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:

FLO night at the local club

It was FLO night at the local club last night. Along I tripped clutching my handful of finds. I seem to be getting better at this lark as the FLO accepted everything I took, ie the nummus, the flint blade, the Lizzie halfgroat, the bookclasp, the curtain ring, the corroded possibly-Roman coin and even one of the buttons.

She was slightly puzzled by the bookclasp as she noticed, as had I, that it had a hooked pin on the back which looked more like the hook behind which the sprung pin on a brooch is fastened. But then, it didn’t really look like a brooch either.

She agrees the corroded coin is probably Roman but doesn’t hold out much hope other than to log it as 3rd or 4th century, emperor unknown.

I was somewhat surprised she was interested in the button which she thought might be 17th century. I’d taken it along because although the front dome was very well cast the flat back was rough and unfinished and made it look hand made so I had a hunch it might be “something”.

She also agreed with my tentative identification of the nummus as Theodora based on the bust.

It may be the end of summer but it will be almost Christmas by the time I see this lot again.

Tiptoe through the brassicas

On Sunday I was once again out with The Metal Detectives, this time in Oxfordshire not a million miles from Witney.

The dig site was 150 acres spread over two large fields set at right angles to each other with the parking area in the corner between the two. One of the fields ran for about half a mile right to the outskirts of the nearby village and on paper looked rather promising. The soil was largely a sandy loam and easy to dig, and since there had been a fair bit of rain in the 24 hours preceding the dig hopes were high that the soil had been moistened enough to produce good signals.

The fields had been planted with brassicas, the seedlings of which were anything from an inch to six inches tall, interspersed in patches with the remains of the previous year’s bean stalks. Most of the latter were not a problem but there were enough stumps hidden amongst the brassicas to catch on the coil and cause a fair bit of falsing. I found the site very chattery in places and had to drop Deus Fast to 8khz in a few areas, while in other areas there was no chattering at all.

So what came up? By all accounts most attenders found very little. Around 90 minutes after the start of the dig people started to trail back disconsolately towards the cars from what should have been the most promising area over by the village. Elevenses consumed, most then tried their luck on the second field which in theory should have been the less productive of the two yet most people seemed to spend most of the rest of the day there. Unlike most digs where nothing much comes up, there wasn’t a disappointed mass exodus at lunchtime. In fact, most were still swinging away by mid-afternoon.

In terms of finds, I saw a very nice little Roman bronze coin and a photo of a bronze lion-head mount (age unknown) found over towards the village. There was a report of a denarius. I imagine there was more but if so I’ve not yet heard about it.

My own finds were OK – not spectacular, but I came home with one or two bits which are likely to interest the FLO.


1 book clasp
1 curtain ring
1 Roman coin – badly corroded
2 buttons



A much better detecting session – huzzah!

I have just rejoined The Metal Detectives and had my first recent outing with them yesterday. Needless to say I will not reveal exactly where the dig site was but for those readers who are interested it was somewhere in the Thame area.

The site comprised three arable fields of disked wheat stubble covering 70 acres shared between 35 detectorists. I detected part of one field in the morning and part of a second in the afternoon. Despite the heavy rain and thunderstorms we had last weekend, the soil remains very dry. The first field, which was quite stony in places and produced a lot of “chatter”, was hard to detect and hard to dig more than a few inches down. Genuine signals were few and far between although one hammered coin and a handful of small Roman grots came off it in the morning.

For me it produced a small worked flint blade (which came out of a hole dug to find half a horse shoe) and my first Roman coin – a small copper alloy jobbie which is in pretty good condition with fairly clear detail on both sides.

The afternoon’s field produced my second ever hammered coin – an Elizabeth I halfgroat which has fair detail but looks as though it might have been clipped slightly round the edges. Two Anglo Saxon brooches also came off this field. It was also easier to dig as the soil was less compacted and more powdery.

Now that I’ve had chance to clean the mud off the Roman coin, it looks like a nummus of Theodora (337 – 341 AD) with the Pietas Romana reverse; judging by other Theodora nummi on the PAS  database, mine looks to be in much better condition than many of them so I’m seriously chuffed.


1 small flint blade
1 small Roman bronze coin
1 Elizabeth I halfgroat

Finds 160831a.jpg

Finds 160831b.jpg


Let’s give it another go

We’d had a couple of nights’ rain since my previous permission visit on Thursday. Optimistic, therefore, that the ground might have softened up somewhat in the meantime I decided to give it another go yesterday.


Nothing doing. The ground was as hard as it had been a few days earlier although superficially it initially looked damper on the surface. I think I mentioned the depth of the cracks in the soil but the disappearing spade says it all. It’s going to take a lot of rain before the soil is back to normal.

I spent about 3 hours wandering around and across a substantial part of the field but again there were very few signals. The prize scrap find was a modern brass tap (“faucet” for the Cousins) of the sort used for field water supplies, still with plastic hose attached; a 19th century machine-made square cut nail; and a fossil. I know. A fossil. The Deus is good but it’s not that good.

The fossil appeared when I dug a piece of scrap. I think it’s Gryphaea (aka the “Devil’s Toenail”), a bivalve mollusc which was around from the Jurassic to the Cretaceous, but if anyone knows otherwise please let me know.

Meanwhile, I’m going to get my spade sharpened.


1 19th century nail
1 fossil

Nail and fossil

First detecting session in ages

Righty-ho. I see it’s getting on for a year since I last blogged. In fact it’s about the same period since I last went out detecting. Life and things. You know how it is.

So I finally took myself off for an afternoon to the largest permission I have, around 1500 acres of mixed use but mostly arable. By sheer good luck I was finally able to get on the field I’ve been eyeing up beadily for several years. The landowner tends to harvest and then plough and reseed very quickly so there is only a short window in which to get onto the land. Last year this particular field was sown with broad beans and the year before that with rape, and since the bean and rape stubble didn’t have chance to rot down before being ploughed and reseeded detecting it had been nigh on impossible.

This year it had been sown with barley and the crop was off. Huzzah!

Excitement however was quickly dashed. After weeks with almost no rain the soil was so dry it was split by crevasses you could lose a dogsled team down and digging it was next to impossible. Which also meant there was minimal conductivity. I know this field has not been detected as the landowner assured me this was so; moreover it is not accessible by nighthawks so whatever has accumulated over the centuries is still there and waiting to be found. But other than a bit of chatter there was almost nothing.

And it was quite a lot hotter than the weather forecast suggested it would be. And I managed not to take any water with me. Idiot. After an hour and a half I called it a day and staggered back to the car, thirsty and headachy with the heat, sun and dehydration. The whole farm needs a decent amount of rain to both soften up the soil and improve the conductivity before there’s much point going back. Fortunately rain is forecast for the next few days.


1 x 1860 halfpenny
1 x 1875 halfpenny

Victorian Halfpennies

The stranger and the ring

When my father died he left me a ring which had once belonged to his father. But before long I was thrown into a panic – I had lost it. Racked with guilt, I tuned to a stranger for help.

Gold drew many to South Africa and it was gold that has just reaffirmed my faith in this muddled, mosaic nation.

As a Briton living in Cape Town, I recently received the call nobody wants. My father had passed away. After the funeral in England, my mother showed me dad’s will. It mostly went to her with one named item for me – a gold ring, worn for decades by dad and before him, by his own father.

The stranger and the ring