You what?

Occasionally, I go metal detecting. Thus far, no enormous gold hoards have been discovered on my watch – how surprising – but I do find other things which are far more intriguing.

Most of the things I dig up are unrecognisable; to the point where I’m tempted to throw them away but my eternal optimism that the lump of twisted metal I have in my hands might be ‘something interesting’ ensures I never do, or at least, not until one of the other detectorists, who actually knows what they’re doing, has seen it.

This is probably a good thing if these examples are anything to go by.

IMG_1081A few weeks ago, I dug up a bit of metal that looked like one of those things old people put under the legs of chairs to stop them marking the carpet. This thing (pictured left). I assumed it was part of a tractor, but once again, ever hopeful, I stuffed it in my finds bag and kept going.

At the end of the day, when I looked closely, I realised it had two lines round it and a little hole drilled in the bottom from both sides, which didn’t go all the way through.

You know what this is? It’s the equivalent of one of those plastic medicine spoons. The hole is to keep a pill still – they were round then – the line is to mark out half a dose and the drill hole on the underneath is so it stands steady.

What I find so amazing is that everyone but everyone in the… I dunno, 500, 400 years preceding 1900 would have known exactly what that is and what it’s for. And me 100 years later? No clue.

A couple of weekends ago, I found something else; a huge lump of lead. Again, I assumed it was part of a tractor. Again, I was wrong. IMG_1078

Turns out it was a hand guard; something people sewing canvas or leather would use, similarly to a thimble, but in the palm of their hand. The ridge is the but you’d put the end of the needle into as you pushed it through.

Almost anyone alive from the Middle Ages to the early 20th Century would know exactly what it is, as instinctively as we know what a car tyre is, or a thimble.

Why was it there? Because everyone in the village would work on the fields and the women folk and kids would come out and picnic there, in the summer. That’s why one of the best places to detect is near the hedge under any old trees, because it’s where the workers’ families would have sat and where they would all have had dockey (elevensies) and lunch.

What amazes me about this is how much of history has been taken for granted and thrown away. I’m sure it’s something most people are aware of. How many times have you gone into an antique shop, seen some kitchen implement and thought, “Bloody hell! I remember using one of those at my granny’s house!”

Well, OK, maybe that’s just me but it does intrigue me how many aspects of our world, which we intuitively understand today, our vernacular surroundings of stuff, if you like, will probably flummox our antecedents. Exactly the same way that the vernacular, every day items of 70, 80 maybe 100 years ago regularly flummox me.

It also amazes me how a learning a few simple things about how our predecessors lived, and finding these unremarkable, vernacular items, illuminates their world. Suddenly it is real, alive and with substance.

So what has this to do with writing?

Well, I suppose, the first thing is my favourite topic, that you can build a rich and complex world with little more than a few hints. That if you give the right information as a catalyst the reader’s imagination does the rest. Second, how fast life and the world moves and how soon things are forgotten. Most of the items I find were in common use from the Middle Ages; earlier in the case of the hand guard, until the early 19th Century. That’s 500 years. 80 years later and I don’t know what they are. Such is the price of progress.

Third thing… how amazing it is to find a truth in history. When the causes and factors behind so many world events are down to interpretation it’s incredible to find things that can be expressed as black and white facts; it’s that and this is what it was for.

And to make the header post for Facebook more interesting, here is a picture of Chewbacca, my cat, who died 18 months ago, sadly but who was very cute.



Filed under General Wittering

24 responses to “You what?

  1. I’m curious how you found out what those items were. I assume it wasn’t a simple Google search.

    • No. Here in Britain, you can’t metal detect without permission from the land owner. It can be hard to get so I go with a club. The great thing about club digs is that most of the folks I go with have been detecting for 20 or 30 years. They have seen pretty much anything you could possibly dig up before and so at the end, when we get out the finds and compare notes, there’s always someone who can tell me what my finds are.

      • Very cool. I’m not sure if you need a license in the States, but I see people combing the beach with them. Usually looking for change, jewelry and whatever the day’s visitors dropped.

      • Yeh, we do that here in the UK as well but I have to have a crown permit (easy enough to get online) be a member of the NCMD which is the detecting equivalent of say the law society and I have to be very sure it’s a crown beach and not owned by someone else. The usual deal is that you pay a small fee to detect and keep all finds worth less than a certain amount – usually about £300 or thereabouts – and share anything worth over £300 with the farmer.

      • It’s really interesting how there’s so many regulations there. I always thought it was a simple hobby, but it can be a serious endeavor from what you’re describing.

  2. For deffo. I’m really lucky that my club actually has agreements for land we can detect on.

  3. texasdruids

    Fascinating, MT! I’ve never done any detecting but always thought it would be fun and exciting if you find something really special. Thanks for sharing your finds with us. Oh, and I love little Chewy. You must miss him.

    • It is, I’m glad I managed to get that across. And as for Chewie, yes, I do, a ridiculous amount. His predecessors were family pets, Chewie was the first pet of my own after leaving home and he made it very clear that he was my cat. He followed me everywhere and he was a real character.

  4. What interesting finds, MT!
    and your observation: “It also amazes me how learning a few simple things about how our predecessors lived, and finding these unremarkable, vernacular items, illuminates their world. Suddenly it is real, alive and with substance.”
    And, of course, your photo of Chewbacca.

  5. It is interesting isn’t it that we would be totally confused by so many things people took as normal back then. Well done to your patience and I see you’re in a club which makes it easier to find out what things are – must be cool comparing finds too. how long would you spend on a search at a time and how often would you find something of interest? #fascinating 🙂

    • Absolutely. Really amazing.

      On digging time… It depends how heavy the soil is. On the whole if I go out and dig for a day, I will probably find about 12 things in 5 hours, most of which are nails. If the soil is light and the digging easy I’ll probably find more, say 20 – 25. This is because I’m a rookie though and my skills at pinpointing where to dig are piss poor! Some of the other lads will dig up 40 or 50 items. Obviously the chances of finding something really cool are much higher then. I think one of the coolest things I’ve found is a musket ball and some metal which was obviously some 17th/18th century inlay of some sort which I immediately fantasised was part of the gun that shot the ball. Yeh right. Phnark.

      I suspect as I get better I’ll find more stuff. I found my first really interesting thing this week. I didn’t know what it was but this time nobody else had a blind clue either. We have a guy from the local museum who comes to our monthly meetings so I’m hoping I can show it to him. I should have posted it really.




      • Post it in a blog post when you find out what it is.
        If I went off digging for artefacts my so practical husband would tell me I’d be better off digging my veg garden – it does sound fascinating though
        What date for the book – must be soon? I’m doing v little reading with the kids lately – sooo busy and they are reading stuff on their own

      • Good idea! Now why didn’t I think of that? The books are awaiting the final sweep from the editor, end of the week I reckon – depends on his other workload, he has a day job. Then it’s off to the beta readers for April and hopefully I should get them uploaded by May for the first and June for the second.



  6. Jemima Pett

    I love that thought – commonplace for 100s of years then -poof! – nobody knows what it is any more. I wonder how many of today’s kids could identiy a thimble?

    • That’s true. I was thinking, some things didn’t even exist in the first place, like Ceefax and the Test Card which were institutions on British Telly when I was a kid but which are now niche history!

  7. Oh tempora, o mores…how things do change. i’m only a bit older than you, and i would recognise the lead: but then, I’ve used a sailmaker’s palm (yes I know, you’ll have to google it!) whilst making tents. It’s an interesting reminder though of how ephemeral our western society has become.

  8. I love this kind of stuff. It can really make your fiction come to life too. My finds are usually arrowheads and such. I found a silver spur and a ramrod once though.

    • That sounds cool. I’ve found some interesting buttons… I know that sounds like an oxymoron but it’s honestly not. And you’re right, it does give you a feel for other times which can help creating other worlds.



  9. Cool site! Thanks for your follow!

  10. A. I’m sorry about Chewbacca…He was very cute indeed!
    2. Those are some awesome finds to create some “flash fiction” from. You should think about showing them, telling what they are for, and then challenging people to write an instantaneous short story including that item and see how many different scenarios you get.
    and C. Where do you live that you always think your finds are tractor parts? Do you have firsthand experience with a John Deere that randomly spits out pieces along the way? 😉 {JK}

    At any rate, you have some cool finds in your hobby! I bet that is fun to find stuff like that and then later find out what those things really are. 😀

    • Hello there, thanks for stopping by.

      Well I live in a town in Britain but I detect in the countryside. I’ve found a lot of scrap iron in pursuit of historical bling. You’re right about the flash fiction although I think what’s bubbling up is probably going to be a full length novel.



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