Thursday, June 4, 2015

6/4/15 Report - Sifting A City Lot: Case Study. 2000 Year Old Figurine Found By Detectorist.

Written by the TreasureGuide for the exclusive use of

Coin In Sifter.
Photo by Russ P.
When I started metal detecting I had a White's metal detector that I ordered from a Sears and Reobuck catalog.  I started finding coins on the beach and gradually learned to find more and more.  After a while I decided to get a water proof detector.  It was a Fisher Aquanaut 1280.  I started finding silver and gold rings.  I thought I was doing pretty good.  As I mentioned at least one time before, at first I thought that men lost a lot more jewelry than women.  That was because I mostly found larger rings.  Later, after I turned my discrimination down, I learned that women lost nearly as many rings as men, but I had been missing a lot of the smaller (and more valuable) rings because I was using too much discrimination.

Of all the things I've learned over the years, that was one of the most important.  You can go on a long time without knowing what you are missing.  You'll usually never know what you missed.  You can find a lot and still miss a lot.

It is easy to miss the most valuable targets.  Valuable targets can be rare and not identified by any target meter.  And you probably won't know where they will fall on a discriminator.  And the closer you are to the limits of your detector, the less reliable the readings will be.

A target laying on the surface can often be easily identified, while the same target at greater depth might not be correctly identified.

One of the most important things is being where there is a lot of good targets.  That goes without saying, but some people put a lot of emphasis on the detector they use but fail to really analyze sites and where things will or won't be.

Obviously there has to be something under the coil before you can detect it.  As a result, I put a lot of emphasis on site analysis - I think more than most detectorists.  I'll talk more about site analysis some other time.

If you want to know what you are missing, here is one way to find out.  It isn't easy, but it is one way to know - if you really want to know.

Here is what Russ P. said.

Sifter On Site
Photo by Russ P.
I was going to wait to send in the details of my sifting experience until I completed the project, but, since it is a recent topic, I thought I'd send in some pics now.

I've been using my sifter for a few hours at a time whenever I don't have a promising spot with the detector.  The lot I search is a small one where there was an old house that at one time housed a neighborhood bar.  At least 20 silver coins have been found at the lot, including a Morgan dollar (the morgan not by me, dang it).  There is an extreme amount of junk.

I enjoy sifting, though it is labor intensive and certainly not justified economically. But the thought of missing finds with a detector, despite every effort, bothers me.  With the sifter, I can find everything interesting in the area sifted with 98% accuracy, I'd guess, including some neat nonmetallic items like marbles, bottles, etc.

I was really curious just how much is missed with a detector in a junky lot.  Most of the area has been covered by two detectorists.  I personally have covered the areas sifted using every search technique I could think of with two different detectors.  Plus, several inches of soil were removed when the house was demolished.  Surely in such a setting not much would be missed, or so I thought.

I have made some neat finds.  I have found probably 20-30 marbles, some neat bottles, including two soda bottles from the 1920's or so, and many coins, including two silvers.  I have only sifted 10% of what I intend to complete.

To give you an idea of how much is missed with a detector, in the picture I sent showing an excavated hole of approx 6x5feet I found 25 coins, including a clad quarter and three wheat pennies.  I found an undated Buffalo nickel in the adjacent excavation several days before.  I did excavate another 4 inches deeper from what is shown in the picture.  Needless to say, I am shocked by the sheer number of coins missed due to a combination of depth and masking, though masking mainly to blame at this site.  Many of the coins found are in the first six inches of soil.

The second picture shows a wheat penny on the sifter.

Love the recent posts about the West Virginia path.  You've touched on the path before, but I could envision the solitude amongst the serene and beautiful surroundings especially well.  You don't have to find anything for that to be a special day, but it always helps!

Russ P, 

Great email Russ.  I'm really glad you sent it in.  That is a lot of work, but you really found out what was still there after a lot of detecting.   You now better idea of how things can be missed.

Knowledge is power - if you use it well.  Now you really know.

As you state, sifting is labor intensive.  I don't think I have to tell anyone to use it selectively since there are not too many people who will ever try it anyhow.

Most of the flint points and items I showed the other day were found by sifting. Once a precise spot was identified as the result of systematic site analysis, a small (4 by 4 foot) area was sifted with very good results.  The key is to identify a small area where there is a high probability of success.

I think it is a very good idea to use sifting for site analysis too.  Get a sample or a few samples, then  you can determine if it might be worth continuing.  When not sampling it is important to narrow down the location for more intensive efforts.  It is much like prospecting and mining.

I want to emphasize one thing that Russ said.  He said, Needless to say, I am shocked by the sheer number of coins missed due to a combination of depth and masking, though masking mainly to blame at this site.  Many of the coins found are in the first six inches of soil.

Some people might not care what they miss.  Some people might not have any idea how much they miss.

I always advise making decisions strategically.  Strategic decisions are based data and information.  Strategic decisions are informed decisions that take a variety of factors into account.

To make strategic decisions, you need to have a clear idea of your own goals, what you are willing to do and what you are not willing to do, the probability of success (however you define that for yourself) and what the costs are.

Thanks for the report Russ.  That provides a great case study.

And don't forget, there are places where detectors aren't allowed.


2000 Year Old Figurine
Of Mercury Found By Detectorist
Photo obtained from the
Culture24 link cited in this post.
Dog walkers and metal detectorists help archaeologists to record 1,000 finds in Yorkshire.  That is the subheading of the article found through the following link.

In the same article the Finds Liaison Officer of the York Museums Trust said, Every year thousands of archaeological objects are discovered... While the majority of these come from metal-detector users, we also see many finds from people field-walking, gardening, renovating houses and even those out walking particularly inquisitive dogs.

Continuing, the article says, The 1,000th officially recorded archaeological find of the year in Yorkshire is a mercurial one. Registered on May the 15th – the day of the festival of Mercury – a 2,000-year-old figurine of the Roman god, found by Dave Cooper while he was metal detecting in a field near Selby, is a remarkable reminder of Roman times.
That article acknowledges how much detectorists contribute under the PAS.


Did you notice what I showed of my finds from the West Virginia outing, included examples of four different types of finds?  They included (1) lead shot, (2) iron axe, (3) silver coin and silver jewelry and (4) arrowheads and other non-metallic items.

Here is a good web site if you are interested in old axes.


It looks like we'll be having about two weeks of almost no surf on the Treasure Coast.   Sheesh.

Happy hunting,