Jessie Raymond: Novice treasure hunter strikes pay dirt


This Christmas, Mark got me the world’s greatest gift: a metal detector.

I had wanted one ever since I started watching the British archaeology series “Time Team” on YouTube. In each episode, a group of archaeologists excavate a field or someone’s “back garden,” as they say in the UK, and uncover building foundations, pottery, tools and even skeletons dating back hundreds, sometimes thousands, of years.

One time, a bloke (the UK word for “guy”) who was metal detecting in a Worcestershire field landed on a hoard of Roman coins minted in the fourth century A.D. The “Time Team” crew came to investigate and ended up discovering evidence of a sprawling Roman villa complete with intricate mosaic floors and a bathhouse. I was floored (“gobsmacked”).

On Christmas morning, watching me rip the wrapping paper off the metal detector like a crazed game show contestant, Mark warned me that I was unlikely to uncover even one ancient Roman coin in our backyard.

Agree to disagree.

I didn’t think I’d get to try the Goldfinger 4000 until spring, but the unnervingly mild weather on New Year’s Day made the ground diggable for a few hours. I grabbed a trowel and got out there.

A caveat: I don’t know anything about metal detecting. I’ve just watched a few YouTube videos, enough to gather that coins are very popular items to dig up. To that end, I’ve been practicing the phrases the YouTubers use, namely, “It’s a wheatie!” and “A flying eagle? No way!”

I know that “wheaties” are wheat pennies, which were produced in the first half of the 20th century. I have no idea what flying eagles are, but the sight of them causes metal detectorists to lose their minds, so they must be good.

For my first foray, I swept around the chicken coop. I didn’t know what to make of the R2-D2 noises the metal detector made as I hovered the business end over the ground. In addition to growling and beeping and sometimes shrieking with excitement, it also flashed various numbers and modes on its electronic screen. I guessed at its responses, interpreting the low, buzzing sounds as “Skip this junk” and the Beatles fangirl squeals as “Dig here!”

I may need to read the manual.

Our farmstead was established around 1860, not quite dating back to classical antiquity. But there could be one real treasure on the property. About a decade ago, Mark cut his hand at work. When I met him at the ER, where he was awaiting stitches, he forcibly removed his wedding band before the staff could cut it off. He handed the ring to me for safekeeping, and I slipped it onto my thumb and agreed to meet him back at the house.

I then ran errands and went home to do barn chores. It wasn’t until dinnertime that I noticed that my thumb was short one wedding ring. Maybe it had fallen off in the Kinney’s parking lot or downtown. But if it was on our property, my finding it now would finally redeem Mark for his poor judgment in trusting someone as careless as me to guard that precious symbol of our union.

Metal detecting without training is tricky, though. The Goldfinger 4000 would get chatty at times, making giddy squawks on certain patches of ground but then clamming up when I tried to zero in on the target. I wonder if I accidentally had it set to “taunt user” mode; I swear I heard it snicker once or twice.

Despite the challenges, however, I made three thrilling finds in just half an hour. Each time I dug something up, I yelled, “It’s a wheatie!” (I knew that made no sense, but I tried “Eureka!” and it sounded pretentious.)

I didn’t come up with any Roman coins. Or Mark’s wedding ring. But I did find a 10-inch length of wire, the brass end of a shotgun shell casing and a mysterious chunk of chrome-plated metal — a piece of automotive trim, or perhaps a sword hilt? — with a single, cryptic word stamped on the back: “GUIDE.”

I think that might be Latin.

Of course, I won’t know how much this initial haul is worth until I get it appraised. But with that kind of success on my first try, I’d say 2022 is going to be a very lucrative year for this treasure hunter.

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