IMG_1321After an enjoyable day working the front lawn at Montpelier on the first day, day two at Montpelier started out with a downpour.  It rained hard and we spent several hours in the archaeology lab hearing Dr. Reeves discuss metal detecting techniques (woodland grids) as well as a fascinating (yes, really!) presentation on dating a site with nails.  We discussed hand-forged, machine cut, and wire nails nails of various types…I also know the meaning now for “Deader than a Doornail”


It turns out that the evolution of nails corresponds quite neatly with the different phases of Montpelier’s history.  They serve as indicators about human activity and age, and there is no shortage!

The rain subsided and we gathered up our gear for a venture onto Chicken Mountain.  Only 4x4s would make it to the hunt spot (my car had to sit this one out) and a 4-Wheeler took us to the top of the mountain.  Jeanne and I began work on our grid square and worked our way downhill. As usual, each found nail is carefully cataloged along with its grid.  While I have always used square nails as a rough indicator of a sites’ age, I will never look at a nail the same way!


Illustration courtesy of Montpelier Archaeology/Dr. Matthew Reeves

Again, working in all-metal mode, we dug all hits – which for the first hour were modern wire apparently related to early logging operations in the area.

nail-photoBefore long I had a pouch full of this wire!  Working downslope, I began to find cut nails just before we quit.  Detectorists further down the hill were having better luck – bullets, suspender clips and other items were turning up.  Tomorrow we hit the woods for a longer session and I have high hopes.

As usual, detecting in the woods is a challenge, especially as you try to cover the area within a gridded pattern.  In some cases there was no hope – downed trees and brush blocked the way.  We took our time and worked as a team – covering several large blocks of the matrix.

Jeanne marks hits along our designated grid square.

Jeanne marks hits along our designated grid square.

At one point I joked with the others that I was going to secretly turn on my discriminator and start hunting copper and brass!   But Jean reminded me that no data is still data, and by covering the grid, even with no hits, we are establishing the edges of a boundary.

Archaeology takes someone who can look at a site from a broader, multi-dimensional point of view – through time, and through data.  The data accumulates and statistical meaning can begin to be extracted.  The first square may have no hits, but the next one might have 5, then 10 and before long we are zeroing in on a new site that needs attention.

This method of zeroing in is also used by detectorists, but usually with far less rigor or precision.  When searching a farm field for a house site, we’ll switch to all-metal mode and begin to mentally record hit density.  Once it reaches a certain level, we’ll switch discrimination on and begin digging good targets.


Illustration from

More to come from day 3.


More posts on my Montpelier Experience here: