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Today I'm going to reveal a technique used by many successful detectorists who search for ancient coins and artefacts. This technique utilises the greatest tool at your disposal - your eyesight.
You will also need to learn to recognise common pottery throughout different periods of history; Google is great for this.
Some pottery is easy to recognise. For example, glazed pottery in the U.K. is relatively modern and predominantly dates from 15th century onwards. Salt glazes and modern glazes cover both sides of the pottery, so when you find a shard from this era it should be relatively easy to identify its age just by looking at it.
If the shards are only glazed on the outside, they tend to be older. For example; green glazes tend to be Medieval in my area of the U.K., and is often present where early hammered silver coins are found.
There are some real classic potteries like English Slipware, which are easy to recognise by their tiger like patterns. These types are "tells" for areas containing coins of Elizabeth and Charles I. Where it gets really interesting is when you learn the subtle differences between unglazed potteries. It's then possible to concentrate your search to a narrow time period e.g. Iron Age, Roman, Saxon etc.
The technique itself is simple; as you search across a ploughed field, keep a lookout for pottery. You are literally "following the pottery to find the coins"! Once you start seeing areas containing pottery shards, slow down your swing speed and follow the areas (patches) and try to find coins/artefacts. If nothing comes up, try to work out (recognise) the pottery period. If it's a really exciting period of history, keep searching with different detectors or coils until you find targets of that period.
An example when it works:
Recently I was searching a new field with a single frequency, fast recovery metal detector. I started seeing black unglazed shards with flecks of mica and grit, typical early medieval pottery in my area of England.
I slowed down and continued looking until I found a really nice pottery shard from the late Anglo Saxon period.
Although small, I could see it was handmade (not thrown on a wheel), had a square rim and had been well fired. This I knew was part of a high status late Saxon drinking cup, a period with potential great metal detecting finds.
I searched the area well but found nothing of the period.
So I decided to return the following day with my CTX 3030 and really concentrate my search over the area of the Saxon shard. It took only a few minutes going really slowly over the area before I got a sweet two-way target response. And after digging down about 10" out popped a lovely Saxon coin of Æthelred II, which was lying protected under a large rock. Here it is straight from the hole:
The only reason I got this coin was because I recognised the pottery shard, and returned with a more powerful detector. Nothing found on day 1 warranted a return trip, other than that single shard! Here it is after a clean:
I know to many this technique will seem like common sense, but learning to identify the non-metal pottery shards will lead you to more coins.
Now get out there and find something!
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