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The News

History underfoot with metal detectors

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Category: Treasure
Created on Friday, 31 May 2013 12:00

 

swindonUK - SHOW a metal detectorist someone who thinks history’s dull and they’ll show you someone who’s never held pieces of it in their hands.

It’s all very well reading about Romans or Saxons or the Civil War, but for a detectorist there’s nothing to beat, say, unearthing a coin and knowing that the last person to hold it was the Roman who lost it, and that he probably swore in Latin when he got to the tavern or the bath house and reached into his toga for some cash.

The same goes for uncovering a brooch last worn some time before the birth of Christ, or a musket ball flattened as it struck bone on its way through some unfortunate Cavalier or Roundhead.

Next month, members of Swin-don’s 40-strong Wyvern Historical and Detecting Society will explore sites in Aldbourne which were home to the American 110st Airborne as they prepared for the Normandy landings.

The society was invited by local historian Terry Gilligan to go in and search for artifacts of the ‘Band of Brothers’ and their comrades ahead of planned alterations to a local sports field.

“We expect to find things like buttons, badges and coins,” said society chairman Peter Pearce.

“Terry Gilligan found the right people to do it because he came to our club and found us to be very professional.”

But what is it that drives a person to patiently traverse a patch of land with a metal detector?

“The thing that’s been a great joy to me is the history side of detecting,” said Mr Pearce, 68, who lives near Faringdon and is a semi-retired singer and entertainer.

“It’s really a great pleasure to dig up something old and research it.

“One I remember from about 19 years ago was a silver Roman Den-arius from the time of the Emperor Trajan, between 98 and 117. That would have been a day’s pay.

“I began detecting about 20 years ago. At the time I used to go out detecting with a pal. I discovered a Roman site. Then he moved away and I found myself detecting on my own, which isn’t my style. Also, because I was a shift worker for many years I found myself not going out as often as I’d like to. A couple of years ago I realised I needed to be involved with a club.”

Other members have stories of their own about favourite finds.

Vice chairman Peter Hyams, 61, is a semi-retired electrician who lives in Cheney Manor. “I’ve got three – a hoard of 16 Denari, a grave with a Saxon warrior in it and the Chiseldon Cauldrons.”

The cauldrons, one of the most significant archaeological discoveries in recent years, are currently being analysed at the British Museum, whose website notes: “The Chiseldon cauldrons were discovered in 2004 by Peter Hyams, a metal detectorist.

“Initially it wasn’t clear what the objects were or how old they might be, so they were left in the ground until a local historical society could conduct a small excavation.

“This revealed a vessel made from copper-alloy and iron, as well as copper-alloy from a second vessel.”

Mr Hyams added: “I’ve been doing this for about 20 years. I used to go out on my own but at the time it was was difficult to get permission to go to sites. I found that there were two clubs in Swindon and joined them both. I’m only a member of this one these days.

“If you join a club you make friends with people, and you get to know more about history and finds. There is access to a lot more areas than you would have on your own.

“When I was at school, I wasn’t really interested in history. Because of this hobby it’s opened up a whole new world. I’m not so much interested in the Romans as the Medieval period. A lot of the coinage that we like to find is of that period.”

For fellow member Gary Clifford, 58, a company trainer from Oak-hurst, the best finds so far include his first hammered coin. It is from the reign of Henry I, from 1100 to 1135. Rather more spectacular is a torc – a type of neck ring – which once adorned some Bronze Age VIP.

That one won him a ‘National Find of the Year’ accolade from detectorist journal Searcher.

“I first got involved about 20 years ago,” said Mr Clifford. “My father was a metal detectorist. I left it for a long time and just joined this society about three years ago.

“To me it’s the history and not knowing what the next step will pick up.”

And where, precisely, were these finds made? None of the three will say, as to reveal locations would invite the unscrupulous vandals whose greed gives the hobby a bad name by wrecking sites and selling whatever they find to whoever will buy it. The scourge has a name of its own.

“We call them nighthawkers,” said Mr Pearce. “In my opinion they’re people who lack the ability to go out and find sites on their own and are motivated by money.

“So if they get word of a site that’s of interest they get together, usually as a group of people, and go there. They also go after protected sites and open archaeological digs.”

Detectors can be bought for as much as £2,000 or as little as £40, although the cheaper ones tend to be dismissed as toys. The most popular machine among serious detectorists is the £1,300 XP Deus.

Mr Hyams said: “People start with a toy and then within a short space of time they realise they’re not finding anything, or else they find something and that really inspires them to upgrade.”

Further information is available at the society’s website, www. wyvernhds.co.uk, and that of the National Council for Metal Detecting, www.ncmd.co.uk

Courtesy; Swindon News

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