Bought a new pin-pointer

Although I thought I’d fixed my Garrett pro-pointer a while ago, it has never in practice really behaved properly since then. Gradually the falsing problem reasserted itself and it was obvious it had to go.

So off I went to Regton this morning to buy a new one. The shop was quiet and there was plenty of time for a good yammer with Nigel, during the course of which we discussed everything from the local clubs to the new Minelab plastic detectors. Nigel showed the latter to me.

Apparently they perform pretty well and may have the edge over Garrett’s Ace machines from a performance point of view, but ye Gods they are flimsy! I can’t see them lasting very long in the field. Indeed, they look like something you would give the kiddies to play with on the beach and I’d be surprised if any serious beginner would choose them over the Ace series.

I was also pleased to see that Nigel is now stocking a range of those pocket-sized compartmentalised plastic boxes which are ideal for keeping small, high value finds safe. When I first saw them being used I spent hours trying to track them down before discovering that they were commonly used by anglers and therefore readily available in fishing tackle shops. I’ve had a few more off fleabay since then. You can never have too many of them.

Anyway, I treated myself to the new Garrett Pro-Pointer AT and threw in a couple of magazines and a book on lead tokens and tallies for good measure.

Treated myself to some jeweller’s scales

Some time ago I bought a digital caliper from Aldi for measuring finds precisely. I’ve now added a set of jeweller’s pocket scales to my armoury for weighing finds precisely. All I need now is to find some precious metal to weigh.

There are plenty of these things about, virtually all made in China. I went for the On Balance Truweigh scale which weighs up to 100g in 0.01g increments. It also weighs in dwt (pennyweight), grains and carats (?) and needs a 100g calibrating weight to initially set it up and then to keep it accurate.

It struck me that pennyweight is precisely that – the official weight of an English silver hammered penny.

scales

Oral history

The question of oral history, and how effective and accurate it is, interests me greatly.

Anyone who has gone into their family history will find that accounts given by grandparents and other members of the oldest generation of the family turn out to be almost invariably inaccurate, and often woefully so, when tested against the cold hard facts of official records. Older generations, if not genuinely forgetful of details, can be deliberately vague about matters which filled an earlier age with horror (such as illegitimacy) which today are regarded as nothing to get worked up about.

At some stage, any detectorist who has private “permissions” will encounter oral history, whether from what the landowner relates about the history of the land or from what other local people have to say in the pub. The difficulty for the detectorist will be in working out what is reliable and what is not. So far, the owner of my second permission has told me the following:

  1. During WWII, Italian POWs were used on the land to straighten the course of the stream to relieve flooding;
  2. In 1940 all the fields bar 1 were down to pasture, and the land was ploughed in its entirety in that year by order of the government;
  3. It was returned to pasture only around 2003;
  4. There was a cemetery on the highest part of the land;
  5. There was once a cottage in the corner of one particular field;
  6. There was some connection with a monastery.

But which of these can I rely on?

The farmer’s family bought the land in 1937 and took possession of it in 1940 when the sitting tenant left. So items 1 and 2 are either from the farmer’s own memory or what his father told him. He himself took the decision to return the land to pasture in or around 2003. All, I suggest, can be reasonably relied on.

However items 4 – 6 are pieces of information that he has been told at varying dates by local people who may or may not have been passing on genuine and reliable information. Some may be a complete fabrication. Of these three, I suspect item 5 is the most likely to be true,  if only because in the days before electricity and piped water cottages could be, and were, built pretty much anywhere. In the 1851 census, for example, some of my own ancestors were enumerated living in a “cottage in the field”. It’s possible that footings or foundations of the cottage on this farm may still have been visible within  living memory, but equally any building on the spot may simply have been a shed or barn.

One fairly scholarly folklorist’s estimate that I once read set a limit on the reliability of oral history as “living memory of living memory”. In other words, think of yourself today. You are told X by someone of, say, 90 years old, who was told the same unformation when he or she was a child of 10 by someone who was also 90 at the time he or she gave the information.

  • Informant aged 90 in 2013 – born 1923.
  • That person told in 1933 by someone aged 90.
  • Older informant born c1843.
  • Older informant probably told the information c1853, allowing for him or her to be old enough to understand and remember what they were told.

In other words, reasonably reliable oral history available today probably dates from no later than the earlier years of Victoria’s reign. Earlier testimony is not entirely worthless, but it becomes increasingly unreliable as it recedes into the past. In oral history the key evidence is, “I personally witnessed X”. Beyond that, it’s “I was told by the man who personally witnessed X”, but beyond that we are into “friend of a friend” territory, rather like urban legends.

On the digging and filling of holes

It is the essential nature of metal detecting that sooner or later the detectorist will end up digging holes. Probably quite a lot of holes.  Quite how one digs those holes and what one does with them afterwards is the cause of much grief to the detecting community.

Let us first consider the digging of holes. There are essentially two approaches:

  1. To cut three sizes of a square and use the remaining, uncut, side as a hinge, and then to flip the sod out. Reinstating the hole created by this method essentially means flipping the sod back into place; and
  2. Cutting all the way round the sod in an approximate circle and lifting the whole piece out. Cut by this method, the extracted sod is more or less cone-shaped and tapers to a point in the middle. Reinstating the hole means putting the sod back as before.

Now I have seen both methods used on the club digs and open rallies I have attended. My personal preference is for the three-sides-and-a-hinge method for several reasons:

  1. The hinge ensures that the sod remains attached to the surrounding turf so that it is less likely to be lifted by animal activity and less likely to die; and
  2. Sods dug by this manner tend to be deeper and therefore fit more snugly back into the hole.

Many of the cut-all-the-way-round sods I have seen have been cut remarkably shallow – sometimes only 3″ or 4″, and within only few hours of being cut the sod often already looks wilted and sorry for itself. It’s easy to imagine the state of it by the following day, especially in hot, dry weather.

The aim in  digging and reinstated holes is for the hole to be invisible once reinstated. This may not always be possible if the soil is either too wet or dry, but there is no excuse for not doing one’s level best to do the best job possible in the circumstances.

I mentioned above that holes are a source of grief to the metal detecting community. This is largely because there are an unknown number of detectorists who:

  1. Do not fill their holes in, properly or at all;
  2. Leave rubbish in the hole, typically iron, which should be removed; or
  3. Leave rubbish by the side of the hole, whether they replace the sod or not.

The problem occurs on all types of land, but is most problematic on pasture where an unfilled hole is not only a very visible eyesore but may also present a hazard to livestock, while on arable land a large lump of iron left on the surface may cause significant and expensive damage to farm machinery. It’s a problem which afflicts many clubs and which is almost universal on open rallies where many attendees are complete strangers, many are newcomers to detecting and may not have been given guidance in the practicalities and etiquette of digging and filling holes, and some are simply selfish and idle bastards who don’t give a damn and rely on the large numbers on the field to camouflage their anti-social activities. On a club dig which I organised last year, a sod was put back with a broken bottle, sharp shards pointing upwards, placed on top of it – and this in a field containing several horses and after a pre-dig demonstration of the expected standards of hole digging and reinstatement. There is absolutely no excuse for selfishness like this.

Identifying the culprits is rarely easy, especially where the non-filling of holes is deliberate and systematic, the result of an anti-social attitude; such individuals tend to be very aware of the whereabouts of dig marshalls and to behave when they suspect they are under surveillance. Spreading some 50 detectorists over 100 acres of fields on a club dig or, worse, 500+ detectorists over 1,000 acres on a major rally, makes it almost impossible for organisers and marshalls to catch the culprits in the act. I’m aware of one club which has recently invested in a quadcopter, or “spy in the sky”, with a camera to monitor problems of this sort and has successfully identified and banned at least one member as a result.

And what happens when a landowner walks around after a dig or rally and finds holes and rubbish left all over the place? Typically he decides any payment he receives is not worth the hassle and the club, organisation or individual will lose access to the land in future. And the club, organisation or individual is not the only loser, because metal detecting as a whole suffers when word of a negative experience gets around the farming community.

Metal detecting clubs and restricted membership

One of the regular topics on UK metal detecting forums is the complaint by a relatively new detectorist about all his local clubs being closed to new members. How, he (invariably he) asks, is he or any other new detectorist to get a chance to dig, meet other detectorists and learn the ropes? Closed memberships, he claims, are discriminatory (against newbies) or simply unfair. What this amounts to is effectively an expectation that metal detecting clubs are open to as many people as want to join – especially the complainer.

Now as a fairly new detectorist myself I can understand the disappointment. I was fortunate to be in the right place at the right time to join a new club which was just setting up and was able to dig with them for about 8 months, but only after I too had been told by another well established local club that their membership was closed for at least 6 months but would be reviewed in the following spring. However there are very good reasons why any detecting club should set a membership ceiling and then stick to it.

  1. Dig organisers have to allow a reasonable amount of land for those who will be attending. For a day’s detecting, this should be a minimum of half an acre per person and preferably one acre per person. This is necessary for two reasons:
    1. Those attending don’t want to be going over ground that someone else detected an hour earlier, especially if whatever was there has already been dug up; and
    2. There needs to be enough land for people to spread out so as to avoid any power lines or other detectorists in order to avoid electromagnetic interference.
  2. Having to seek large areas of land to accommodate large numbers of diggers may mean that smaller but more interesting pieces of land either have to be rejected or clubs will have to tell some members that they cannot attend particular digs.
  3. Farmers may refuse to permit more than a certain number of people to attend – again, clubs will have to tell some members that they cannot attend particular digs.
  4. In some cases, there are legal restrictions on how many detectorists can be permitted on certain land, especially if the land is in some form of stewardship.
  5. There may be parking issues, for example there may be a limit to how many cars can be parked in the farmyard or which can be readily got onto and off fields.
  6. The more people attending, the greater the degree of organisation required, the greater the difficulties in keeping an eye on new members, and the greater the risk that one or more attendees will leave holes unfilled or fail to remove scrap, go outside the permitted detecting area, not show their finds (especially significant or valuable ones) etc.

One of the things which has struck me about detecting clubs is just how small many, perhaps most, of them actually are. Typically they seem to comprise 12 – 24 active members and very few seem to have more than 40. That said, it’s clear from my relatively limited experience that many established detectorists are members of 3 or 4 clubs, cherry picking which meetings to attend or digs to sign up for. This seems somewhat selfish to me, because it does reduce the opportunities for new detectorists to get a foot in the door anywhere. If you belong to one club which puts on fortnightly digs and have one or two personal permissions, you have sufficient opportunities to detect to keep you occupied most of the time.

So what are the options open to the new detectorist who is unable to join a club immediately as a digging member?

  1. Go along to the monthly meetings of any clubs in your area, just to meet people and get your face known.
  2. Put your name on the waiting list for any and every club in your area and join the first one where there is an opening. If it turns out to be not to your liking in due course, accept the next vacancy that comes up in another club and give that a try.
  3. Go along to a few open rallies if you can. Some have a poor reputation for worked-out land, seeded low-quality “finds”, poor organisation, or the location of the finds hotspots being revealed only to the organiser’s mates and so on, but others are well regarded and people attend them year after year. Read the various forums to discover which events people are recommending or otherwise. You should treat open rallies generally as a social event and consider yourself fortunate if you find anything interesting, but even a few finds will give you something to show at the next meeting you attend.
  4. Try to get a personal permission. You can write, phone or just go and knock on doors. Farmers don’t bite, don’t set the dogs on you and don’t brandish shotguns. If you are polite and presentable the worst you will get is a simple “no”, but if you persevere you will almost certainly get a “yes” eventually. You may have to knock on 20 or 30 doors but you only need one “yes” to get you started. And when you get your “yes”, seize it with enthusiasm, even if others have detected the land before you and even if you suspect it may be at the heart of a historical desert. Remember that farmers know each other, and your reputation will go before you. Piss off one and the rest will hear about it. Fill your holes, shut gates and show your farmer what you’ve found and his neighbours will hear about that, too.

As I have said before I am still a fairly new detectorist, having bought my first metal detector in October 2011. Since then I have been a member of one club and been heavily involved in the setting up of another but currently am a member of none. For one thing, I’m not a natural “joiner”, in fact I’m cranky and eccentric and mostly prefer my own company. For another, metal detecting clubs seem to be intensely political with people falling out more often than teenage girls and it’s bloody difficult keeping up to date with who’s still not talking to whom and what the falling out was about. That’s the beauty and benefit of having personal permissions – you can go and detect when you feel like it and you are beholden to none but the landowner.