Thursday, January 18, 2018

The PAS - Rescuing History

The metal detecting community in England and some of the more enlightened  practitioners of the actual art and science of real honest archaeology, as well as the British Museum no less, have come together to discover, document, recover, study, curate and display the neglected artifacts of an ancient age. And they are making fantastic inroads in mutual cooperation, as well as historic finds, with their marvelous Portable Antiquities Scheme or PAS for short. As a result, English history and the tangible remains thereof, have received a tremendous boost in popularity, with the citizens and certain savvy academics, sporting a newly renewed interest in the lives of those who lived thousands of years ago through their everyday objects and coinage.

Of course, none of this came easy, as the old guard, somewhat yellowed and musty, in archaeological circles, organizations and institutions fought tooth and nail against they still do here in America. The sounds of tiny gnashing teeth, an amazing side job in hysterically dissing artifact and coin collectors, along with the infantile name-calling habit, are still heard in certain puddles of these folks who choose to live in the academic basement of archaeological origins and practices. Some 21st Century archaeologists, however, making use of the old adage "Work smarter, not harder!" have been turning to experienced metal detecting practitioners for help in racing the clock in recovering items being destroyed by chemical-based farming, road building, new structures and the like.

Another old saying "Old ways won't open new doors," seems to apply to those that seem to want to clutch at the old methods of doing archaeology, especially those who have lost sight of the goal of the supposed science, which was knowledge, not artifacts. They cannot understand (nor do some of them want to...hate and discord becomes a life choice, in some cases) that old ways of doing things are becoming extinct, and it is important, maybe even imperative, to initiate and embrace new ways to open doors into the future, and more importantly, new doors to the past. The PAS has done just that.

I roundly applaud the enlightened and intelligent purveyors of the PAS, archaeologists and metal detectorists alike, and the amazing database of knowledge it has spawned. Any process that adds 1,321,439 objects within 841,580 records that under the "old way" would not even exist, has my vote. Metal detectorists would do well to emulate this here in the United States before its too late. There is still time, but not much.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Metal Detecting Depth - A Deep Subject

This sucker goes deep!
One of the most contentious issues I've ever run into in the metal detecting hobby is how deep will a metal detector go? More than 6 - miles down, at least (their eyes widen) IF I toss it overboard, just above the 7-mile deep Marianas Trench in the Atlantic Ocean. All smart ass responses like that aside, what they really want to know is how deep can the electromagnetic field go in finding al.

Well, in context, a metal detector's target sensing depth, (Verly Low Frequency or Pulse machine) depends on the size and makeup of the search coil (Concentric or Wide-Scan or Monoloop), the conductivity of the ground (wet or dry), the amount and type of local electromagnetic interference (power lines), the amount of mineralization in the immediate environment (salt water), the presence of iron or "hot-rocks" in the immediate vicinity, the amount of power (sensitivity and gain controls) reaching the search coil and the frequency of the magnetic field(s) emanating from the search coil, any "masking" effects of more than one target under the coil simultaneously, plus the size and makeup of the target itself, all have a vote in that. And modern VLF machines are calibrated to coin-sized targets. So usually, when someone asks you how deep does a certain metal detector go, the best response is "DEPENDS..."and not the ones in the box at the drug store, unless you are my age. Onward!

I'm kinda' tired today, so I'm not going into a detailed explanation for the millionth time concerning these factors, but for those that don't know, I would suggest reading some of the basic books on metal detecting and treasure hunting by Charles Garrett, Dick Stout, Andy Sabisch, Gary Drayton and others that can get you into the wilds of metal detector basics and advanced operations.

I will say, a basic tenet in metal detecting is that max power usually leads to max headaches in the field. Try shining your headlights on "BRIGHT" into fog while driving in the deep woods and then we can talk at the hospital later, while they are patching you up, why the BRIGHT lights made it harder, or impossible, to see that now-dead deer wedged in your shattered windshield. Visible light rays are also, believe it or not, in the same electromagnetic spectrum your metal detector search field operates in...just at a much higher wavelength. And at high settings, the waves scatter and reflect off everything, without a very accurate target response, with more falsing than finding.

My ire, I think, has been raised on this subject mainly because every end-of-the-year holiday season, the time for the new metal detector models, aka, the "deeper" metal detectors to come out, the claims of increased depth begin. After over 50-years in the hobby with almost every kind of metal detector, I sometimes look at the new, seasonal "...deeper!" claims the same way I view some dark figure in an alleyway going "Pssst...wanna' buy a Rolex?" 

Strangely enough, while I was working on this blog subject, Dick Stout in his Stout Standards blog beat me to it with his "brainfarts" column talking about the same subject; detector depth. So I had to delay this a few months. From my perspective analog VLF/TR machines (as opposed to digital VLF nowadays) of the early days (60's,70's,80's) were no slouches in the depth department either, and I used to dig silver coins regularly at 8" to 12" deep in the 70's and 80's.

So, as far as I am concerned, electromagnetic-based Very Low Frequency hobby machines have probably gone about as far as they are going to go depth-wise, unless a major paradigm shift occurs in Physics, which I doubt. But then again...  

Monday, January 15, 2018

Ultimate Dishonesty - Theft At The Finds Table

For the second time, in the last few years, we find again, someone or other had walked off with several gold and silver jewelry entries on our club "Finds Table" monthly competition. To say I find this more than odorous behavior on the first meeting of the new year, with a new staff, and hard-working members displaying their best finds, is an understatement of momentous proportions. We have, for years, done our best to watch over our small trays of entries; some members so nervous about entering certain finds, they bicycle-chained them to cinder blocks, of which are kind of hard to slip in a pocket or purse without notice. The first sign of a developing problem surfaced several years ago, when a member, collecting their finds for the return to their collection, noticed a small silver ring was missing from the display plate. It was not a huge, super-valuable item, but it was a significant find to the member, who was becoming frantic with a growing sense of loss, the worst loss imaginable; the loss of trust at a place deemed safe and secure among friends!

As club VP, I scanned the sea of faces at the meeting, many familiar, many not, many new, many not. Somewhere in that crowd lurked a thief. My personal view of a thief is the lowest of the low, a piece of putrid rot sticking to the bottom of cow crap in a garbage pile. Of course, here in this country, we are fairly soft on these piles of human refuse. Unlike less developed countries, where a body part would be removed for each conviction, after several convictions, the robber would be physically UNABLE to steal again. Of course, a wrong conviction would leave an injustice from which there would be no reprieve, but in my perfect world, that would not happen.

I think it is the fact someone probably came to the meeting with the sole intention of robbing a member of his rightful property...or someone of weak enough character who would make an instantaneous decision to not only stoop to the level of excrement and palm a  piece of property, but to steal the very peace of mind and security of the owner, that can never be returned even if the thief is caught!

Of course this is true of ALL theft, no exceptions on where or when, but I liked to think we were all somehow special, above the scum-sucking lowlife that preys on us everyday; lurking in the sewage, ready for the slightest opportunity. I was wrong.

Monday, January 8, 2018

The Lost Ranch - Elements of the Search

A few weeks ago we set off to find a sentimental piece of lost jewelry for one of the owners of a Florida ranch. It was a small platinum diamond-encrusted crucifix, a gift from the owner's father eight-years earlier, that had slipped off the thin gold chain around her neck when the clasp broke. Having her retrace her steps, she had covered a lot of area, trailing thru farm animal enclosures, visits to the barn, horse paddock and trips up and down a large portion of a gravel parking lot and driveway to the main gate.

The owner said she had also visited a restaurant that day, and had called the place, but no one had reported finding it. The small cross, being a scant 1" tall and 3/4" wide was diminutive enough to escape notice in the natural order of things, especially if had slid down in the booth seat, went under the table or a countless number of other scenarios that mask tiny objects from common notice. Or if someone had simply picked it up and walked off with it. The only saving grace, and no pun intended, was a part-time ranch hand who had told the owner she had noticed the owner was still wearing it around her neck AFTER returning from lunch. I was assured the ranch hand was a keen observer and would not have mentioned that fact had she not seen it.

This type of metal detecting search and recovery is the most maddening of all, since the tiny precious cross could literally be almost anywhere, covering more than several acres of busy ranch work, animal enclosures, and even water drains in and near the barns; spaces divided by target-masking metal fencing and chicken-wire barriers. I asked six of my friends, members all of the Central Florida Metal Detecting Club, for assistance in searching the area. A lot of people volunteered, but I was looking for detectorists who had prior experience in finding jewelry, who know the proper detector settings, understood the coil sizes needed, and above all, had integrity as thick as armored steel plate. This was literally a very, very valuable piece of rare metal and precious stones valued quite conservatively at several thousand dollars.

As the search began, and as we all spread out, it began to cloud up, then slowly and sullenly started to mist over, which gradually progressed to a faint drizzle, until finally a light rain began to fall. This of course, added to the ambiance of the search, especially in the already moist and odorous cattle enclosure which was generously strewn with large surprises of the most unpleasant kind, if you get my drift. Everyone had an area to scan and examine. Four or five hours later, bits of saddle hardware, horseshoes, bits of iron and a penny or two were all we had to show for 30-man hours of intensive searching. An attempt was made to scan a bag of goat feed which set the pin-pointers beeping continuously, until we realized the feed contained IRON for the baby goats.

Our analysis of the loss presupposed she had leaned against a paddock fence, where the thin gold chain had broken, dropping the cross directly to the ground. Trouble was the paddocks were all sheathed in chicken wire and sheet tin...making it difficult, or impossible, to get a target within a foot or so of the fence. We utilized a Treasure Products 580 pulse driven pin-pointer that detects ONLY on the bottom of the pointer. That got us within a few inches of the fence, but on hands and knees, its hard going with the cows leaving wide, aroma-laced moist mounds of surprise.

We spent a total of 50 man hours, during two separate trips, trying to locate the piece and came away in frustration. We also came away with the feeling we had done all that we could have and did it well, if not successfully. And that is all anyone can do.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Cane Knife - 19th Century Florida Artifact

Almost two years ago, my wife Patti, excavated an interesting artifact...and a sharp one at that. A heavy iron blade, which she brought over to show me, after having managed to dig it out of a 12" deep hole. She said "Well, I kept digging and the signal kept going and going and going..." which turned out to be about 22" long and sharp as a razor! 

It weighed quite a bit...probably around 7 to 10 pounds, and we spent a good deal of time trying to research it. We went to several museums in our local area, who were somewhat condescending and looked down their nose at us. "Well, we don't have anything we can compare it to," said one curator, very much interested in straightening a wall-hanging rather than look at the elongated piece of rusty metal we had brought in. Another museum and another curator glanced at it and said "Probably a piece of old farm machinery..." and left it at that, uninterested in our view that it was not found on a farm, and did not, in any way, resemble any known piece of farm machine we could locate in our research. We found it quite curious that these institutions were less than enthusiastic about the artifact, even though we had the location, orientation and depth of the object recorded. Finally, Patti said, "Let's take it by the Seminole County Museum of History; they always seem interested in local history...and they are much nicer!"
The head curator was not in when we got to the museum, but an assistant was there, and said "Wow!" when we showed him the knife. Shocked that we got a response like that, after our previous encounters, we were informed that he would like to hold onto it and research it a bit. We headed off into Sanford for a bite to eat and some perusal of local antique stores when we got a call a few hours later from the assistant curator. "It's a sugarcane looks like it was made by a blacksmith, from the leaf-spring of an old horse-drawn wagon...looks like around 1890 or so." He went on, "The tip is clipped, which is rare in this type of knife." A few days later we returned to the museum and the curator was available. They were planning an exhibit about the history of the sugarcane industry industry in Central Florida and they wanted to know if we could loan them the knife for the upcoming show. Patti said "It's been sitting on the piano in our garage for more than a's yours!"
The blade, 22" long, was dug  12" deep...a smithy produced sugarcane knife cir 1890

 They were pretty pleased and planned to use some museum techniques in cleaning and restoring the blade. Patti was pretty pleased herself in finally getting her artifact on display, and out of the garage. I concurred as I could picture me taking out the garbage one afternoon, only to have the knife fall on my foot on the walk back in, and losing a few toes in the process. The curator also asked us to spread the word to other metal detectorists about bringing their finds to the museum for documentation and possible analysis. So here I am, spreading it.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

The China Incident - Failed Recovery

As you know (or maybe you don't) my wife and I do metal detecting recoveries for people in need...they need their lost items back...and we try to comply. Free of charge, of course. Sometimes, despite our best intentions, we get drawn into things that are not of our making, and many times things are NOT what they seem.
A nice day, Sunday, and we are having a relaxing lunch, when I get the call from a friend of mine, Steve. He has a woman of Chinese descent asking to rent a detector to find a lost ring in her back yard. She has no idea how to use the machine, though, and he has doubts. Steve mentions the members of the Central Florida Metal Detecting Club offer a free service and he calls me. My wife and I break off from lunch and head home, 10-minutes away, to load up our gear and head about a few hour's drive south to the location where the ring was lost.

We arrive amidst a crowd of people, also of Chinese descent, speaking Chinese at us from all different directions, as I unload the gear from the car, Patti meets the young lady who lost the ring, who speaks excellent English and quickly fills us in. According to her, she lost a very valuable gold ring in her back yard, and wants to find it with a detector, and thanks us for coming. While I continue to unload the gear Patti walks into the back yard with the woman to scope out our work area. I hear Patti yell "OH MY GOD!" which launches me practically over the roof, getting to her quickly.

As I skid to a stop, an odd scene unfolds as Patti and the young woman stare into the back yard. The area consists of loose white gravel scattered amid several sets of circular concrete tables with a concentric ring of concrete benches surrounding them up on a long concrete patio slab. On the far right of these backyard patio sets, a 7-foot long, 4-foot wide and 3-feet deep pit, more than large enough to bury a casket, had been dug, THROUGH the concrete patio with a steel mining pick AND was still being enlarged by a Chinese man of small stature swinging the pick like a small diesel-powered  machine!

Picking and Not Singing - Tearing Up a Patio

The lady says, nonchalantly, that her father was helping to find the ring. Patti and I looked at each other. I asked her if she still wanted us to at least scan the area, or we could just depart. She insisted we scan the area for her "ring" as I began to think we may have been hoodwinked here, and maybe the language barrier, with us speaking no Chinese, and her speaking English, but maybe not as well as we thought had brought about a misunderstanding between us.

She said something to her father in Chinese as I picked up my Minelab E-Trac. Her Father glared at me as I approached the "pit" to get a few scans in. Just before I got there, he jumped back into the pit, cutting me off, swinging his pick again, narrowly missing my head by an inch or so! As he swung again, I grabbed the oak handle just before the pick buried itself in my forehead and pulled upward, almost lifting the guy off his feet. Now relieved of his pick, he quickly turned and started yelling into my face. I usually don't tolerate this sort of thing very well, and before things could escalate further, his daughter, now also yelling angrily, jumped in front of me confronting him. During the melee, her mother had arrived with a tray of cold drinks for everyone, and now also jumped into the pit, yelling at her husband for his antics.

"I don't like Americans very much."

Patti whispered "What the hell is going on here?" as I was thinking of the delicious hamburger I had abandoned to be here to help. I was having second thoughts. His daughter apologized and said that he said he didn't like Americans very much. I counted backwards from 10, calming myself down. I told her we would gladly pack up and leave, and hope she finds it somehow. Then something happened  I did not expect. With that she started crying, and hugged Patti as she sobbed, almost like a little kid, not a 23-year old woman! Patti was dumbfounded as her mother and father just stood there and watched. I told her to come out front, and her, Patti and I went out to our car, she sat in the back seat, and Patti and I in the front...I fired up the engine and air conditioner and we talked.

Now the story became clear-er. She was not looking for a ring...she was looking for a 24-karat gold filled jewelry box that went miss almost 3-years earlier. The delicate question was what did she mean by "...went missing?" She dried her tears and said, in perfect English, her father had come into her room and wanted to "see" her jewelry box. She handed it to him and that was 3-years hence. Several days ago, she was going on a date, and went to look in her jewelry box for her favorite ring, and realized her father had never given the box back to her.

Buried, hidden or stolen?

She went and asked him for it back, but he had gotten angry with her and said he did not remember what he had done with it all those years ago. Convenient, no? Then she had gotten angry with him and her mother got into the mix and finally her father said he now remembered. He had put it in a cabinet, in the garage, for safe-keeping. She spent an entire day unloading heavy stored boxes and equipment away from the cabinet, managed to open it and unload it. You guessed jewelry box. Here we go again. Once again confronted, which I guess does not happen to him much in Communist China, he gets angry and says someone must have moved it someplace else! How much simpler could it be???

Pleading with her mother, she stepped in once more and brought her wrath to bear on her husband, who seemed to have less success in fending off his wife, than his young daughter. Finally, he admitted, he said, that he BURIED it in the back yard to keep it safe...yea, that's it...buried it...and 3-feet deep at that! She said when he found out that we were coming, and not really understanding the technology involved, he had rushed out with the pick and in two and a half hours, had torn the patio to shreds..making it impossible for us to hunt. Not only that, it had originally been an in-ground pool leaving tons of iron re-bar all over the back yard.

I explained to her, we could not run a proper hunt, as we had come to find a ring laying in the grass, not a 3-foot deep box of 24-K gold jewelry, which I doubted was there anyway. We felt terrible for her as we left, and felt even more terrible she had a father who would apparently steal his daughter's valuables and then become angry with her for asking for it back! A sad adventure for all, except the thief. 

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

19th Century Ship Hull Sheathing - Muntz Metal

One of the biggest problems with living in Florida...any part of the threat of tornadoes and hurricanes. But, even though they are horrendous to deal with, especially the aftermath with torn-off roofing and flooded living rooms, opportunities also arise for discovery. One of my favorite finds along a hurricane-torn beach, if sand has been removed and not thrown back up, is fragments of 19th Century hull sheathing. There are many wrecks off most east-coast beaches that are either unknown, or known but unrecorded that contribute to the supply washing in during storms. And although their wooden hulls have been eaten away by worms or degraded from a few hundred years of soaking in salt sea water, the hull sheathing usually remains. And it comes ashore in sheets of a yellow metal easily detectable and in large amounts. This would be an alloy called "Muntz Metal" which I have mistaken time and again, for pure copper sheathing...which it is most certainly not.

This half-foot fragment almost blew my ears off in knee-deep sea water!
Pure copper sheathing is more reddish in color, and much harder to find, as it was used mostly before 1832, before Muntz metal was patented, making it more rare. But it makes one helluva target in your headphones!

One of the best examples of a Muntz metal sheathed hull, is the restored stern draft and rudder of the famous British Clipper Ship Cutty Sark that was built in 1869 for the Jock Willis Shipping Line.
The restored stern (with stern draft and rudder) of the Cutty Sark elevated 3 metres above its dry-dock under its glass-roofed visitors' centre in June 2012.-Wikimedia Commons, free media repository

Central Florida beaches can turn up several types of hull sheathing as you hunt. Fragments of lead sheathing are fairly common finds down around the "treasure beaches."  From Melbourne, Florida, southward along Ft. Pierce, you will find remnants of lead sheathing material from the "still-coming-up-every-storm" wreckage of the celebrated 1715 Plate Fleet...which recently celebrated it's 300th anniversary of  making a major mistake in sailing many treasure-laden galleons too close to shore in a Category 5 Hurricane. Strangely enough, the Spanish seaman's name for a galleon was literally "Flying Pig," and is based, from what I hear, on their handling qualities under duress. Get a full compliment of sailors of different nationalities, sharing no common language on a ship that handles like a barge in a major hurricane near shore. Well, I think we've seen the results of that scenario played out to Mel Fishers advantage already.

From Central to Northern Florida, once in a while, small fragments of copper sheathing will come up after a big blow, but rarely, and usually with plenty of greenish-blue patina attached. The greenish-blue coating was extremely poisonous to barnacles and ship worms, hence provided excellent protection of early ships. Copper sheathing was usually used on ships from the 1790's up until mid-1800's, Copper sheathing was very expensive and had to be replaced at certain intervals, so I am not sure how many early ships went to the expense of installing that type of sheathing I have no idea where the fragments originate from offshore nowadays, but can still be found after a raging storm or hurricane. 

Muntz metal still provides the majority of sheathing found, at least by me, along the Central Florida coast while metal detecting. The alloy, composed of 60% copper and 40% zinc was invented by George Fredrick Muntz, an Englishman and metal-roller from Birmingham, who commercialized it following his patent of it in 1832. The metal was much cheaper that pure copper and did a better job. 

Sheathing a ship in copper was expensive-a-mundo...

Muntz metal was also used for other purposes; sheathing pilings under piers, household items and musical instruments all bear the mark of Muntz metal.

I do believe, on occasion, many "sunny-day" detectorists find this metal after storms and pitch it in the ol' beach garbage can along with hairpins, pop-tabs and aluminum cans. Big mistake. A historic alloy that has literally traveled the world, manufactured by people who are now no more than legend, and has technical and historic worth should be given a closer look and at least a place of honor on display, be it a museum, library or your den. If you are interested in ship's sheathing and knowledge and uses of metals in the past, please visit a site I used for some of my information...a fascinating website!