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Logo: Tom Bates, Derbyshire Local Histrory writer  
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In Search of Buried Treasure!

Posted Tuesday, June 12, 2007

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In Search of Buried Treasure!

Picture the scene:- an early winter gale is blowing sleet at 50 mph across the landscape of Derbyshire`s White Peak. The wind-chill factor sends the skin temperature plunging below zero, and the wind no longer stings the benumbed skin of the two men bent to their task in a field in the middle of nowhere, - which if memory serves me correctly was somewhere between Winster and Newhaven.

`It wasn't fit for a dog to be out....were they crazy?'

It wasn`t fit for a dog to be out in this weather! Were they crazy?

It was then that I noticed the headphones clamped to their ears,- and each was weilding a metal detector. I decided that they were crazy after all,- what did they expect to find out here in the wilds? There was nothing out here, no buildings, no people, - and never had been as far as I knew, probably for thousands of years!

`This would be the last place in the County that I`d choose’, I thought to myself as, intrigued, I turned the car up the narrow lane and stopped beside the field gate which the two men were slowly approaching.

I was astounded to learn just how wrong I had been when, after expressing my amazement at finding them in such an inhospitable location, they produced the days `finds’ from their pockets.

I watched in fascination as they laid each soil-encrusted metal object reverently on the empty passenger seat, explaining what each was as they did so.

There were five musket-balls; a seventeenth century bronze shoe buckle; a large medieval bronze casket key; an ornate late fourteenth century book-clasp; a Roman loom-weight; a circular lead Saxon trading token; and assorted coinage ranging from a hammered silver shilling of Charles 2nd, minted at the Tower of London Mint in 1646, - to a fifty-pence piece dated 1996, -buried treasure indeed!

Apparently the search area was close by an ancient trading route that had been used since pre-Roman times, and almost within sight of the course of the old Roman road from Derby to Buxton known as `The Street’.

That chance encounter in the middle of nowhere was two years ago, and I was instantly hooked. Now there are three of us, all crazy, and out in all weathers searching the Derbyshire landscape for buried treasure!

In the interim I have learned that metal detecting is one of the fastest growing leisure pursuits of the last decade, and has advanced a long way technologically since it first became popular in the sixties and seventies. Modern detectors are extremely sophisticated pieces of electronic equipment capable of detecting tiny pieces of metal at depths of up to 12 inches, and pinpointing them with amazing accuracy. When the electro-magnetic pulse-coil search head is passed over a metal object, an electronic signal is relayed and the detector `bleeps’. Most also have a `discrimination’ facility which allows the user to be more selective, and can be pre-set to signal only precious metal `finds’ like gold or silver, - and coinage,- or it can be pre-set to ignore ferreous materials, and thus save unnecessary digging.

There exists a National Council for Metal Detectorists and there are numerous affiliated clubs throughout the country, mostly in the south and east where there are far richer pickings owing to population density over the centuries.

It is not an expensive hobby with detectors costing from as little as £100 for a basic model to over £1000 for a more sophisticated one, and they are very simple to use and are battery operated. You will also need a digging implement and there are a number on the market, from trowels to small spades.

The metal detectorists `bible’ is `Treasure Hunting Magazine’ published monthly and available from any newsagent. It contains lists of clubs throughout the U.K. and details of rallies and special events, along with lots of advertising, technical data, and of course stories and photographs of all the latest finds.

It is significant that Derbyshire has fewer metal detectorists than almost any other county, and by comparison there are subsequently fewer valuable `finds’. One obvious reason for this is the sparsity of the population over the centuries, whilst another is the acidity of the heavily mineralised ground, especially in the limestone areas. This causes a more rapid corrosion and deterioration of buried metal objects and eventually destroys most of the value of all `treasure’ - except gold, and good quality silver.

The hobby has a strict code of conduct and is regulated by legislation following the passing of the new Treasure Law early in 1999. This has enabled metal detectorists to register their finds with local museums and receive recognition for their contributions to archeological research,- as well as guaranteeing them the full current market value of their `find’.

If any `treasure’ is subsequently sold, then the proceeds are divided between the finder and the landowner, and the first rule of metal detecting is always get permission from the landowner, - never use a metal detector on any land without permission. The second rule is never leave a mess,- fill in any holes made by digging, - and take away any unearthed metal `scrap’. With a little care it is possible to leave the ground looking undisturbed.

Always make a note of the exact location of any valuable find, and the date & time.

Historical researching of possible sites is always adviseable and a good place to start is the local studies department of the library, where access to old maps and documents can be obtained from the archives, and there are lots of books on local history to give some pointers.

Productive sites are jealously guarded secrets amongst serious detectorists, and it is generally accepted that even a novice will recover the cost of a new detector within the first six months. But this applies more to the richly productive counties in the south and east where `finds’ are more plentiful, and more valuable owing to their better condition. Only recently a detectorist in Rutland unearthed a hoard of 1,600 silver Roman coins, whilst two years ago a detectorist in the New Forest found a large ruby set in solid gold which had belonged to Henry VIII and had been lost during a hunting expedition in June 1546! Perhaps the most significant `find’ made locally was the Viking silver ingot found in a hedge-bottom at Temple Normanton by Mr.Graham Bunting last year. Historically this is a very valuable find because it is the first tangible evidence of the Vikings in Derbyshire, and is currently on display in the Chesterfield Museum.

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In Search of Buried Treasure!

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