A prison warder and a Roman coin

I last went out detecting a couple of weeks ago for an afternoon’s swinging. Having tried the big triangular field along the road the previous time without much success, I wanted to try the much smaller one beyond it, a good 400 yards from the road. Since the ground was dry I decided to risk driving along the edge of the field big field to park up close to where I wanted to start. The grassed field margin had a few ruts and potholes but was perfectly drivable for an ordinary family car providing it was taken slowly.

The further field turned out to be stubble of varying lengths, from an inch or two up to some 6″ long, and although it hadn’t been ploughed it was uneven enough to have to watch where I put my feet. Over the course of a couple of hours I managed two full lengths of this rectangular field and a few toings and froings across the width of it but with very few signals of any sort. The only find was a rather corroded Roman copper alloy coin.

After an hour or so I was hailed by a dog-walker who came over to ask how I was getting on. I showed him the Roman coin I’d found and he was suitably impressed. We chatted for a while and he turned out to be a warder at the not-too-far-away Long Lartin high security prison (the one where they remand many of the actual and wannabe jihadis) on his day off. He’s been walking his dogs (one of them being one of the prison dogs on his day off) along the edge of this and other fields on many occasions and has never seen any other detectorists.

Shortly after he’d walked on and round a corner the heavens opened. The first of the afternoon’s forecast “showers” turned out to be a 15 minute downpour with horizontal rain. I got soaked and started detecting in the direction of the car. And then it stopped and the sun came out, albeit briefly. Just as I decided to carry on detecting it chucked it down again and I beat a hasty retreat. With all the gear in the car, I bumped my way back down the side of the field, this time half blinded by the rain. No sooner had I reached the road than the rain stopped and the sun came out again. It didn’t last though and quickly clouded over and became quite dark.

This turned out to be another very quiet field, though to be fair I only detected for a couple of hours. Even so, apart from the usual background chatter in some parts there were few signals of any kind – a handful of iron grunts and a few digable signals that produced (as well as the coin) a piece of foil, several bits of shredded drink cans, a bottle screw top still with shards of glass attached, and a modern ring off some piece of machinery. The usual, in other words. There were also a few of the orangey-pink ceramic shards noted on the previous visit to the adjoining field, but far fewer in number.

The aforementioned Roman copper alloy coin was the only find of the day. I don’t know if there’s enough detail left to identify it.


1 Roman coin


First visit to a new field

With new land to try I couldn’t resist a trip out, so after an early lunch yesterday I took myself off for an exploratory visit to the largest of the new fields open to me. I drove onto the largest of the fields, still under stubble, and parked up by the entrance.

With a field this size it’s difficult to know quite how to tackle it, especially when the field is about 40 acres and a strange stretched triangle shape. Round the edge? Straight across the middle? Zigzagging from one prominent feature to another? Eventually I decided to detect parallel with the road which runs past, but about 10 yards in from the field boundary. Half way along that side I turned and cut across one corner and followed the line of a strip which had been deep ploughed.

A little over half way up that side I started to find very rough ceramic shards scattered across the surface. They were a pale orangey-pink or biscuit colour, most with a curved profile as though they were broken pieces of pipe except that they were roughly finished and not glazed in any way so I can’t imagine they were pipes. Besides, judging by the profile of the curve they’d have had to have been pipes several feet in diameter.

So what to make of them? I started to wonder if they are pieces of Roman roof tile. If so, taking into account the quantity I saw scattered around a particular area, it’s possible there was a Roman building of some sort on the site, especially as there’s a lot of Roman stuff in the area. In aerial images of the spot there are no clear crop marks suggesting a former structure, but there is an undefined, slightly darker shadow in the soil. It’s something to run past the FLO when I next see her, but in the meantime does anyone know if these things really could be bits of Roman roof tile?

In contrast with all the broken bits of ceramic, there were virtually no genuine metal signals. I found several pieces of chewed up drinks can, a piece of foil, one modern button and one copper alloy ring of around 1.25 inches diameter. And that was the sum total of digable signals. How absolutely weird. I know the field runs along a road but surely it couldn’t have been nighthawked so completely?

My session was cut short when my phone battery died, as I no longer detect if I am unable to track my progress and precisely log my finds by GPS and photograph them on the spot. I could kick myself, and will now invest in a powerbank so I can recharge my phone in the field.


Photo 1

1 button
1 copper alloy ring
1 piece of red and pink flint-like stone – jasper?

161007 finds.jpg

Photo 2

Selection of possible Roman roof tile fragments


Some new fields to detect

I took myself off this morning for a non-detecting visit to the 1,500 acre place, most of it under arable, where I’ve been doing most of my detecting recently to get some idea of what land might be detectable in the coming months. Since on my last visit it looked as though the field I was detecting was being ploughed imminently I wanted to agree with the landowner which other fields might be available between now and the end of the year.

As it happens, that field has not been ploughed any further because it was too dry, and is therefore still detectable for a short while pending the resumption of ploughing. I was, however, able to agree three new fields which have not yet been ploughed, totalling some 55 acres, in addition to the existing one. I was also pointed at a further field (30 acres) which I was told was detectable but which appears to have beans coming up.

Usefully, I now have a complete map of the farm with all fields named for future reference so there’s no confusion as to where I can and cannot detect.

Club Dig – Bicester

Yesterday I went on another of the mid-week digs organised by the Metal Detectives. I like these mid-week digs – with a later start so attenders can avoid the rush hour traffic and a smaller group of generally older detectorists, they are even more laid back than the weekend ones. And of course, a smaller group means being able to go on smaller sites than if there are 50 people traipsing about.

The site was around 70 acres sloping across three fields which were easy digging, rather sandy and recently worked with the new crop starting to come through (judging by the remains of the stubble, the previous crop was barley). On a previous visit, these fields had variously produced: Georgian and Victorian material; Roman coins and an Anglo-Saxon gold ring; and Roman coins, and a number of hammered coins along the line of a footpath. This visit wasn’t to be so fruitful, though a few hammered and a few Roman coins did turn up during the course of the day.

After a chilly start, the day was warm and sunny but very windy. At times it was very difficult indeed to hear the signals, partly due to the strong wind, which seemed to become stronger as the day went on, and partly due to the incessant traffic noise from the motorway a quarter of a mile or so away.

As on other recent digs, I spent the morning in one field and the afternoon in another. My first find of the day was the smaller and grottier of my two Roman coins, and my last find was the larger and better preserved of the two. I’m hoping the FLO will be able to provide at least an approximate identification of the small grot, but I’ve had a tentative identification of the larger to Claudius Gothicus (born sometime between 210 and 214, ruled 268-270 CE).


2 Roman bronze coins
1 copper alloy rectangular ring
1 piece of lead
1 fragment of pottery
1 handmade nail/tack (possibly Roman)


XP Summer Gold Rally – Report

I’d never attended a large rally and have heard and read mixed views of them, so ummed and ahhed about this one for a month or two before biting the bullet and paying for a day ticket for the Sunday.

So, up at 6am for a quick coffee. Made up a flask. Set off at 6.30am for the 40 mile drive to the rally site.

Arrived at 7.30am for a very easy check-in with none of the queues hinted at in the pre-rally instructions. Bought a £5 raffle ticket for the raffle whose main prizes were 10 full XP Deuses (Dei?) – 5 for each day of the rally. I never buy more than one raffle ticket because I couldn’t win a dose of plague in a global pandemic. Inevitably I didn’t win a Deus, nor one of the not-yet-available XP pinpointers. Would any one care to make me an offer on a used yellow raffle ticket? Only one careful lady owner.

Started the rally with a £3.50 bacon and mushroom butty from the breakfast tent. Plenty of bacon and mushrooms (huzzah!) let down by Mother’s Pride type cheap white bread (boooo!). Brown sauce free.

Had a wander round the “village” area to look at the traders’ tents and dealers’ stalls, chatted with Nigel from Regton, met and chin-wagged with John Winter, then had a very quick look at the living history area and displays. Was amused by this in the dealers’ marquee:


Finally decided to actually do some detecting so walked through Field 1 and started detecting in Field 2 and then Field 3. These were stubble, much of it almost impossibly long (8″-10″ by my estimation) and bloody hard work. There were also very few signs that anyone had dug anything. I found a piece of folded scrap lead.

Then the rumour spread that there had been a report over the radios that a “pot of gold coins” had been found in one of the further fields. Almost immediately nigh on everyone in sight started gravitating towards Field 34, reported site of the fabled find. The rumour was quickly downgraded to “a pot” and within the hour to a rusty bucket. Apparently as soon as the rim came into view digging stopped and a couple of the marshals were called in to have a look. All very responsible but ultimately rather disappointing for the finder.

Detecting my way up through Field 6 (bean stubble, mostly very well flattened), I was struck by how many holes had not been filled in. Deep holes. Bloody big holes. With soil scattered for feet in all directions. One pile of spoil even had dog shit curled on top. At least I hope it was dog shit, but since the organisers had actually allowed some Minelabbers on the site one can’t be too sure.

The bottom of Field 6 produced the only actual find of my three and a half hours’ detecting – what is probably a Roman grot.

Making my way up through Field 6, I met and spoke to a few other detectorists heading back to base. The first one, French, was giving up as whatever he did to his Deus he couldn’t stop the chatter. He had found nothing. Then a pair of French blokes who had also found nothing. Finally a pair of Eastern European blokes; they actually had a handful of stuff between them and showed it to me. The only item that looked significant was a small copper alloy triangle with a punched design of circles and what might have been the nub of a broken hook at the pointed end, which I said might be a clothes fastener. I met the finder later in the “village” and he told me it had been identified as a Norman fastener.

Got back to the “village” just before 2pm and had a pint of cider (£4) and a pizza from the wood-fired pizza van (£7). The pizza was well cooked and pretty good value though it could have done with a bit more in the way of toppings for the price. Still, it was a damned sight better than a 50p greasy donkey burger even if the Italians attending reportedly turned their noses up at it.

All in all the organisation, facilities and marshalling were absolutely first class. Unfortunately the same cannot be said of the state of all the fields (some were clearly much more detectable than others) nor of the finds. The two “big” finds that I heard of were both found on the Saturday – a Roman gold coin* which the FLO apparently got quite excited about as it was believed to be a rare one, and what appeared to be a gold and garnet Anglo-Saxon mount about the size of a large button. However the stuff displayed in the finds cases by the middle of Sunday afternoon was largely Roman grots, broken fibulae and similar odds and sods. Many attenders seem to have found nothing at all, not even buckles or buttons, though those who ventured to the fields reserved for Sunday, getting on for a mile from the “village”, did seem to have done better – rusty bucket notwithstanding.

Anecdotally I’ve read elsewhere that the FLO was disappointed overall and most of the attenders I spoke to were as well. For around 800 people detecting what must have been  1,000+ acres a few miles out of Burford there didn’t seem to be much to show, but I’ve now seen comments on a number of forums that these fields have been detected regularly by at least one large club, most recently only a few weeks ago. However this rather bears out what many people say – that you attend a rally for the social aspects and if the detecting is good it’s a bonus.

One sour note to the rally was the disappearance from the XP stand, announced late on Sunday afternoon just after the raffle was drawn, of a large plastic case for transporting a Deus. The example held up looked like a Samsonite sort of affair with padded foam interior. I’ve seen nothing more about this so don’t know if it turned up or not subsequently. Unfortunately this isn’t the first report I’ve come across of thefts at rallies.

* I’ve since read that this was not found at the dig but simply brought in for the FLO to identify and record.

Two musket balls and a penny

On Sunday afternoon I headed back to the field I’ve been detecting recently.

I’ve been wondering how long I’d be able to get on it and today I found out. Not for much longer, as it happens, because one side has now been deep ploughed for some 20′ from the edge.

The effect of all the recent rain was plain to see. The cracks in the soil have almost closed up and are now only a few inches deep. More to the point, it’s a lot easier digging and suddenly there are signals where there hadn’t been any before. Unfortunately a lot of them were unmistakeably iron sounds but there were a handful of ambiguous to good signals which kept me occupied for a few hours.

My previous visits had covered most of two quarters in opposite corners of the field so the plan was to do one of the others in some depth and have a cursory scan of the fourth.

After an hour or two spent criss-crossing the 3rd quarter at various angles I’d found a musket ball, an iron ring and a strange strip of filigree-ish metal. My best guess about the latter is that it is possibly the bit from an old oil lamp that sat just below the wick control, but that seems unlikely in practice due to the softness of the metal. If anyone knows what it is, please let me know.

The last field quarter turned up a George III penny, another musket ball (though very poorly cast and probably a reject) and what appears to be a piece of copper alloy slag.

No doubt by now the rest of the field will have been ploughed and I’ve no idea whether it will be possible to detect on this land once it has been seeded. Some farmers seem quite relaxed about it and others not. I suppose I will have to broach the subject.


1 George II 1806 penny
2 musket balls
1 iron ring
1 piece of copper alloy slag
1 funny-looking doodah

160911 Finds.jpg

Updated my copy of Spink

I bought a copy of Spink’s Coins of England & the United Kingdom back in 2013 which, to be fair, hasn’t had a lot of use since then as I’ve found very few coins worth looking up. However a seller on Amazon was offering the 2016 edition, new, for £10 including p+p, and well, you just have to, eh? It arrived today, with the decimal coin section now published separately but thrown in for nowt. No doubt the 2017 edition is due to be released very soon but the 2016 one will do me for a while.

I ordered from Ancient Art, if anyone fancies a copy: