What made you get into metal detecting and eventually fall in love with it?
Well I was 7 and my dad took me out to a firing range from the Civil War in northern Virginia. I think we found about 800 bullets on the first day. We had to hike about 3 miles to get there so the hike back was a bit heavier. We ended up with about 2,800 bullets and it just went from there. I really didn’t get into it seriously until I was about 16 and could drive and find camps and battlefields. It always had a draw to me. It was the Civil War altogether. The more you find, the more you get into the history of it. My dad actually built a detector back into the ‘60s. I’ve tried all brands of detectors and now I use Minelab. You can’t hold a candle to Minelab–they have the technology to penetrate our red clay soil out here. I think every machine can be used to its best ability and full potential as a tool and you should have an everyday machine mastered at the very least.
What has been your most interesting or valuable find over the years?
Everything is. I’ve never sold anything. A bullet can mean something totally different depending on where you are and it just depends.. I’m passionate about buttons. Before I moved to Orange, Virginia I think I had 12 confederate buttons. I moved here in 1999 and now have over 150 confederate buttons not including the ones from Montpelier.
What are your thoughts on the MACP program? Is this the first step towards a new relationship between archaeologists and detectorists?
I hope so. As long as archaeologists understand that they don’t need to transform a metal detectorist into an archaeologist and as long as we’re on the same playing field and understand we both have our own expertise. We need to understand how to conserve, preserve, and work together and we’ll be fine. We need a common understanding of what needs to be done. Archaeologists do so much detail work on their craft and with their schooling and knowledge of the field it’s too much for either of us to do both. But we can’t do it without each other. we understand that now and kind of have a marriage that works.
Have you seen other historical sites use a metal detectorist on their staff?
I don’t know of any on staff. I know other archaeologists use metal detectors for certain projects but I don’t think they use them consistently. I know here at Montpelier, Matt Reeves (the Director of Archaeology) bought some detectors for the archaeologists to use but that was not efficient enough. Why pull the archaeologists out of the field to do metal detecting work when they’re not used to it? It can take them months to learn the machine and techniques so it just didn’t seem logical.
What’s most interesting to you about Montpelier and being at this place?
It goes from Indian artifacts to the Civil War to the DuPont’s living here which sheds light on how the elite lived even through the Great Depression. It’s a mix of everything. Knowing we are where the constitution was written, it’s just a beautiful place. You know, you feel it, there’s something about the land here. Plus the government doesn’t own it. We’re all constantly learning out here, it’s like a big family.
Can you talk a little bit more about how you define the word “valuable?”
It’s all about what’s valuable to you personally. There have been times when I’ve dug bullets out of an area that’s already been dug to death and there’s no story there. Here you can see where and when it’s coming out of the ground. The story is in the ground. You’re basically recovering it and re-telling it. I tell Matt: every nail and every bullet is like a sentence. The more sentences you put together, the more the story gets to be told.
Kira Runkle, an archaeology intern here had described it as “turning back the pages of a book,” it really seems like everyone has the same goals in mind.
You have to understand that there’s a lot more than just metal in the ground. It can lead you to so much more. That’s where the detectorist needs to learn how to dig properly and dig responsibly. I don’t do any digging here, I’ll work with the archaeologists on excavating, but if you just go in and dig you lose so much of it–the seeds, the mouse vertebrae… the sentences, the tiny things you need to finish the story.