Preparing for a Week of Work at James Madison’s Montpelier

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March 9, 2013 at 3:45 pm  •  Posted in Archaeology Work, Metal Detecting Journal by  •  2 Comments

Today I’m cleaning and gathering up my stuff for a trip from Lexington to the Montpelier estate in Virginia to participate in the Montpelier Archaeological Certification Program being conducted via a partnership between Montpelier and Minelab Americas.  This program is being run by Matthew Reeves, Director of Archaeology and team.

I will be posting (as wi-fi allows,) blog posts along with photography from the event on my Instagram account.   Videos will come a week or so later as the wi-fi may be limited.

What is this program?  Here’s an explanation from the organizers:

“Our goal in this particular program is to give metal detector enthusiasts the opportunity to see how archaeologists can use metal detectors in the discovery and analysis of archaeological sites. The importance of metal detectors as an archaeological tool has been long established, but the importance of archaeologists working with metal detector enthusiasts is one we would like to develop more thoroughly.”

I have goals of getting to know the archaeologists approach, ideas and points of view, and to make new friends among the professionals and detectorists alike.  I hope to meet Gary Shafer, VP for the Minelab America, and begin a dialogue about online collaboration.  

Long term, my goal is to enjoy my hobby in a productive and responsible fashion inside the “sweet spot” where amateurs can continue to discover coins and artifacts while maintaining a productive relationship with professionals.   Some of the questions I hope to answer:

  • Could we form a “course-grain-scouting” role in the world of archaeological surveys?   Object provenance would not be preserved any better than a shovel-test, but this could still be a valuable stream of data.  From the Montpelier material:
    “…..The objective in finding and defining sites with metal detectors is to sufficiently understand the site so we know where to place our excavation units to reveal as much information as possible. “
  • Where is the middle ground between professional archaeology and the hobby which considers the goals of preserving historical context, but in a way which allows amateur discoveries?
  • How could social media and technology be employed (digital archives, gamification, social networks, etc.)?

Here are some of the concepts/training I’ll be receiving during the journey.

  • Archaeological Survey Techniques using a Metal Detector. Volunteers will learn how metal detectors can be used for the systematic discovery of archaeological sites and also to define the patterns found within sites. The primary method employed by Archaeologists is gridded metal detector survey, which is used for both locating and defining sites.
  • Analysis Techniques used for Discovering Site Patterning. Participants will learn how to lot sites on the landscape and how to analyze patterns discovered through metal detector surveys. We will show volunteers how these patterns are used by Archaeologists in understanding how to further excavate and research sites at Montpelier. These techniques are not unique to Montpelier and can be used to interpret any similar survey of historic landscapes and sites.
  • Other Artifact Groups. We will also familiarize you with other artifact groups, most obviously including the myriad iron objects recovered during metal detector survey, but also those artifact types that archaeologists place additional significance to site interpretation (e.g. sherds of ceramics). We will also teach participants how we conserve and document these artifacts once they are removed from the ground.
  • Madison Plantation. Volunteers will learn about the history of Montpelier, with tours of several archaeological sites. An important element of these tours will show how metal detector surveys were an integral part of discovering the history of Montpelier.

We’ll be spending time in the historic core (Mansion grounds) as well as Chicken Mountain. Some lab and field work should mitigate the noodle-arm I fully expect to get after swinging a detector 4+ hours a day.

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In a related topic, Dick Stout has asked if the PAS system could be employed in the US, an interesting idea.  It has been a success in the UK, according to what I’ve read.  This is a great article about how it works, also.  Briefly:

In England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, the Treasure Act of 1996 defines gold or silver finds older than 300 years as treasure and claims them for the crown. Finds must be reported within 14 days. Scotland’s laws are broader: Treasure does not have to be gold or silver and can be less than 300 years old, but in both jurisdictions, a significant find will be offered to museums to bid on.

 

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