Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Buried Treasure

Hobbyists searching for treasure with metal detectors have started uncovering some very curious archeological finds.

Here’s a neat case of self-perpetuating archaeology. Medieval history spawned sword & sorcery literature. This literature spawned tabletop fantasy role-playing games and Medieval re-enactment groups. These games and groups spawned live action role playing. And now the larpers have created a market for faux-Medieval coinage, which they are buying at game stores, using at larps and dropping here and there. Metal detectorists are starting to find coins like the one in the picture and submitting them to intrigued museum curators.

It's amusing that LARP coins are starting to become accidental artifacts. What I find even more surprising is the remark in the comments that Toys "R" Us stores in Sweden sell LARP supplies. I knew live action was big in Scandinavia, but I never realized it was so mainstream.


Nick Storm said...

live action role 'playing' began in Finland and Sweden.

CoastConFan said...

At archeological sites, items that appear anachronisticly at a dig site, but clearly from another era are called “eccentrics.” Sometimes they are catalogued, sometimes not. Clearly a nearly new bottle cap has no reason to be found a collection of items found at the Battle of Agincourt (1454), so out of the collection it goes. Although a Roman coin might be found on the field is also an eccentric, it is probably kept despite it’s from another era. The problem with amateurs with metal detectors is that they turn in items that are not documented, nor in situ which make for a big problem for the pros.

This problem arises most commonly with American Civil War artifacts. Debris from post-war sightseers, veteran’s groups, and reenactors a century later turns up from time to time and brought in by metal detecorists. Most of it can be sorted out easily, but it’s surprising the number of Indian War & GAR buttons that turn up. The problem comes with well-made reproductions, which were never made to deceive because they were initially new when bought. They get used by an ardent reenactor and get the correct scratches and wear in all the right spots. Then it gets dropped accidentally for a couple of decades and get a passable patina. When it’s found, it’s the right location, has the right wear and manufacture quality is about right. It’s then that it gets really tough to tell some of the innocent “drops” from the real thing and from outright frauds.

Sometimes though, items considered eccentrics are in fact pertinent to the dig. For example digs at Delphi turned up Wooly Mammoth bones in the area of a temple. They were set aside as debris from the Ice Age and not part of the strata. The funny thing is that now there is a theory that those selfsame bones, might have been venerated as bones of giants or titans in the temple. Suddenly those eccentrics are important and a valuable part of understanding the site and the culture. Some theorists suggest that Ice Age elephant skulls were found in ancient times and taken for a one eyed giant – the Cyclops. You prop and gaff makers may enjoy this; read more about it here:





gndn said...

I second the excellent book "The First Fossil Hunters" by


It's a fascinating survey of how the ancient Mediterranean addressed the "problem" of giant fossils.

Ministry Minion said...

A few year ago, on the Time Team show, the crew found a Saxon comb in the remains of an 18th century water mill.

"When Stephen and Stephanie Fry bought a few acres of prime Somerset pasture to graze their horses, they inadvertently also bought the remains of Buck Mill, an 18th-century water mill.

But as Stephanie began to look into its history, she realised that there may have been a flour mill on the site since Domesday! So she called in Tony Robinson and his sceptical team of archaeologists to help her unravel the mystery of their accidental mill.

For Professor Mick Aston the prospect was too good to turn down. As the diggers get to work uncovering the whole of the 18th-century mill, Mick takes off into the landscape to look for clues form earlier centuries. He finds more than he bargained for: the whole area was awash with the tell-tale mill streams needed to power grind stones.

As the three days progress, the dig throws up constant reminders of the importance of wheat and bread to the medieval population, and of how rich millers could become. The only spanner in the works for this perfect industrial dig is the surprise discovery of an Anglo Saxon comb..."

It turned out to be a replica made by a certain Bernard Pearson (Pratchett fans may know him), as revealed by the inscription "Copyright BP 1999 West Stow"