How the Brits Do It…

The Great White Hunter searching a Roman site….many moons ago

Uncle John Howland tells how the Brit tekkies do it.  Now If only we had their history….

“Where’s the best place to find coins and relics?”

John Howland

It’s a common enough question and one that’s often asked by newbies to our pastime. If I’d a dollar for every time I’ve been asked that question I’d sure be a rich man. The answer of course depends on what type of coinage, or relics, you’re looking for; modern spendable cash, or historic. Most of what follows is broadly applicable to all in our pastime. For the sake of illustration I’m using Roman Britain as an example and the parallels can be applied to any period of history in any country.

In the first instance if it’s modern spendable coinage or other trinkets you’re after then head for the thousands of miles of coastline and beaches. In the second however, particularly if you want to find say, Roman coins and relics, then look closer to home. In Britain, there exists a network of Roman roads totalling an estimated 10,000 miles, comprising main arterial highways; inter-connecting local roads and tracks linking villas, temples, farms, and other habitation sites to the main Roman highways themselves. This road network is a rich seam and always repays careful investigation.

Denarius of Antoninus Pius and The Man Himself: Emperor Antoninus Pius

Along this road network at roughly 15-mile intervals you’ll discover the remains of the Roman equivalents of modern motorway service stations, comprising the sites of mansiones favoured by the wealthier travelers, and mutationes, the less salubrious stop-overs generally frequented by robbers, cut-throats, assorted dodgy-dealers, pimps, and whores.

It all kicked-off in 43AD when a Roman invasion force consisting of four legions stormed ashore in southern Britain. The legions were the II Augusta; the XX Valeria Victrix; the IX Hispana, and the XIV Gemina, amounting to 20,000 fighting men with a similar number of auxiliaries. By 82AD, the Romans had built a network of fortresses serviced by 1,200 miles of roads. The Romans remained in Britain until 410AD.

With thousands of miles of Roman roads for hobbyists to explore and scores of habitation sites – many yet to be discovered – the relic and coin-finding potential is superb. But how do you get your hands on all this stuff? First, arm yourself with a map of your locale; either a 1:25000 OS (Ordnance Survey) map, or the OS map of Roman Britain. Now find a marked Roman site; this could be a town, or a wayside stopover. Measure on the map about 15-miles in either direction from it, but be aware that Roman miles are not quite the same length as modern miles (1,760-yards); they being 1,613-yards. The word mile comes from the Latin, milia passuum, meaning one thousand paces.

Carefully examine the map at a point two or three miles from the 15-mile point. This is best done by homing-in on the selected area using Google Maps’ satellite option arguably the best treasure hunting tool second only to your metal detector. Having found your suspected site make a visit to the area and walk any footpaths in the vicinity to get a feel for the place. Indeed, the presence of a short, straight road/track no more than five miles long leading off the main road and coming to an abrupt end, is an important indicator of a Roman habitation site, or possibly a temple site.

Roman pottery and a 3rd Century AD bronze brooch

While walking the area look for mussel shells, pottery shards and rusting iron nails in the plough soil. Both indicate habitation. The presence of natural springs also signposts temple sites and many of these remain undiscovered. Other tell-tale signs are votive offerings; coins, miniature figurines, pottery, and glassware, all left at the site as offerings to the gods without any intention of recovery. The fact that votive offerings were rarely, if ever, declared Treasure Trove by a Coroner, was the archaeological lobby’s driving force behind the introduction of the 1996 Treasure Act. Prior to the ’96 Act, votive offerings – items of gold or silver deposited without intention of later recovery – were always returned to the finder who was then free to sell them much to the infuriation archaeology.

The next step in your quest is making contact with the landowner, in person, for permission to detect. Don’t expect to get it if you turn up looking shit-order; go smart and remember you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression! Leave the camo, sweaty T-shirt and trainers at home. When asked what you are looking for, say straight out and with a smile, “Gold, and lots of it.” Explain that should your research lead you to a find within the meaning of the Treasure Act rewards are shared equally between the finder and landowner. Mention that all other finds belong to the landowner and you will show them following each detecting session. Ask if there is any objection to your reporting finds. Respect that decision, whatever it might be.

Success in coin and relic hunting depends entirely on you and the accuracy of your research. The more thorough you are, the more successful you will be.

Sniper-type coils are invaluable when search nail-strewn habitation sites

Always carry a notebook to jot down snippets of local information, gossip, place and field names. Often these morsels of information lead to bigger things. If you have a camera on your mobile phone then so much the better. A small pair of pocket binoculars of say, 10×25, size can prove invaluable. Good hunting.


Overheard in downtown Rome: –
Mark Antony: “Where’s Cleopatra?”
Man Servant: “In bed with laryngitis.”
Mark Antony: “Damn those Greeks!”


Sports result from the Coliseum: Christians 25. Lions nil.

If you must break the law, do it to seize power: in all other cases observe it. Julius Caesar

Faciam te in taberna



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