Saturday, September 28, 2013

Civil War Lead and Colonial Puzzle Pieces

I recently obtained permission to hunt a new Civil War site, so I invited my friend Phil to go check it out with me.  The general area was along a strategic crossroads leading to major river ford, and saw significant activity during the war.  Somewhere nearby is a camp used by thousands of Union cavalrymen on their way to battle.  The property we were searching was comprised of picturesque green pastures and rolling hills.  The landowner's horses ran about us, manes flowing in the cool autumn breeze.  The more curious ones came to investigate the newcomers to their paddock.  It was all very serene, and I couldn't think of a better place to spend a morning looking for some history with a good friend.

While we weren't able to locate the main cavalry camp, the property we were searching was most likely home to a smaller picket, or advance guard post.  Extremely dry conditions and other complicating factors made for difficult detecting, but we still both managed a handful of nice relics.  We recovered a total of twelve Civil War bullets over the course of a few hours in the field.  Most were standard three ring Minie balls, but Phil recovered a round musket ball and one particularly neat carved Sharps carbine bullet.


This particular bullet has been hammered at the nose, and a hole drilled cleanly through.  This was done by a soldier to use the lead bullet as a fishing weight, and examples of bullet-weights are not uncommon for Civil War river detectorists.  They are much less common to find on land, though!  What a great find!

Phil also found the odd shaped piece of brass in the same photo later in the day.  What is it?  Phil correctly ID'ed it in the field as the chape (part of the inner workings) from a colonial era shoe or knee buckle.  It's important to remember that roads used by soldiers were around long before the war.  It isn't at all uncommon to find colonial era relics scattered in with Civil War era ones, particularly around old roads and homes.

Some readers may recall back in April I recovered a fragmented piece of a colonial shoe or knee buckle, and lamented that I had not yet found a complete frame.  One of my first recoveries today happened to be this complete colonial era knee buckle frame, likely predating the War between the States by 50-100 years.  While researching images of complete knee buckles for this post, I happened across a picture showing an almost identical knee buckle with a chape that matches the one Phil recovered.  It was only then that I put the pieces together in my mind - we had both found parts of the same buckle!  Only the prongs remain to be found, and we hope to look for them on a return trip sometime in the future.  In the interest of preservation, the frame and chape will be reunited the next time Phil and I get together.

I really couldn't have asked for a better day out relic hunting.  Thanks so much to Phil for coming out, it's always more fun to share the experience with a friend.  Thanks also to the generous landowners for allowed us the opportunity to detect.  I'm extremely grateful for the beautiful weather, the good finds, and the chance to share that experience with all of you.  Once again, until next time, thanks for reading and God Bless!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Back to Basics - Detecting a Snow Camp Homesite

The last several months have been full of changes in my personal and professional life, leaving precious little time for the long distance full-day detecting trips I was able to go on last year.  So last week I got "back to basics" in the way I began relic hunting - searching old homesites in Alamance County.  I was invited by DS reader Mike to search an old homeplace in Snow Camp with him.  Built in the 1840's, now only the building's tall chimney stacks remain in a grassy field.

My favorite find of the day was this large flat button in excellent condition, with the shank still attached and standing straight.  Buttons of this type were typical of clothing in the early to mid 1800's.  Markings on the back often indicated the button manufacturer or the quality of the gilding applied to the button.  This button has a clear backmark reading simply "GILT", meaning the button once had a thin coating of gold when it was new to make it shiny and bright.  I always enjoy finding flat buttons, and this one is a very nice example of a typical mid 19th century button.

Towards the end of our short hunt I got a strong signal that kept going down, down, down.  Black charcoal indicated the presence of a fire-pit.  With Mike's help we were able to unearth the original signal - a simply massive iron pot lid!  Note the modern penny in the picture for size reference!

A number of smaller metal and non-metal targets surfaced from the pit as well.  These included pieces of broken crockery and china, the neck from a small glass bottle, several square nails, and a silver washed copper disc.  I suspect that this may be a pocket watch back, although I'm not entirely sure.  One of the most useful item for dating the time-frame of the original burn pit was an intact bullet and casing.  I am fairly certain that it is a 22 LR, which would date the pit to absolutely no earlier than the development date of that round in 1887.  The 22 LR is still incredibly popular, and is the most common bullet in terms of units sold to this day.  I'm still not entirely sure how old the fire-pit is, but I would guess somewhere in the early 1900's.  We barely scratched the surface before it was time to get back to work - perhaps you'll see an update someday if we decide to go back and dig it out properly.  Thanks for the invite, Mike, and for a fun day out saving some history!

I have a few interesting relic hunts planned for the fall, so with any luck I should have some more cool finds to show you soon.  I was also recently selected to attend the Fall 2013 "Diggin' in Virginia" events in November of this year.  Regular readers will recognize the name, but for those who don't, DIV is an invitational relic hunt and gathering at well documented Civil War camp sites in Northern Virginia.  Which reminds me - I finally completed video editing for DIV's XXII and XXIII.  Check it out below!  And as always, thanks for reading and God Bless!

Friday, September 20, 2013

How old is "old"?

Last weekend was my 30th birthday.  I kept joking that this was the year I turned "officially old".  Just a few short years ago I was rocking my twenties, and now here I am at the big three-oh.  How time flies.  It's fitting, then, that I put time into sharp relief for this milestone year with a different kind of collecting trip for something REALLY old.

My oldest definitively date-able find so far is a large US penny, known as a "Liberty Cap" cent.  Although the date is worn smooth, the size and style place its manufacture in either 1795 or 1796.  My oldest man-made object is a Native American stone projectile point, found by eye while metal detecting.  Known as a Guilford point, it's somewhere in the neighborhood of 4000 years old.  For perspective, that's right around when the Pyramids of Egypt were under construction.  Now that's old!  And yet, it's a drop in the bucket compared to my weekend finds.  My brother Tim and his wife Beth took me out on one of their collecting adventures to look for fossils going back 55 MILLION years.  Maybe 30 isn't so bad after all!

Using a combination of sifting, chiseling, and scanning by eye we collected several different types of fossils from the Paleocene era along the banks of the Potomac River in Maryland.  There was a narrow strip of beach at low tide (and none at all when the tide came in) butting up against a fossil rich deposit known as the Aquia Formation.  It's highly illegal to dig into the side of the cliff for reasons of erosion control and property rights, but anything that erodes out from the cliff face is fair game.  Several large recently-fallen chunks of the cliff face lay on the beach, with mollusk and gastropod fossils clearly exposed.  The sand of the beach contained many thousands of fossils which had previously eroded out into the river.

By far the most common finds for all of us were shark teeth ray teeth (referred to as "plates").  Most of the shark teeth were from various species of sand tiger sharks or the extremely funny-looking goblin shark.  The more interesting teeth included a few from either Otodus or Cretolamna, Beth's angel shark tooth, and Tim's massive 2 inch ray plate.  Beth found several fossilized bone fragments, though it's impossible to say what they may have come from.  Tim found a small piece of fossilized turtle shell.  Any my favorite find was a fossilized crocodile tooth!  Can you imagine a croc in the Potomac river nowadays?

Thanks again to Tim and Beth for taking me out fossil hunting with them. Check out the video below for some live-action shots and additional images.  Oh yea, and I've been out metal detecting since then too, but you'll have to wait for another blog post for that one.  Thanks for reading, and God Bless!