Metal-Detecting Tourists Seek Saxon Brooches

August 20, 2009 at 9:42 am | Posted in Adventures, News | 2 Comments

article-0-061AF61E000005DC-696_468x309It’s a metal-detecting vacation … which the Daily Mail dubs “the worst holiday ever.”

According to the Mail, 21 American metal-detector enthusiasts [seen at left] “have paid more than £2,000 and flown thousands of miles to discover the treasures scattered across East Anglia.”

“Heads down and brows furrowed, the group spent most of their eight-day holiday patiently waiting for the small ‘beep’ that would tell them their efforts had been rewarded. Most appeared so deep in concentration that they were unaware of the glorious rolling countryside around them — and the rare sunny weather” in Norfolk. “Each was armed with their very own detector, which projects an electro-magnetic field into the ground and beeps when it comes into contact with anything metallic.

“The highly sensitive detectors are equipped with satellite positioning to pinpoint the location of finds. But although the Americans were determined to ‘touch the hand of history’ by finding an ancient artefact, most were left with just an old tin can or used shotgun cartridge to show for their labours. One enthusiast, Jim Normandy, 79, a retired pharmacist from California, said he was ‘thrilled’ to unearth a 17th century button. ‘We have been coming here for 19 years, first to Kent but mostly to Norfolk, because there is so much history here’ …

“He paid £2,200 for the trip, excluding flights, and stayed at the same Norfolk hotel the group have chosen for years. There, after hours of sweeping harvested rape fields, each find was meticulously logged. The Americans’ most spectacular discovery to date has been a 2-inch Thor’s hammer Viking pendant, made from silver and gold, which was found in the Great Witchingham
area. But they have also found objects dating back to the Iceni tribe, Bronze Age axe fragments, as well as Roman jewellery, Saxon brooches and medieval money….

“David Barwell, a former chairman of the National Council for Metal Detecting … selected the fields for US tour operator Discovery Tours.”

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  1. “The highly sensitive detectors are equipped with satellite positioning to pinpoint the location of finds”

    This is totally inaccurate. Even state-of-the-art metal detectors do not have satellite positioning or GPS or any of that, and even if they did, it would be useless underground.

    I’m a 24-year veteran detectorist and might be about to go on one of those tours. The Daily Mail might have dubbed it “the worst holiday ever”, but obviously the person who said that isn’t involved in the hobby and he lives over there, so it’s kind of hard to describe how detecting in a place with such a long history is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for some of us American detectorists.

    “But although the Americans were determined to ‘touch the hand of history’ by finding an ancient artefact, most were left with just an old tin can or used shotgun cartridge to show for their labours.”

    I suspect this passage was slightly exaggerated, though it could be factual. Tin cans and shotgun shells are an everyday obstacle. And there are never any guarantees that one will come up with something good. With skill and patience, however, good finds DO happen, and even the finds that are not valuable monetarily can be quite interesting historically. I do not detect for monetary gain. I do it for the history and the adventure. It is like time travel.

    Let others laugh. I’ll bet the reporter who said that collects modern beer steins or football jerseys. Haha.

  2. I can clear up the matter of the GPS. Detectorists in this group pay for a separate, handheld GPS so that the location of their finds can be determined down to the millimeter. This is because Barwell is a control freak. Detectorists who are considering going with him should know that, unless one is in the favored group, one is treated like pond scum.

    Experienced American detectorists who travel to England generally find bronze Roman coins, silver ‘hammered’ coins (mostly medieval), and lots of other stuff, either junk or interesting. There is the possibility of coins and relics from all civilizations who inhabited the UK: Celtic, Roman, Saxon, medieval, and post-medieval.

    The majority of us involved in this hobby do it for the thrill of touching something NO ONE has touched for up to 2000 years, even if it has minimal monetary value. However, I have long given up trying to convince most people of the excitement of the hobby.

    The hobby DOES require concentration, patience, and time, so standing there staring at the horizon daydreaming or enjoying the occasional fine weather, and not swinging the detector, is not what one came for. Still, I always enjoy talking to the locals when I take a break, that evening in the pub, or elsewhere. It’s worth every penny of what I’ve spent, but I wouldn’t go with Barwell again.


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