Monday, April 9, 2018

The Coin Probe - Electronically Powerless

Among all of social media, hundreds of YouTube videos and various detecting magazines and publications, I've yet to see a serious discussion at all...of a useful tool borne by electronic treasure hunters for many, many years. It ain't got no screen, it don't need WiFi, and Bluetooth, in this regard, simply means someone just ate a pint of blueberries. 

Coin probes in action...or inaction...hard to tell with coin probes

No power, no batteries, no solar cells, BUT, I can assure you it is completely WIRELESS! A varnished wooden handle embedded with a quarter-inch diameter steel rod running around 7 inches in length...a probe...what we used to call a COIN PROBE in the old days. The probes I own are commercially made, slightly bent from continuous use and lightly discolored except for the polished and rounded steel tip, because it is continually shoved into the sometimes-difficult  ground. It is a piece of field gear I don't leave home without, and you shouldn't either.

Probing a flattened aluminum can; highly conductive target, but highly deceptive

I use a probe like this all the time, so much, it has it's own spot in my field pouch, and always the first thing in my hand when a large, hard to ID, target reveals itself.

Left to right; coin-probe, cleaning brush, Gator digger, and Garrett pin-pointer

Despite our newfangled hand-held pulse detectors, I still instinctively probe carefully beneath the surface for the "hard-strike" of the actual target...also a useful technique in figuring out where the edges of the target lie. Now a lot of people new to the hobby (pretty much everyone in the last year or two) tell me "I don't want to scratch the coin using that thing!" Well, unlike using a ground-down screwdriver, or an old ice pick ( ICE PICK!!) these feature carefully ground-down tips...careful probing will not scratch coins or artifacts...of course if you try really hard, you probably could. Don't try really hard!

ground down and semi-rounded coin-probe tip

Here in Florida, a "clever" move by many city officials is to not prohibit metal detecting per se, but they snicker quite a bit when they put a "no digging" clause in the rules (hahaha!) so though you can scan for targets, you cannot "dig" for them!!! Using a probe, however, you can physically check for the target, maneuver it beneath the object, and "pop," or work it to the surface, and out of the ground, or between the grass. No digging took just went around the rules and legally recovered a coin or artifact. Of course, there is a limit to what size target you can do this with, and I usually restrict this kind of coin-probe recovery to coin-sized items. For bigger items, you and your friends are going to need to petition city hall and get your detecting rights back!

Of course, you can make your own out of old screwdrivers, old ice picks, and the like...just be very careful to make sure the tip is ground down and rounded...I once scratched the face of an 1879 Indian with a homemade screwdriver-probe...I'll never do it again! Good luck and happy hunting!  

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Dangerous Detecting and The New World Order

I recently read the social media comment "Easier to ask forgiveness than permission. I have a great one that I would try!" The dishonest detectorist then went on to describe how he would explain to anyone questioning him (i.e. why he was hunting in a park that was clearly marked NO METAL DETECTING) that he was looking for his dear old granny's precious wedding ring she lost while playing football for the 49ers last week. Indeed, as Andy Sabisch posted on his face book page "Is this what the hobby has become in 2018?" He makes commentary on the sad fact metal detecting, the hobby, has become essentially a number's game nowadays. 

Not to put too fine a point on it, metal detecting has become a competition to see how much "stuff" you can vacuum up without regard to where it was found, what it was, or of what significance it is. Sad to say, I've seen this problem grow in the last few years, with social media throwing down the gauntlet to "...get out there and metal detect, boys and girls!!" with thousands of items tossed in a box and dumped in finds competition...along with confrontations, arguments between people about the legitimacy of the finds, accusations of cheating and et al. I've actually seen metal detecting addicts hunting with their eyes glazed over, digging relentlessly, like someone vacuuming a dammed rug or carpet! I went to the beach one weekend, which I don't usually do, just to spend an hour walking the beach without a detector, and I counted 21 people with metal detectors in the first quarter mile, most digging illegally in the dunes, or waving the machine 3-feet in the air, while carrying a full-sized shovel and glaring at anyone else swinging a machine.

I know of folks who trespass brazenly onto a private property and then, in their own words "I metal detect until someone throws me out!" Others use illicit means to access off-limits properties pretending to be city workers checking for pipes, or power pole markers with the fake ID to go along with it. Or any number of other ruses you or I would never dream of attempting...and they get awards for fantastic finds that the majority of us will never dig because we respect the NO TRESPASSING signs. I've seen people at metal detecting hunts seeding the field with tokens, then when the hunt starts, they turn and follow the line they walked and pick up most of the tokens THEY had just seeded!  Perhaps, as the United States slowly dies and becomes a third world enclave, this is the new normal...civility, pride in achievement, work and honesty are things of the past. Criminality, lies, deceit, theft and an anything-goes mentality among our destroyed middle-class society is what rules nowadays. 

Digging up a person's yard, leaving trash, uncovered holes...same thing in city and county parks. Digging coins by the truckload 8 to 10 hours a day by younger people (in the 20 to 30 to 40 year old range) who should be at work or at least someplace doing something constructive, seems also to be the norm. When I was a kid, maybe 9 or 10, you very rarely saw men in large numbers wandering around during a was mostly mothers with small kids shopping, kids just off school, or a few retired folks with their grand-kids. The men were at work...not wandering the community. Nowadays you see masses of apparently jobless young to middle-aged people wandering shopping centers, sitting on picnic tables in parks, standing in doorways, or using metal detectors 10-14 hours a day. The end is near...or is already here and we don't know it yet.

We've had discussions about how to protect yourself at the beach, with a few people calling everyone "pricks" who legally carry weapons to defend themselves and family from the "people," if you can even call em' that, the ones who laugh at gun laws, no matter how many many tons of paper...are written, and do what they want, whenever they want, and to whomever they want...unless they are the whomever's who legally carry a means of defense. Several folks were talking about quietly detecting a local beach in the cool of the evening only to be attacked by ragged people from out of the darkness, a Hollywood horror movie become reality. Unfortunately for the attackers, the detectorists were legally armed. Their comment was "...pulling out the Glock put a halt to their shenanigans real quick." What would have happened otherwise? You figure it out. It's a tough world now.

Myself, I would not be caught on any beach at night anymore, the homeless, the criminals, rapists, thieves, and ne'er-do-wells, even though we carry pepper spray and tasers, even carry them during the day, we'd just as soon stay away. Genuine nut cases are everywhere here in the states nowadays, people approach you in broad daylight asking " you have any gold?" We were legally metal detecting during a weekday in a deserted section of a county park. Out of nowhere, a 30-something, came up to me and said he'd been bitten by red ants on the legs and it was very painful. His girlfriend, who also appeared from nowhere, nodded. He then says to me "We've decided to contact a state legislator with a request they change the name of the red ant to "Spicy Boy." His girlfriend nodded vigorously. "We really think it's a good about you?" I saw Patti walking toward us, her detecting shovel, long-handle steel with a sharp, trowel-sized blade, over her shoulder, looking at the couple with caution. They did not see her. I had my hand on the taser at my belt, felt for the activation switch, and flicked it on. 

Just at that moment, one of the park rangers, a friend of mine, pulled up in his electric cart. "Hi, Joe," I say. Ranger Joe looks at us, and says to me and Patti "...find anything?" He looked curiously at the "red ant" couple. They looked back, suddenly uneasy with Joe's presence and for some reason, seemed even more uneasy that we personally knew the park ranger. "Want a ride back to your car? I'm heading that way anyway." We were happy to get a ride back, almost a mile walk. Joe looks at me on the ride back and says "Friends of yours?" I looked back and said "Never saw them car, no bicycles...just showed up outa' nowhere." After I mentioned their conversation topic, he keyed his mike on his radio. "Erma, call the police and direct them to the far side of the park...suspicious characters." A short time later a police car, tossing dust, passed us heading for the outer reaches of the park with two officers aboard. They came back toward us a short time later and Joe said to them, "What's the story?" The officers said they didn't see anyone...there was a 6-foot barbed wire topped fence around the park proper that would not have been easy to climb, even with a ladder. Joe looked at us and said "That was strange...even kinda weird." We had to agree.

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.