enjoy and join us in congratulating Bill of his success in publishing an outstanding book on the hobby of metal detecting. We still have some signed copies for sale if you're looking to get your own.


“Cherish and Become a Good Custodian” 


Review by Lawrence E. Babits


As an academic, professional archaeologist I had misgivings about this book because it dealt with an amateur who was a metal detectorist as well. The book alleviated my concerns for just about everything I’d long been taught but since come to see as overly restrictive. The change for the professional archaeological community came with the brilliant work Doug Scott and Rich Fox conducted at the Little Big Horn (Custer’s Last Stand) battle site using volunteer metal detectorists.


Their detailed artifact recovery changed our understanding of how the battle was fought as well as moving the profession- al community to better utilize the equipment and knowledge of collectors. After all, collectors/ metal dectetorists study “their” sites and regions in much greater depth than many archaeologists do. A second aspect was that the time and labor involved by archaeologists using traditional test pitting did not result in recovery of much meaningful data on a battlefield, whereas the metal detector recovered materials that revealed the patterning archaeologists traditionally look for.


In this lavishly illustrated, glossy format text, longtime metal detectorist Virginian Bill Dancy provides a very useful “how to” example of good metal detecting. It is divided into four sections, plus nine appendices that more than adequately cover how to locate, recover, conserve and display relics from the past.


Four chapters make up Part I – Research and Recovery. These are the key basics to any archaeological effort and his lead-in chapter, “Research is the Key,” should be required reading. Dancy includes archival, cartographic and aerial photography as basic tools. He follows with advice about obtaining permission, something often overlooked before going onsite. His discussion about reading the landscape to find clues matching the research to the prospective site is important for stating the obvious about the often intuitive process of assessing where to dig. His long experience resulted in developing a tool kit that should be emulated as time and finances permit. His discussion of how to find trash pits would help many archaeologists obtain a site’s type collection that could then be used to educate crews about what they nd using traditional methodology.


At this point, a jump to chapter 25 is important. Dancy focuses on recovering materials. If he were to add sections on photo- graphing trashpits and find sites so as to reveal their stratigraphy, most archaeologists would probably be happy with his effort, even though he does not do this basic recording in lieu of drawing up stratigraphic cross sections of the various layers encountered. He does, however, keep records of what was found and where.


Fourteen chapters make up Part II – The Artifacts. This section that will get the most attention from collectors, because Dancy presents what he found here in a series of topical chapters that include coinage, weights, buttons and buckles. His presentation on pipe stems is very good and draws heavily from archaeological material to help interpret them. Since he spends much time with trash pits, he provides sections on non-metal artifacts including glass and ceramics. For the Civil War collector, he includes a short section on post-colonial artifacts.


Part III deals with cleaning, documentation and ethics. The first two chapters are pretty basic discussions of cleaning materials without damaging them. The chapter on documentation is interesting because Dancy gives many of his finds to the landowners because they are interested in them. He records materials by site rather than type. He photographs the artifacts and sites where he works and when, after they have been cleaned and stabilized. This recording is computerized and represents a solid data base of historical information. This sort of depth has been made possible by development of digital cameras and GPS locational systems to put artifacts back with their sites.


Dancy also publishes a lot of material in relic hunter magazines and posts from detectorist forums. He maintains les of these documentary efforts and says that this text is the ultimate presentation of his finds.


Dancy’s display is more personal and cluttered than often sparse museum displays, but mass has a quality of its own. There is a Civil War metal detector museum (White Oak, in Falmouth, Va.) open to the public where D.P. Newton and a host of local collectors present their collections and research in similar fashion.


His discussion of ethics is simply stated in the introduction to chapter 22 as “Always do the right thing.” He presents his own code of ethics and his last statement that one should not pursue the hobby for monetary gain mirrors archaeological standards. He advocates reporting sites to local historical authorities and suggests reporting illegal activity. His cooperation with archaeologists has resulted in significant finds and represents a continuation of the efforts first made at the Little Big Horn that are now being practiced in Europe, Britain, and most states.


Part IV is a recapitulation of Dancy’s work titled “Best Sites and Finds” that represent the rare items as well “memorable trash pits” he has found.


Some Appendices are a surprise because they include key identification marks on clay pipes, mint and assayer marks, and how to preserve coins and iron artifacts through electrolysis as well as a coin inventory, tool check list, and three research case studies. The Index allows rapid searching for artifact types and some sites.


Some professional archaeologists will be appalled at excavation site photos and this may turn them away from using this text. That would be a mistake, as there is a lot of very useful information for even experienced metal detectorists and professional archaeologists contained here. The photography is outstanding and presents key artifacts in clear illustrations to aid archaeologists and collectors in identifying finds. Archaeologists routinely use texts on specific artifact types (canteens, bullets and buttons, for example) recovered by antiquarians, relic hunters, and collectors because they represent the broad scale of material culture. Here is much of the same in a single text, collected by one person in Tidewater Virginia.


Larry Babits is, among other things, a rear rank private in the First Maryland Infantry and formerly Director of the Program in Maritime Studies at East Carolina University. He worked on Civil War wreck sites including the USS Otsego, Maple Leaf, Star, and CSS ram Neuse. His main areas of interest are the private American soldier and musketry.

Montpelier Detectorists Assist in Finding Slave Quarters

February 16, 2018

Recent discoveries by detectorists working with Montpelier archaeologists indicate they've found the site of slave quarters from the 1810s to 1820s.

Matthew Reeves, Montpelier’s director of archaeology, says, “With the metal detector survey, we're not only able to locate the sites and define the extent, how big the sites are, but then also get a few items that we're able to date the site.” 

The program is an example of a successful relationship between archaeologists and metal detectorists. 

Treasure Act and Portable Antiquities Scheme Announces Record Year

February 06, 2018

Current Archaeology reported on their website today that the UK's Treasure Act and Portable Antiquities Scheme has announced that the number of new finds made by the public is the highest it has been since the law was enacted 20 years ago. Last year, 1,120 Treasure finds and 81,914 archaeological finds were recorded in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. We're very proud that History Hunts is a part of this process.

Click through to see details from the report, including highlight finds (two late Bronze Age hoards and an Anglo-Saxon burial assemblage amongst them).

Also, check out the Code of Practice for Responsible Metal-Detecting in England and Wales that was released with the report here:

Detectorist Kevin Ambrose shares his experience discovering an unmarked Civil War gravesite

January 16, 2018

We were reminded of this story when Kevin shared it on Facebook. With his permission, we're republishing his post and a link to a video discussion of the excavations that took place after he reported his discovery. We hope you find it as inspiring as we do. Thanks, Kevin, for sharing.


"In 1994, I found the remains of a Civil War soldier in Centreville, Virginia while relic hunting an 1861-62 Louisiana camp. The camp was located in a scrubby patch of pine woods next to Rt 28, just south of Rt 29.  

While I was hunting, I heard a very deep iron signal that I thought was a trash pit. Instead, I found a well-preserved grave about 18-24" in the ground. The iron signal was a cluster of coffin nails.  

The grave was shallow because the grave diggers hit solid shale and could not dig deeper. There were lots of shovel marks in the shale where the diggers tried to deepen the grave shaft or break through the shale.

I can tell you that rolling a human skull out of your dig hole is quite shocking and unsettling. I filled in the hole and covered the surface with cans and trash in an effort to hide the grave.

I reported the grave that night and it took over two years for the Smithsonian's forensic anthropology team to supervise the grave excavation with the help of Fairfax County archaeologists and our NVRHA relic club. 

The dig was a big production that was watched by hundreds of spectators and the local media, both TV and newspaper. The Fairfax County Police provided the police lines and a security team.

A total of six graves were found arranged in a line. It took three days to excavate the remains from the graves. Later, a forensic analysis of the remains was done at the Smithsonian Institution. The results showed the soldiers were very young men who were killed by gun shots.

The soldiers were wearing uniforms with small-size eagle buttons and no belts or plates. 

With the forensic information combined with information from the regimental history of the 1st Massachusetts, the soldiers were identified. The regimental history gave the location of the graves and even described the service.

The soldiers were killed during the Battle of Blackburn's Ford, several days before First Manassas. They were hastily buried before the Union army retreated back to Washington.

One of the soldiers was buried in leather and canvas baseball shoes, a sign of an early war, urban recruit.

The soldier I found was only 17-years-old. He was from a wealthy family and faked his age to go to war. All six soldiers were later given a military burial near Boston.

So why was a Confederate camp located on Union graves? The men were buried in July of 1861. By the winter of 1861-62, the wooden crosses were probably gone, used for firewood. The Confederates may not have known they were camping on graves. That's my theory.

One day, I'll write a book. There's a lot of history about the soldiers and details about the dig that I could not share in this post." - Kevin Ambrose

Detectorists to assist in attempt to find site of a War of Roses battlefield

January 10, 2018

Aside from record of a meteorlogical occurence in February 1461 (the appearance of three suns known now as parhelion phenomenon), little else is known about the Battle of Mortimer’s Cross near the Welsh border. 


Archaeologist Dr. Glenn Foard intends to change that by assembling a team of  volunteer metal detectorists to assist in finding it. 


The search is part of a three-year project that has attracted £84,000 in funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund.


Sal was once involved in a project assisting archaeologists working on a Battle of New Orleans site years ago. It's always nice to see the two parties working together and the volunteers generally assist because they enjoy being a part of these types of projects. 

The Guardian addresses the tense truce between detectorists and archaeologists

December 24, 2017

This piece, published December 18, 2017, addresses the current relationship between detectorists and archaeologists in England, and the past engagements that created them. 

"Cooperation and engagement has now been the accepted position of the archaeological community towards metal detecting in the UK for over twenty years, paving the way for the 1996 Treasure Act and the Portable Antiquities Scheme, which records detector finds across the country and makes the data available to researchers. Many metal detecting clubs enjoy close and mutually beneficial relationships with their local archaeology units, sharing information and sometimes working together in the field. 

However, it would be a mistake to think that archaeologists now live in perfect harmony with detectorists; distrust on both sides still bubbles under the surface. Many parts of the metal detecting community remain wary of archaeologists, suspecting (probably rightly) that, if they could, archaeologists would place greater restrictions on metal detecting. On the other side, most archaeologists privately believe that even responsible detectorists to do more harm than good, and the more extreme among them see all metal detectorists as little more than legalised looters driven by personal greed. For many archaeologists cooperation is a form of damage limitation; the least worst solution."

It should be noted that all finds discovered by History Hunters on our England trips go through proper reporting before being exported (if the British Museum does not seek to acquire items of interest).

Metal Detectorists Help Archaeologists Dig Up a Secret History (from NYT)

December 16, 2017

This article, dated January 16, 2017, describes how Connecticut detectorists and archeologists worked together to discover what may be the "first forced resettlement of a native people," predating 1666. 


"'We call them Jedi masters,' Dr. McBride said, pointing out that detectorists had found about 80 percent of the artifacts cataloged in the project. 'Even with the most intense digging, we would have found about 5 percent or less of the objects recovered through metal detecting,' he said."

Dr. McBride values the assistance detectorists provided, but doubts his contemporaries will chance their opinion of the hobby.

"The difference between archaeology and looting, explained Brian Jones, Connecticut’s state archaeologist, is the recording of context. Detectorists tend to be 'focused on the things,' Dr. Jones said, adding, 'Artifacts are important to archaeologists, but really only in the story they tell, and you can’t tell the story unless you know where things are found.' Many detectorists mean well, but if an object is removed from its surroundings without a detailed survey of the area, the story is lost, Dr. Jones said, 'and it’s really just looting.'"

Nevertheless, Dr. McBride empowered local detectorists to contribute to his research and was more than pleased with the results. Responsible detectorists understand the value of context, and it appears history, and relationships between detectorists and archeologists, can flourish when we establish common ground.

Click through to read the full story.

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