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How to find hoards with a metal detector - Introduction

How to Find Hoards With a Metal Detector

Finding a hoard is surely the dream of every metal detectorist. There are no hard and fast rules to hoard finding, but you can certainly improve your chances.

Don't Put All Your Eggs in One Basket

The first, and probably most important way you can dramatically increase your chances of finding a hoard is to search locations where hoards have already been found. The adage about not putting all your eggs in one basket was as relevant in the Iron Age, the Roman period etc. as it is today. Not only will searching known hoard locations improve your chances of finding your own hoard, but there is also the possibility of finding spillage from the original hoard.

Political Turbulence, War, Invasion, Persecution

Necessity is the reason pretty much every hoard ever discovered was buried in the earth. Political turbulence, war, invasion and persecution are what caused so many people through out history to conceal their material wealth, after all, they can always come back for it later, right?

Imagine that the country has been invaded, you can get your family out of harms way, but only if you move fast and travel light. The bulk of your family's wealth is in the form of coins, jewellery or bullion, you can't take it with you, it is too heavy, and what if you are robbed in the chaos? what if you are captured? You need to hide your wealth somewhere. Not in your home, the enemy will certainly ransack it when they arrive, and either occupy or destroy it. It could be years before you are able to return home.

You can't just walk into the middle of a field and bury your gold, you'll never be able to find it again when you return to collect it. You need a point of reference, a meaningful landmark that will not change in any real way within the span of a human lifetime. A place where three track ways or paths meet, a crossroads, a place where two rivers or streams are joined, a waterfall, a boulder in a place otherwise devoid of rocks, a big old tree, a mile marker. Why not hide the gold at your peoples holy place, safe in the knowledge that your gods will protect it for you? A fresh water spring, a holy well, a pool, a temple or a shrine.

Next time you are out metal detecting, look around you. If you were a resident of the area in the distant past and the Vikings came screaming over the hill, where would you hide your gold? What landmarks in the vicinity of your site have not changed for centuries? That is where you search.

We may be light years more technologically advanced than the Romans, the Celts and the Saxons, but fundamentally, human beings are no different today than they were two thousand years ago, well, maybe today we are a little bit taller.

Put yourself in their shoes and trust your instincts.

Search Slow, Search Deep

A great deal has been written in metal detecting books and magazines about search strategies, what really matters is to find a search strategy that works for you. Cover as much ground as you can as carefully as you can. Search slow, search deep. Sacrifice some discrimination to increase your depth and sensitivity, dig those 'iffy' signals, yes you will dig more iron, but if it leads to a hoard find, the relatively minor inconvenience of digging a few extra bits of iron will have been more than worth it.

Hoard Hunting Metal Detectors

There are a number of metal detectors on the market specifically designed for hoard hunting. Most are of the two-box design, such as the Fisher Gemini III or the Whites TM-808. For most detectorists, buying a two-box is unnecessary. The vast majority of hoards are found with conventional detectors. But should you find a scatter of coins in very good condition or have any other reason to suspect a hoard maybe located on a site, you can always try to hire one from a metal detecting shop or distributor.

The Great Dish, The Mildenhall Treasure

Above: The Great Dish and other Items from the Mildenhall Treasure. Photos courtesy of Estel Images licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5

So, You Found a Hoard? Now What?

What happens next depends on the exact nature of you find.

Scattered Hoards

Scattered hoards occur when the pot, bag, or receptacle coins or artefacts were originally concealed in perishes and the items are scattered by the action of the plough, helped along by earthworms, rabbits and moles etc. Coins or artefacts originally hidden in a pot, bag or sack may end up scattered over a very wide area.

Best practice for scattered hoards of coins or artefacts is to log the position of each find with a Global Positioning System, write down the the grid reference on a bit of paper and place it in a small polythene grip-seal bag with the coin or artefact. One coin/artefact and one piece of paper with the grid reference written on it per bag, once the object and the grid reference are safely inside, seal the bag shut and put it somewhere safe. Small polythene grip-seal bags that are perfect for this can be had very cheaply on eBay, and they come in all shapes and sizes.

'Intact' Hoards

Hoards still contained within the pot the coins or items were originally concealed in, or masses of coins or artefacts all in the same hole (the cloth or leather bag they were originally stored in having long since rotted away), are probably the most important to the archaeologist. Should you find an 'intact' hoard, call in the archaeologists at the earliest opportunity, preferably while the material is still in the ground. If you dig into a mass of coins or artefacts, stop digging and call in the experts. Professional excavation of intact hoards is vital to developing a better understanding of who, how and why the hoard was hidden in the first place. A great example of a metal detectorist finding an intact hoard, that was then excavated by archaeologists, is the discovery of the Frome hoard by metal detectorist Dave Crisp. Dave was heaped with praise for his handling of the discovery by archaeologists, British Museum experts and metal detectorists alike.

Reporting Your Discovery

The most important phone number you will need is that of the local Coroner, you will find his or her number in the local phone book or Yellow Pages. When you call it is unlikely that the Coroner will be the one answering the phone, it will either be his or her secretary or a Coroner's Officer, they will tell you how to proceed with your report. When you have discovered a hoard, getting the report to the Coroner is probably the most important part of the entire process. Be sure to get an acknowledgement of your report in writing.

Inform the Landowner and your local Finds Liaison Officer (FLO) at the earliest opportunity.

Contact the local museum, even if your local museum is not a portable antiquities scheme reporting center. The staff will probably be ecstatic to hear that something of importance has been found locally and they may well be interested in buying the hoard should the Coroner declare it treasure. Also, contacting the local museum, even if they are not a part of the treasure process, is just common courtesy.

Hoard Hunting County Guide

Below is a county by county guide to hoard finds. These lists should not be considered exhaustive and new material will be added as more information and sources become available. All of the locations listed should be considered private property until proven otherwise and the proper permissions obtained, preferably in writing, in advance of any visit. Some hoard sites are scheduled ancient monuments, be very sure that any location you wish to metal detect on is not a protected archaeological site.



Further Reading

The Late Roman Gold and Silver Coins from the Hoxne Treasure by Peter Guest ISBN: 0714118109

The Hoxne Treasure: An Illustrated Handbook Roger Bland, Catherine Johns ISBN: 0714123013

Treasure Hoards of East Anglia by Mark Mitchels, Countryside Books, ISBN 9781846741470

Romano-British Coin Hoards by Richard Abdy, Shire Archaeology

Buried British Treasure Hoards by Ted Fletcher

The Staffordshire Hoard, by Kevin Leahy and Roger Bland

The Vale of York Hoard, by Gareth Williams and Barry Ager, The British Museum Press, ISBN 9780714118185

The Romance of treasure Trove by Charles R. Beard, 1933.

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