It’s Shovels to Trowels
“From what I see, archaeologists and detectorists are from virtually the same backgrounds. We all have niche interests and events in history that we are extremely passionate about. The only thing that seems to separate us is the amount of reporting we do.” Justin Herbst, Archaeology Intern at Montpelier says. “I could definitely see myself working with them in the future, I think these guys are awesome.”
Justin Herbst & Gerry McMullen looking at nails in the lab
The week is winding down and everyone has seemed to get into a sort of routine here at Montpelier—wake up at dawn, scramble to eat breakfast and make it to the archaeology lab for a lecture with Matt Reeves, head out onto the grounds with Minelab, clipboards, and tools in hand. It feels like a family—it feels like we’ve all known each other for years. From the barbecue lunches to the porch beers at night, this group of very different, yet very similar people seem to have a limitless list of conversation topics. The crazy part is, everyone can actually relate. Whether the interests revolve around Civil War artifacts or Native American reservations, everyone seems to have a passion for history and what lies below the ground. The difference, as Herbst puts it is “shovels to trowels.”
As we finished up some surveying in the woods, Matt Reeves spoke about the consistency and method to what we were all collectively doing. The goal, he noted, was to get consistent data mapped out on the grid with counts of the hits from the detectorists. Those hits will in turn help the archaeologists determine which areas on the GPS-gridded map have the highest concentration of hits, and thus interest. By utilizing metal detectors as a surveying tool, the result is a highly reliable map of key areas in a fraction of the time and with a lot less energy.
Tim Garton & Cat Evans working together in the woods
One might wonder: how on earth would archaeologists normally go about an excavation without metal detectors? Kira Runkle, an Archaeologist at Montpelier explained: “Well you have to start with the topography of the land. You look for the dips in hills, the sources of water—you build a picture of what makes sense. Then you would conduct a test dig to look at the layers of soil and go from there.” As much work as it sounds, detectorists approach excavations in a similar way. Gerry McMullen noted that he often took his knowledge of history and the outdoors to decide where to begin: “I look for the sunny side of the hill and start near the top. I make a good guess and go from there.”
With so much combined expertise at this high of a level, the excavation process at Montpelier has been extremely successful thus far. “We really are all learning from each other. To have people come out with this much knowledge and decades of experience is really awesome,” adds Runkle. As we head into day five, it has become even more apparent that combined knowledge truly is a powerful thing.