Home / News / ‘I’d like to find a Roman fibula brooch’: watching the detectorists – a photo essay

‘I’d like to find a Roman fibula brooch’: watching the detectorists – a photo essay

Posted on Oct 01, 2021

I n July 2009, Terry Herbert of the Bloxwich Research and Metal Detecting club picked up a signal with his metal detector; the signal for what we now know to be the Staffordshire hoard. The find of almost 4,600 pieces of gold and silver was the largest hoard of Anglo-Saxon gold and silver ever discovered. .

Without the army of dedicated hobbyists that stalk the fields of the UK, much of our history would remain secret, buried and forgotten beneath our feet. Since the success of the BBC comedy Detectorists, more people have taken to metal detecting than ever before.

If a find could be deemed as treasure, a finds liaison officer (FLO) must be informed within 14 days so it can be decided if the items are significant enough to belong in a museum. With thousands of years of stories sitting inches beneath the topsoil, the hobby allows people to delve deep into the UK’s rich history and discover stories that otherwise would remain buried. In many cases, the finder is the first person to handle an object since it was dropped thousands of years ago.

  • Cameron Jones, a young metal detectorist who ‘fell in love’ with detecting after a metal-detecting rally was held on the land of his dad’s farm.

“I have learned a lot through it. Holding the physical item in your hand brings history into a different perspective for me. It’s much better holding it and looking at it than seeing it in a book. That’s what I love really. It’s physically there in front of you, you can see and feel the history. It hasn’t been touched for two or three hundred years, even a thousand years. You are the first person to hold it since then and that’s great. A lot of finds that have been found through metal detecting have led to the change of history. Coins have been found that we didn’t know existed before.”

  • Landowner Barclay is a farmer who owns the land the detectorists are searching on today. One of the most challenging parts of life as a metal detectorist is securing permission to detect. Many landowners do not want their land disturbed and reject requests.

I love history. At school I was always interested but I have learned more about history since doing metal detecting. You find something and you go home and research it Chris White

“If you ask 25, you might get one”, says Bill, a member of the group. Barclays says: “I have a keen interest in history, I think it’s nice to know what is buried beneaIth your lands. If we don’t let metal detectorists come and have a look we will never find out.”

  • Cameron Jones, Antony Blakemore and Chris White excavate an unusually large hole with the permission of the landowner because they are detecting disparate signals across a wide area. Excitement spreads that there is the possibility of uncovering a hoard.

“I love history. At school I was always interested but I have learned more about history since doing metal detecting. You find something and you go home and research it. Every time you know a little bit more. I know more about the kings and the queens than I did when I was at school. It’s a fantastic hobby – it’s nice to be out in the fresh air with like-minded people and you could find anything. You could find something like a roman coin. If you look they are probably only worth about £10 some of them. It’s worth more than that to you, you are finding something and holding something and you are the first person to hold it since the person who dropped it 2,000 years ago. It’s little things like that which just get you.” – Chris White

Detecting offers a way for people of all generations to spend time outdoors in the countryside. With “rallies” arranged around the country, it can be as solitary or as sociable as the detectorist chooses to make it.

  • A palstave axehead – a type of early bronze axehead common in the middle bronze age. It was ‘sat in a muddy puddle, that I walked through in my wellies’ says JP, the finder who thinks its dates from about 1500BC. It is lovingly kept in the back of his van. Right; A mixture of some heavily rusted items that have also been found by a detectorist.

  • Many of the items discovered date from significantly more recently than their finders would like, and detectorists are expected to dig neat holes that can be easily refilled so as not to cause any inconvenience to the farmer who has let them on to their land.

“I started detecting in the 70s/80s when the machines were no good. It’s nice to come out and have a laugh and a joke,” says Bill.

Tracy Bond has been detecting for just over a year and a half. Each detectorist has their own bucket list of items they would love to find.

Personally I’d like to find a roman fibula brooch. It’s a brooch and it has a spring underneath, hammered Tracy Bond

Mick Poole is detecting in a field that contains the remains of a ruined building. Alongside his metal detector he is using his historical knowledge of the area and the visible topography of the land to make an educated guess on which parts of the landscape to explore first.

“ We’ve got what could be the remains of a medieval building, so there must have been a lot of activity around here. There is Roman history: Roman items have been found by metal detectorists in the area. That’s what we’re expecting today. If you look at the hill, we are at a great vantage point for a camp, a villa or a big manor house. People bought and sold, they gambled. They had cockfighting. It was probably dropped in the dark because they only had candlelight: if they had dropped it, it would have stayed there. ”

Adrian Harris scours the fields near Ledbury, Herefordshire. He says he got into the hobby watching the TV show Time Team.

“ Most metal detectorists are just hobbyists. Most love the history. It’s not the monetary value – you don’t go into this thinking you are going to be rich. This is just to uncover history under your feet. If you do strike a coin we would get the landowner up here straight away, then we’d contact the liaisons officer and they would get an archaeologist in. It could be that the crucial pot holding the coins is more important than the coins themselves. They want to know the history then – why was it buried, was there Roman activity here, what is it doing buried here. Then the museum gets involved. It’s not like you find a load of coins, stick them in your pocket and walk off. You have to do it right.”

  • A William III, 1697 sixpence, found by Howard, and a Henry VI quarter noble from 1431 found by Antony Blakemore.

Howard – “This one’s a love token, they used to bend the edges up and give it to a girl. She might have thrown it away or kept it – that’s why they’re called love tokens.” Antony Blakemmore – “I couldn’t believe it, I actually nearly passed out. I took it out the hole and I was just running around the fields. My friends came and said it was actually gold. I’ve found a gold cross but this is the only gold coin that I have found so far. That’s after three years of detecting. I look at it every other day. I get it out and have a feel and a look and I am hoping one day I can find another.”