Tuesday, May 23, 2017

ODD THINGS AFOOT- treasure hunting in the Twilight Zone

The other day I was talking with an old friend who has also been treasure hunting for at least as long as I have, more than 50-years, and we shared some odd things that have happened on certain treasure hunts. And I don't mean just a day-trip to a schoolyard or park, but heading into the woods, onto a deserted island, or anchored at sea for a few days.

A trip into the everglades in 1980, on a friend's air-boat. We were looking for the remains of a Seminole Indian village deep in the swamp, where stories of stolen, then buried, U.S. Army gold during the Seminole Indian Wars exerted a strong pull on our sense of adventure. Long before Google and GPS, we used a U.S. Geodetic Survey map to mark the location we thought had been the village, based on some of our library research, existing on a large hammock area in the sea of grass.

A Must Vehicle For Everglades Treasure Hunting

We had the top metal detectors of the day aboard; my green-enameled Garrett ADS Deepseeker with it's 14" white dish-platter coil, Ed's cobalt-blue Whites Coinmaster 5000-D, and Larry's frog-green Garrett Groundhog. We left from a boat ramp just off Florida's Route 27, a few mile north of Alligator Alley, coming out of Ft. Lauderdale and heading across the glades to Naples, on Florida's west coast. About a third of the way across lay The Great Cypress Swamp, a protected wildlife area filled with small and large beasties of all descriptions.

It was late in the afternoon, and we planned to camp on the hardwood hammock, as there was a cleared area high and dry where we would be using our machines. This was also where we had supposed the Seminole village would have been in the 1840's. We skimmed in, propeller roaring, and beached the air-boat. We were carefully watching for ornery little poisonous water moccasins, and peeping-tom alligators, as we dragged our camping gear up onto the dry, and set up our tents, laid out the campfire ring, and eagerly pulled out our detectors.

An interesting afternoon ensued in the few hours before dark, as we dug water-filled holes (if the holes were NOT filled with water, they would be) aplenty around the hammock, finding lead weights, spent bullet casings, and...you guessed it...pop-tabs! Larry's Garrett Groundhog burped as the batteries died, and Ed and I helped wrestle the machine apart (in those days, you practically had to disassemble the machine to replace the batteries, pulling the entire top panel off the machine, then fish thru brightly-colored tangles of wires to get to the battery holder)

Darkness enveloped our little hammock, and we finally lit the campfire inside the small ring of limestone coral rocks. We had a can of McCormick beef stew bubbling over the fire in no time, and we were so hungry by then we almost got 3rd degree burns in our mouths gulping it down by the cupful. The sounds in the everglades in the dead of night are hard to describe, mostly the grunting of alligators, occasional  splashiness in the water as fish outrun larger fish, and a slight hum of insects. What woke me up was the sudden absence of these sounds, and as I pushed my way out of the tent I saw Larry standing by the air-boat, and suddenly noticed an eerie purple glow lighting up the entire hammock. Larry was staring up at a bright purple light parked over the saw grass, and I crept over to where he was standing.
A recreation of what we saw...a poor one, I might add...

The thing was silent and just sitting there, about the size of an automobile, with light coming from it almost in the ultraviolet range. Larry said, "Go get your M-1," which I had brought along, as nobody goes into the everglades without a good rifle or pistol. I didn't say anything, thinking, like I used to do when we hunted wild boars, that shooting it would just make it mad. "What the fuck is that?" said Ed, who had come out of his tent behind me, then he said "Where's the gun???"  The odd characteristic about the thing, other than the fact it existed in the first place, was that a ring of light surrounded it like a glow, but was separate from the object's glow, which seems, even now, impossible. Light just does not behave that way.

Larry said, "Let's get the ever-loving crap outa here!" jumped into the the air-boat, turned the key, and...nothing. The solenoid on the electric starter didn't even click. At that point, without a sound, the object started to move straight up and accelerated until we couldn't see it anymore. We all jumped, now in the pitch dark, as the starter suddenly whined and spun the propeller, then stopped and was silent. "Damn," said Ed. We spent the rest of the night with the campfire roaring and my rifle across my lap, as we drank coffee until the sun finally came up.

We loaded up the gear the next morning. Larry turned the key and the propeller roared to life. We beat it back to the boat-ramp off Rout 27 and never spoke of it again. Larry got killed in a car crash in New York a few years later, and Ed died of cancer a few years after that. If you treasure hunt long enough, in lonely places, you'll see a thing or two yourself.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Artifacts - Bag it and Tag it!

I am always amazed at the number and quality of finds in the world of the metal detecting hobbyist! Coins, artifacts, and who-knows-what come up everywhere; spoons, tokens, hardware, bullets and shotgun shell remains to name a few. All very impressive sleuthing by folks that take history seriously and bring many inorganic remains of a previous people back into the public domain. People who were going about their everyday lives, without an inkling that people of the future, 100 or 150 or even 200 or 500 years in the future would be interested in the mundane aspects of their technology and lives.

One thing I have in common with archaeologists is being conscious of an artifact's context with the environment it is recovered in. Most metal detecting hobbyists, and bottle collectors are NOT interested in context; they are more impressed with the object itself, more than they are interested in the precise location and orientation of the object. Or even in general terms. This is a shame, because, archaeologists are correct when they say the object's piece of the puzzle, or context, is lost forever once it is removed from it's resting place. 
Simple, home-made tools: computer-printed in and cm scale and North reference on the handle of a cleaning brush
Fun is fun and I'm not trying to rain on anyone's parade, but I've seen literally thousands of items of all kinds, including lead musket balls, pieces of Spanish armor, and Seminole copper adornments, end up on display. However, not one of those item's locations, orientation, depth found, weight or pictures of it "in situ" were recorded. They are artifacts to be amazed at, but their story has been erased with the shove of a trowel, and yanked from history, it's narrative or origin never to be recovered.
Handheld GPS unit, or the GPS app in your phone will give you geo location data
Now, metal detecting, the hobby, as more and more and more "I'm new to the hobby!!!" people enter the ranks, is becoming more and more and more competitive. Newbies asking online about the "best" places to hunt, are more and more and more being met with crickets chirping in the background and a lonely blinking cursor. And many of the old guard are looking for new happy hunting grounds, as most of the "easy" finds have been vacuumed up in previous years, when metal detecting was not as well known or practiced, using machines that were expensive, and users that would not talk about anything involved.
computer-printed size reference scale on my Garrett Pro Pointer II
So, here we have a perfect foil for the act of documenting metal detecting finds, even for the important or amazing looking artifacts that may tell us something new about the history of that very ground that hobbyist is digging in! Take the time to record it and it's location would seem to be inadvisable in the competitive scheme of things; what if someone finds my "secret" spot??? What if archaeologists come in and make it off-limits to us??? What if an asteroid hits the Earth and we have no more places to hunt???

Keeping a record of significant finds is not a liability, it is an asset! No one is asking you to take out an ad and publicize your find...it is your find, pure and simple. However, one day, when your young son or daughter or even grandchildren, wander over to you with it, and ask "What's THIS Grandpa?" what are you gonna' say? Maybe you'll say, "I don't know, let's take it to the museum and find out!"

Use a simple and cheap, pocket rolling ruler for depth measurements

Once there, you'll pull out the dusty record of the find; geographic location, picture of it in the dig, the orientation to north, a size reference, ruler or scale of some kind, the date and time you found it, and the object itself. The museum thinks it may be a piece of bronze steam boat hardware, and a local archaeologist decides to visit the location of your find, the shore of a small river, using your record of the object's orientation, locates rotted wooden pilings in the mud. Apparently there was an unknown steamboat wharf and trading post at this location...forever unknown if it was not for YOUR find!

I think keeping records of significant finds will label us all as responsible metal detecting hobbyists, and not the looters of history we are sometimes made out to be. The tools to do so are not expensive and the work involved is minimal. If only we'll just do it! Time will tell if it was worth the effort or not.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Life's a Beach - Electronic Beachcombing

My best memories, the candy-colored ones you remember most, are created while metal detecting along Florida's beaches. The morning sunrise, the color of hot coals, coupled with a cool salt breeze off the endless blue-green Atlantic ocean, just a few short hours before low tide; this is my nirvana. Looking north and south, very few people are evident as far as you can see through the morning mist and salt-spray. This bodes well for a few hours of contemplative solitude in searching for the sea's hidden offerings.

Sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean on my Favorite Beach

The invisible cone of electromagnetic energy, enmeshing the search coil, pulsing and reversing polarities so fast, it approaches magic for anyone without an engineering degree to comprehend. And at the low frequencies it operates, it penetrates wet sand, clay and limestone like a bright light through frosted glass. Modern 21st Century technology has gone one step further in coupling ultra high-speed computer capabilities into the mix, able to examine and analyze the electromagnetic flux to the point that it supplies data that almost reveals what lies hidden below the coil. With practice and experience, it is still your decision to partake or ignore. But ignore certain signals at your peril...there are many items that aim to muddy the water and hide that Spanish gold coin, that heavy silver chain, or that 1- Carat diamond ring. A piece of rusted iron will obliterate the signal of a close proximity silver coin. You never know!

A heavy .925 Italian silver chain I pulled from the clay hard-pan

I detect a historic coast in Florida, not to say all Florida coasts are NOT historic, but this coast yields 19th Century copper sheathing peeled from a long-wrecked schooner, alongside a twisted beryllium copper spacecraft component that made it halfway to orbit before it's booster exploded.

The tops of shell piles poking out of the sand-good omen

The digging is easy, if you have the right tools (I've seen an inexperienced detectorists using a knife, trying to recover a target from wet sand) but persistence is not. Wander down to the local fishing pier on the public beach, and you'll see literally dozens of people with metal detectors, wandering around in circles, almost interfering with each other as they pass each other. Frankly there are no longer enough beach-goers to support the hordes of detectorists convinced they are going to become self-supporting within a few warm afternoons at the beach.

Lone water-hunter looking for treasure with his metal detector

Most good finds are hard-won, gridding a piece of sand miles from the pier and crowded public beach, seeking the right conditions and the right place, and the right time where something good lies. Take a deep bite of sand with your stainless-steel beach scoop and take a look at the sample of material you've removed. Dark grey clay...very little sand. Hard-pan. The bottom of the bottom of the sand all blown away by Hurricane Matthew months before, reveals the stopping point for all lost coins, jewelry and artifacts. Items lost 30 or 40 or even 50 years ago reside here. This is what beach metal detecting is all about...knowing the secrets, understanding the sea, and taking advantage of the right conditions right away before the door closes again in a few days, or a few hours.

A 1942 Wheat Cent recoverd from the clay hard-pan of the beach

A few more hours of this and I'll grab some fish and chips at the pier and watch the ships sail by, before heading home and looking over my treasures.

Some beach finds from the pouch-notice old encrusted coins

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Hiding In Plain Sight- Part 1

This subject originally got me going after reading a post in Dick Stout's "Stouts Standards" (https://stoutstandards.wordpress.com/) on the subject of basically how you "Dress To Detect," i.e. DON'T WEAR CAMMO while you are out metal detecting! "Why, why not, for crying out loud?" you might ask, angrily buttoning your cammo shirt and cammo jacket while removing your custom cammo-finished metal detector from your camouflaged jeep or truck. Heres why:

cam·ou·flage:the disguising of MILITARY personnel, equipment, and installations by painting or covering them to make them blend in with their surroundings.

Now if you are mine sweeping (no, not the GAME!) , or basically de-mining  an area for safe passage during military operations, then cammo is by all means appropriate. If you are a hobbyist, in-country, looking for coins and artifacts in a city or county park, forest, trail, or boat ramp the one thing that will garner more attention than anything else is CAMMO. I'm sure I'll get some disagreement on that, mostly from the people wearing CAMMO at boat ramps, but be that as it may, camouflaged clothing and gear attracts attention BECAUSE of it's association with military operations. Unfortunately, due the uneasy state of the world, and the countries in it, cammo means military, and military garners immediate scrutiny from both the public and law enforcement when you are engaged in public activity using an unfamiliar device of some kind...like your metal detector.

Okay, say you researched a real sweet spot along an old two-lane road, which used to be a dirt wagon road in 1830, with a massive amount of traffic on the hoof and off of it! You and your pals excitedly swinging your custom cammo metal detectors, dressed like cammo troopers, are almost guaranteed to be looked on by passing motorists and law enforcement with suspicion, and you may get a quick visit from the county sheriff.  Now I know and you know you are doing nothing wrong, but appearances are everything in this society and the only other folks who wear cammo regularly are hunters carrying shotguns. Your sweet spot may become off limits real quick!

Our society, here in the United States, spends 22-hours a day being trained to stare into little glowing plastic screens, for all social media needs, official government propaganda (code word: Newsertainment) and "flash-causes" to quickly believe in and fight for, regardless of the reality of the "cause" itself. People are programmed for years to pay attention to some things and ignore others completely, and even in plain sight, certain things do not register on an average 21st Century citizen's Psyche Perception is everything, and since most citizen's average attention span in 2015 was 8.25 seconds (in 2000, human attention spans were in the 12 second range) while a goldfish's attention span is 9 seconds in perpetuity.

From http://grassrootsinternetstrategy.com.au/website-on-a-mobile-phone/

This is where hiding In Plain Sight while metal detecting originated. It happened while I was searching an old park that was being renovated; bulldozers, pipes and all kinds of things everywhere. I was detecting deep in a recently carved out depression, when an old guy called down to me "Find any coins or treasure? Haha!" I pulled my headphones off and he quickly said "Oh, I'm just kidding...I know you are just working and looking for pipes and stuff!" I asked him why he thought that and he said "Well, you are wearing a high-visibility orange shirt like most people working in public, and it has a company name on it...that's how I knew!" I was wearing an old faded orange T-shirt that had "Duck Commander" printed on the back I'd received from Kellyco Metal Detector Superstore as a thank-you for help in training a few newbies with their new machines. It was not a company shirt, but the Duck Commander logo looked pretty impressive against the orange background!

Then I remembered a line in one of my favorite movies, where the core of the Earth had stopped and the young scientist said that there was no way to get it started again, where the senior scientist looked at him and said "But what if there was?" I hit the stores and looked specifically for bright orange or florescent green shirts with slogans or trademarks, cause' nobody's gonna have time zipping by to read it, they are just going to get the "Perception" that was a work shirt! I was ready to experiment and see what the public reaction was to my new getup!


Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Women Of The Hobby -

I've been metal detecting a long time; a little more than 50 -years to date and I have to say, I really like the trend of more women getting into the hobby. Many years ago, you'd see the occasional lady swinging a coil in the dry sand, but it was rare. Women have more developed hearing than men, and that may account for their fairly rapid mastery of metal detecting, or at least the tones, although my wife says "I don't know about THAT,"  after pretty well besting me on various finds throughout the last 7 or 8 years that she has been my metal detecting partner. 

My wife, Patti, detected a 1926 Model-T Ford worm gear
I know quite a few of the women hunters in the Central Florida Metal Detecting Club, and some women who are independent hunters, and most of them are very proficient with their machines. Many take part in the CFMDC SEARCH TEAM which assists local police departments seeking critical evidence at a crime scene, while gaining experience in an aspect of metal detecting few detectorists will ever see.
CFMDC Search Team members Joanne, Nanette, Patti and Carolyn at a police hydration station
I do a monthly presentation at CFMDC meetings we call a "Tech Talk" where we try to present some useful information (a.k.a. News You Can Use) to new members, because new members may be also new to the hobby as well. I've been boring members for going on 3-years or so now, with 10-minute sound bites on search coil selection, proper digging techniques, properly pinpointing a target and what to do if you attract flying saucers with your pulse machine. Stuff like that. One of the most interesting talks I think by far was one that I did not present. I asked two of the experienced lady hunters, Kathy and Patrica, to do a tech talk for the substantial number of women in the club; Kathy on successful beach-hunting scoop techniques for ladies with their less developed upper body strength, and Patrica on use and ground balancing of the Garrett "carrot" pin-pointer. 
Kathy, visible for miles along  the beach, digging a target in the sub-tropical Atlantic beach

Their presentations were awesome. to say the least, and I think it was another affirmation that women have "arrived" in metal detecting, when ladies have enough tenure in the hobby to help other ladies understand the technical aspects and techniques of this sometimes complex hobby. Women seem to listen a little better when owners of lost property talk...we men are action oriented NOW LET'S LIGHT THIS CANDLE AND GO! whereas women seem to be more information oriented...which is weird because in my experience women don't seem to listen at all. Perhaps when gold and jewels enter the conversation, they are more attentive than when listening to me complain about pretty much everything.

One woman detectorist, Tish, created her own metal detecting group, "The Forgotten History Hunters" and friends, gaining permissions by gaining trust of homeowners on historic private properties in Central Florida, and recovering many historic items that would have never seen the light of day again.

Carolyn and Tish of "The Forgotten History Hunters" of Central Florida

Overall, I think it is an amazing trend, with more women becoming involved in the hobby as time goes on. I also like the trend because I don't get in trouble for coming home late while metal detecting anymore...she's right beside me!

Monday, December 19, 2016


Most metal detectorists are big fans of history; older coins, artifacts, and relics are a big thrill to dig! The big draw of these kinds of objects, is that they provide a direct line to the people of the somewhat distant (to us) past here in the United States, going back a few hundred years or so. England and other European locales feature items that go back several hundred to several THOUSAND years! To think another human being in another time and another place saw what you see and touched what you now hold is powerful magic! This is sometimes why a metal detector is sometimes refereed to as a "time machine."

Everything else is hand held now, why not a pocket time-machine?

With a great deal of local, shallow (1" to 15" deep), artifacts being recovered by metal detector users, here in the United States, that means a lot of the past is being returned to the public domain, that is IF users bring the item into the light, and not just marvel at it, toss it in the "finds" box, then head back into the field for more. I would urge everyone who finds what appears to be a unique artifact or relic to take it to your local museum or historic society and see if you can get some info from the folks that deal with historic artifacts on a daily basis. Maybe even loan it to them for a while, as having it sitting on your shelf somewhere puts the item pretty much right back where it was found, out of the light of day again. Your find may even re-write some of the local history; perhaps an unknown colony or fort or railway terminal or countless other things existed there that was not known until your find came back into the light.

Exterior of Florida Indian Pottery Fragment

I've found several artifacts while metal detecting that were NOT metal at all. While digging a deep target under a tree, not far from an old steamboat stop on a Central Florida lake, I hit what I THOUGHT was a piece of rock. I pulled it out of the hole, tossed it aside and continued digging down to a piece of iron so rusted, all that was left was red dirt.

Pottery Shard, Burned Interior

I filled in the hole, and grabbed the chunk that came out of the hole and was winding up to throw it into the lake, when I noticed incised marks on the "rock." I turned it over in my hand and saw what looked like a layer of burned material on the opposite side. I suddenly realized it was a piece of Florida Indian pottery! Made by someone who never knew electricity, or automobiles, cellphones, airplanes, television or even imagined them! And I would never have found it, and probably it would never have seen the light of day again had my "time machine" not locked onto a conductive target just below it. It now rests in a museum, where it belongs, for everyone, not just me.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

AS SEEN ON TV! - Showing Our Stuff to the World

Our title is probably not familiar to you if you have been born within the last 30-years, or maybe even 40-years. Once upon a time, television was considered the peak of our industrial and technical prowess, and to be seen on black and white television was remarkable indeed. If you managed to get a coveted bleacher audience spot on a local kid's cartoon show, complete with it's own host like "Bozo The Clown" or "Ranger Andy," after the show, you'd be a very minor kid celebrity, getting free packs of candy cigarettes from your admirers at school and the playground. 
The same thing happened with other products advertised on "the tube" in the mid-20th Century...toys, games, clothing, kitchen appliances and so on bore the mark "AS SEEN ON TV!" and even if you had NEVER seen it on TV, it made a real impression on you...it had been scan-lines on a television screen and that made it famous, regardless of whether it worked as advertised, or worked at all. 

Today, we not only have ultra-high definition color TV on everything from our cellphones to a wall-sized screen at home, we all now have our own integrated, digital TV station and motion picture studio in our personal device software, a truly democratized entertainment system that ANYONE can take part in...creating prerecorded video programs or hand-held live-broadcast transmissions, better in quality than some multi-million dollar production companies of only a few years ago!

How does this tie in to metal detecting? Especially here in the United States? Probably one word; YouTube. Maybe two words; YouTube AND Facebook. Where once there were a few metal detecting video producers, and I admit I am still one of them, there are now literally thousands of detectorists showing their finds on their own channels and Facebook pages. I like watching some of them myself, as an interested hunter in my own right, and a lot of those channels have something to add to my knowledge of the hobby. But "promoting" the hobby is probably no longer necessary...any more than the last 100 fishermen surrounding the last shrinking pond on earth needs to be posting "the fun of fishing!" videos to promote fishing! 

My point is, with so many metal detecting enthusiasts posting so many videos of various hunts and digs while digging so many historic artifacts from the ground, this increasingly publicly visible activity has drawn the unwelcome attention of various groups and agencies interested in either curtailing, or eliminating our hobby, plus has them collectively seeking video proof of the metal detecting public's possible careless indifference in recovering and/or handling relics. I'm NOT saying anyone is purposely violating the law or being careless...far from it! But I am saying we are being watched, and at least one international organization, who would be more than happy to see metal detecting shown in the same light as a major criminal enterprise, has mentioned the hobby as a source of archaeological malfeasance, and referencing Social Media as the source!

On the darker side of this, I've seen the results of people who view social media metal detecting posts and videos, who have profit, not history, in mind, and are happy to locate, invade and tear up a featured site looking for possible coins, jewelry or artifacts in a one-time, devil-may-care escapade, thus leaving the site off-limits to the rest of us who practice the metal detecting code of ethics in the lurch.

Now, like I said earlier, many of the metal detecting social media posts and videos are well done and interesting. I know of several sites and YouTube video channels that I anxiously AWAIT new episodes or posts to see what my friends and other hunters have found in their area. What are the answers to this issue of us all occasionally baring our sometimes dirty laundry to everyone outside the hobby?

To me, an immediate improvement would be to refrain from verbally or visually identifying the area that is being detected! In the excitement of the hunt, I've heard a few video creators identify EXACTLY where they are, sometimes mentioning it again through several episodes of an entertaining and well done video of their hunt. That's like putting a billboard up on your site DIG HERE!

Another improvement would be to not show an out-of-hand recovery you are digging...yea, your gonna' cover it up later, but for now, it looks like a drag-line project...the anti-detecting community LOVES these images! I'd love to see your find, but, unless you are cutting a perfect plug on-camera, and replacing it seamlessly, try not to display it. I've done this myself countless times, finally realizing, although I've cleaned up my hole and put everything back the way I found it, it still looked like a small construction site on my video when I was recovering something fairly large.

Well enough complaining and the gnashing of teeth here. I hope you will take my thoughts in the manner in which I made them...just trying to keep us all off the endangered detectorists list for as long as possible and maybe beating the naysayers at their own game!