Relic Hunting

larry_cockerham

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#1
I should perhaps mention that there's another side to the notion of relic hunting. There are still a few places, some we know and many many we don't where battles or skirmishes were fought. In that hallowed ground may rest the bodies or more likely the parts of uniforms or weapons carried by those men as their last effort on earth. To disturb that ground by undisciplined ravaging or taking an artifact into one's personal possession is perhaps not so good an idea. There are some places that have been perserved for the most part in memorial to those who fell there. Perhaps that is how it should be. Perhaps not. I'd like to hear some opinion.
 

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ole

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#2
Our relic hunters seem to find private property where there was an encampment or maybe a fracas. Obviously, I don't want anything to do with anyone who digs holes in known fields on public property, but I see no reason why a buried artifact serves as a better memorial than one on display in someone's collection.

Ole
 

tomh

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#3
larry_cockerham,

While there are people out there who are more poachers and thieves than relic hunters I would like to state that most relic hunters approach each dig with reverence for the soldiers who preceeded them. Artifacts recovered are preserved and find their way into private or public collections for the enjoyment of those interested.

I for one say a little something to the soldier that dropped the artifacts that I find, and thank them for their courage and dedication, whether it is a US or CS find. I do not collect fired bullets unless I can determine that they were from a firing range or target range. I refuse to own a bullet that struck a person on either side.

A little known result of the efforts of the honest relic hunters out there is their contribution to the body of knowledge. Their discoveries can determine who carried what, or who was where and when. Many archeologists make use of the talents of the amateur dirt fisherman when they are working a site (I have worked on a couple of projects with NPS Archy Steve Potter), and there are several instances where the amateurs were able to correct misconceptions held by the professional archies. One example was a dig in southern VA that the pros were describing as a CS Cavalry camp until the finds were reviewed by a couple of amateurs with decades of experience. The amateurs pointed out that all the bullets and buttons recovered were federal issue, and therefore the camp was a US and not CS cav camp.

Ole,

Most diggers prefer encampments because that is where you find the fun artifacts. Battlefields produce mostly fired bullets and artillery fragments. Most diggers are looking for buttons, plates and buckles in addition to dropped bullets and acoutrement pieces. Plus, most battlefields are protected ground and not available for digging.

Just a humble opinion from a casual digger,
TomH
 

M E Wolf

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#4
Dear Larry_Cockerham;

I am personally moved emotionally and mentally; when anything has to do with our American military.

It really falls into a dang if you do and dang if you don't.

Without finding 'artifacts' and or 'relics;' we wouldn't have Civil War museum displays, locations of camps and or action. And, in a sad sense; these soldiers of both the Union and Confederate armies; are still 'giving' to the American people as a whole and--to the world.

Never Forget
Nunquam Alieno

Let us not forget
Permissum nos non alieno

Remember the Brave
Memor Fortis

Every inch of ground is sacred but, unfortunately--growth of civilization often buries the ethics, morality and duty with honor; when it comes to real-estate. Its a battle to keep known battlefields from becoming concrete.

This is hard for me to swallow as a person. If people do not find these momentos of the American Civil War; it might be we will never find them under concrete or bricks. With so many foreign borns that have in their culture little regard to their own history--I hold little hope that they will be interested in saving our history. Its all about 'me-me-me.' They don't see the 'us-us-us' of history.

Around Washington, DC. More people talk Spanish, Arabic than English. I feel I am a minority.

Just some thoughts.

Respectfully submitted for consideration,
M. E. Wolf
 

tomh

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#5
Dichotomy

M E Wolf,

There is a dichotomy to relic hunting just as there is sometimes total opposition in peoples' view of artifacts. Some park authorities are vehemently against the recovery of any artifacts at all. They are sacred relics and should be allowed to turn to dust in the ground in respect for the people that originally used them.

I am a collector and as such I have always felt priviledged to hold an artifact of any type. I am always touched by the fact that this item was used more than a century ago and am invariably consumed with a desire to know more about the person who this item was issued to and the circumstances of its loss. I am also generally impressed with the care and craftsmanship (two qualities quickly becoming extinct in the realm of American Manufacturing) that went into the item's production and feel that the preservation of these items is a neccessary thing. I feel that it is important to allow future Americans to encounter, on a first hand basis, elements from the past that shaped their country.

Who is to say which approach is right?

TomH
 

larry_cockerham

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#6
M E Wolf,

There is a dichotomy to relic hunting just as there is sometimes total opposition in peoples' view of artifacts. Some park authorities are vehemently against the recovery of any artifacts at all. They are sacred relics and should be allowed to turn to dust in the ground in respect for the people that originally used them.

I am a collector and as such I have always felt priviledged to hold an artifact of any type. I am always touched by the fact that this item was used more than a century ago and am invariably consumed with a desire to know more about the person who this item was issued to and the circumstances of its loss. I am also generally impressed with the care and craftsmanship (two qualities quickly becoming extinct in the realm of American Manufacturing) that went into the item's production and feel that the preservation of these items is a neccessary thing. I feel that it is important to allow future Americans to encounter, on a first hand basis, elements from the past that shaped their country.

Who is to say which approach is right?

TomH
Your response is well written and obviously well conceived. I'm afraid you are not in the majority of folks who tromp around on our battlefields. Vandalism, robbery and general disrepect are often the norm once God pulls down the shades for the night. I personally know of a battlefield that has been preserved by mother nature's physical boundaries and some posting signs, a big strong nasty looking wire fence and some men who care about it being preserved. Such places should rest with the folks who rested there last. One the other hand, take the archaelogical work done in and around Williamsburg and the Jamestown settlements. Much has been learned and preserved of that culture when done under a semblance of control and responsibility. There must be a manageable compromise in here somewhere.
 

larry_cockerham

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#7
Our relic hunters seem to find private property where there was an encampment or maybe a fracas. Obviously, I don't want anything to do with anyone who digs holes in known fields on public property, but I see no reason why a buried artifact serves as a better memorial than one on display in someone's collection.

Ole
That's kinda like worshiping the Great Spirit, Ole, my friend. You can't see it, but you somehow know it's there. Some folks must believe the stuff is there or they wouldn't go poking in the ground with the risk of buckshot in their -----. If knowledge of the item is all one seeks, then there's Wikipedia and a good library as well as a museum or two that hasn't gone belly up from lack of attendance or funding. The manufacturers were recorded in history and exhibits are numerous. I sound like I wouldn't pick up an artifact. Not sure that's the case. Tough choice?
 

tomh

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#9
Scholarship

larry_cockerham,

Unfortunately, with the economic restraints placed on museums, display space is a premium and most museum collections remain in storage, away from public view. With the vast diversity in types of buttons, or bullets for that matter, these items are generally represented by a small sample and I know of no museum where one can view an example of every type used during the war. Political correctness dictates that firearms are evil things and fewer go on display each year. Add to that the current multimedia museum trend, where slick presentations take precedence over relics and you find a situation where, for example, less than 5 percent of the Gettysburg NPS collection is displayed.

The major fact that makes me a proponent of relic hunting is that the scholarship continues. As I mentioned earlier, relic mapping of sites has provided an amazing amount of information about who carried what and who was where and when. This information cannot be found in existing books or museum displays because until we study the relics at a particular location there simply is no information to share. In my area, bullets and cartridges, a combination of relic retrieval and the intense studying of existing documents by such dedicated scholars as Dean Thomas are correcting errors and misconceptions in all of the published works that preceeded the current crop of publications. I have more bullets and cartridges displayed on my website (http://www.baymediapro.com/collection) that you can find at any museum, and these bullets, like the ones at every museum, are the result of the efforts of numerous diggers.

I understand your concern about desecrating sites simply for monetary gain, and would like you to understand that nobody dislikes these examples of poaching more than the conscientious diggers. The first element of the "diggers code" is GET PERMISSION!!! Those people that go on private property, or worse, protected battlefields, without permission do not represent the ethics or motivation of the majority of diggers, who take the approach of LEAVE THE GROUND CLEANER THAN YOU FOUND IT. Example, on a recent large digging event at Brandy Rock in Culpepper, VA we disposed of several large bags of trash (and about four tons of iron debris) that was found on the farm during the three days of excavating. We didn't bring that trash into the farm with us, but we sure did take it out.

My main point here is that I hope that you will see that not every mook out there swinging a coil and digging holes is a pirate. Some of us really do care about the history and the people who were there before us.

Just a humle opinion,
TomH
 

larry_cockerham

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#10
larry_cockerham,

My main point here is that I hope that you will see that not every mook out there swinging a coil and digging holes is a pirate. Some of us really do care about the history and the people who were there before us.

Just a humle opinion,
TomH
Sounds as if you have just made an argument for archaeology which I fervently support. Maybe some of your excellent attitude will rub off on others.
 
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#11
Our relic hunters seem to find private property where there was an encampment or maybe a fracas. Obviously, I don't want anything to do with anyone who digs holes in known fields on public property, but I see no reason why a buried artifact serves as a better memorial than one on display in someone's collection.

Ole
I met a fella in Kentucky who lives in Tebbs Bend and he had a union and a confederate out fit camp on his grandfathers property. He has found Beltbuckles, Locks, and all kinds of stuff. There is a natural spring right outside his house and thats where they camped out. He has also found alot of Indian artifacts as well. JUst thought Id put in my 2 cents haha.
 
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#12
Our relic hunters seem to find private property where there was an encampment or maybe a fracas. Obviously, I don't want anything to do with anyone who digs holes in known fields on public property, but I see no reason why a buried artifact serves as a better memorial than one on display in someone's collection.

Ole
Ole,
The main problem I have with relic hunting is that one cannot know what lies under the earth until it is dug... I am reminded that remains are still being found by archeologists and reinterred...but if it is relic hunters who find these remains while looking for trinkets, what becomes of the remnants of the body? Yes I know that after all this time, likely only a few bone fragments and teeth remain, but they are still human remains and deserve our respect... Do the remains get reported to someone?? who do you report something like that to? Or do the remains just get thrown back in the hole while the hunter continues to look for his next big E-bay find?
I know this is a somewhat unfair description of relic hunters, as many are responsible, but I suspect just as many are not, and the problem is that I don't know how to tell the difference.. Let them lay...MHO!
 

ole

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#13
Fair enough, I see your point. Bones are quite another matter. I wouldn't know who to contact for remnants. Perhaps the appropriate SCV or SUVCC chapter? Someone will want to try indentifying the remains and re-interring them next to his comrads with a suitable marker.

As I understand the hobby, there is little chance of finding graves where these guys hunt. The remains they are looking for are identifying buttons and other metal items -- dropped bullets, a horseshoe, cooking and eating utensils. Harmless enough.
 

tomh

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#14
Human Remains

By law, any human remains found, including bone fragments, must be immedeately reported to the local police. Again, all reputable diggers abide by this rule but we cannot speak for the small minority of thugs.

Tom Henrique
 
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#15
a year or so ago, I recall reading about an organized affair wherein relic hunters would spend all day diggin and harvesting trinkets from an area and taking these trinkets to a "head table" somewhere..(a bass tournament comes to mind here) where the person with the most stuff is declared the winner... I imagine I have some details wrong as I am going solely by memory..now depending on the location of this 'dig" it is reasonable to expect that human remains could be in the vacinity... the NPS owns and controlls only a fraction of the land where battles were fought and there are literally thousands of skirmishes, small engagements, chance meetings resulting in shots fired at each other and lots of places where the odd soldier might be killed and forgotten.. I suspect that Virginia and Tennessee are full of such places... bones were found at Antietam just last summer I believe...and I also believe they were just off the NPS land

Relic hunting is populated I am sure by mostly reputable individuals, most hobbies are, but it also draws the disreputable who give all a bad name... how can the disreputable be discouraged???.. I think here of the Texas Monument at Vicksburg...
 

tomh

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#16
Relic Hunters

bama46,

What you are describing is one of the "Relic Shootouts" where each artifact recovered earns the digger a number of points determined by the rarity of the artifact and the person with the most points wins the tournament. The format can either be a dig on an ACW campsite or a clean field that has been "seeded" by the organizing committee, who buries several hundred artifacts for the dig. Either way, the participants pay to attend and generally these events attract the more reputable diggers since the pirates won't pay the admission fee. I have never participated in one of these digs.

However, I do participate in the "Diggin' In Virginia" series where 350+ diggers attend by invitation only. The organizing committee pays the land owner to obtain access and the diggers keep what they find. Again, the price of admission and the selection process weeds out the less reputable diggers.

In both cases, the attending diggers are reputable people who would turn over the location of any human remains found.

By the way, I am having a little problem with your description of the recovered artifacts as "trinkets". I don't think that you understand the reverence afforded these items by the vast majority of diggers who are far less concerned with the Ebay value of these items than with the proper recovery, documentation and preservation of these irreplaceable items from our common past. Right now, one of the most important (to me) items in my collection is a full set of shoulder scales (epaulettes) that I recovered in the last DIV hunt. Retail value... less than $40. Value to me because I dug the item and sat there wondering why the poor soldier lost it where he did... priceless. And this is from someone who has spent thousands for bullets and cartridges and several thousands for firearms, yet this item, with minimal EBay value tickles me to no end.

Again, just a humble opinion,
Tom Henrique
 

ole

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#17
A most interesting exchange of opinion, gentlemen. I figure that the subject is a matter of emotion and is just an exchange of same.

To me, it's remembrance ... some would say memorializing. The button, buckle, stirrup, spoon ... all bring up images of the boy/man who lost it there.

Ole
 
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#18
bama46,


By the way, I am having a little problem with your description of the recovered artifacts as "trinkets". I don't think that you understand the reverence afforded these items by the vast majority of diggers who are far less concerned with the Ebay value of these items than with the proper recovery, documentation and preservation of these irreplaceable items from our common past. Right now, one of the most important (to me) items in my collection is a full set of shoulder scales (epaulettes) that I recovered in the last DIV hunt. Retail value... less than $40. Value to me because I dug the item and sat there wondering why the poor soldier lost it where he did... priceless. And this is from someone who has spent thousands for bullets and cartridges and several thousands for firearms, yet this item, with minimal EBay value tickles me to no end.

Again, just a humble opinion,
Tom Henrique
I did trivyalize( if that really is a word, I have no idea how to spell it) the artifacts that are found, and I should not have done so..criticism noted and agreed to.. please accept my apologies

I suppose I make a distinction between those things that are family heirlooms ( I don't have any of thes either) and dug artifacts...I go to battlefields and visit artifact shops where one sees lliterally hundreds of bullets, fired and unfired, shell fragments, rusted hulks of pistols, horse shoes, buttons and the like... then inevitabley next door is a shop that sells metal detectors... now everyone knows that metal detectors on NPS land are a violaton fo fed law, so who is buying and renting these things... tourists who have permission to hunt on private property.... really, just how does one who is from out of state do that, and how many out of staters with permission does it take to keep a metal detector shop in business... then I see things like what happened at Vicksburg last summer and I make mental leaps as to who is buying these detectors and why...I also make mental leaps as to where the digging is taking place..
You hobby is a legal endeavor and if done right offers as OLe says harmless fun. I just think it is a difficult hobby to police and I see a great deal of opportunitires for abuse, treaspassing, and theft including theft from the dead.
 
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#19
Tom,
I am haviong a problem with a statement you made in an earlier post about diggers turning over/reporting any human remains found... from one of the mass digging events you described...

Here is the problem...
You are digging (or me..matters not) and the digger gets a hard solid "hit"... we begin excavating and find several buttons, maybe sholder scales, pistol, rotting leather remnants and some teeth...
this is a grave!...formal, or informal..
What is done with the artifacts that were buried with the soldier.. what is done with the remains?

I have had family members dug up when a cemetery passed from church hands to private developer's hands and I know how I feel about those remains being reinterred...I have seen hillside cemeteries that were moved prior to the flooding of the Tennessee River...
I have fundamental problems with the disturbance of final resting places

Ed
 

tomh

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#20
Disturbed Remains

bama46,

In the very few instances that I have heard of over the years generally the artifacts go to the police with the remains. I won't deny that I know of one instance where the digger pocketed a couple of buttons before calling the authorities and one instance where the police gave the relics to the digger.

I actually do not know of any places that rent metal detectors near battlefields, or that rent detectors to the general public for that matter. I know of more than a few places that sell them, but again, have never seen one for rent. Maybe I am just going to the wrong places because today's advanced machines sell for an average of a thousand dollars and with the rapid changes in technology it could be financially sound to rent instead of owning.

I completely understand your concerns about the unethical people out there that dig on battlefields or without permission and would like you to understand that nobody dislikes these poachers more than the reputable diggers. Their actions make it more difficult for those than do it right to get permission because people become turned off by the pirates. And, theft from a battlefield or any NPS land is inexcusable. Like a gun owner than supports sensible gun legislation (me) most ethical diggers totally support the arrest and prosecution of illegal relic pirates.

In general, I feel that the contributions to the body of knowledge made by the sweaty, dehydrated, muscle tired mooks swinging a heavy coil in a field and digging holes to recover a plethora of iron junk, tractor parts (my specialty) and cut nails eavily outweighs the damage done by the illegal diggers.

Later,
Tom Henrique
 



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