Metal Detectorists, Archaeologists Work Together at Montpelier
People who use metal detectors now have a new way to practice their hobby. A new program is bringing people from around the country to central Virginia to help uncover part of the past. It's the newest archaeological program at Montpelier.
The metal detector specialists and hobbyists get to stay at Montpelier as part of the program. Their days start with an archaeology lesson where they learn how finds are conserved, cataloged, and curated. Then they load up the trucks and head out to the woods to try to find some of the historic sites on the 2,700 acres of Montpelier property.
During the program, the volunteers with metal detectors will search a 200-acre area for what's believed to be one acre of historic finds - such a slave quarters, mills, or homes.
"What you see is woods today, but 150-200 years ago this was fields. There was slave quarters," said Matt Reeves, the director of archaeology at Montpelier. "Basically what this area looked like in Madison's time period."
The metal detector volunteers bring their own equipment. They're paired with a staff member who records the location of hits on items like nails. The information about the sites are then be mapped by a staff member later.
Archaeologists and metal detectorists agree it's a unique paring.
"Traditionally metal detectorists and archaeologists have not worked together and now what we're trying to do is have archaeologists and metal detectorists see that we have a lot more common ground," Reeves said.
"There's always been a big disparity between archaeologists and detectorists and I think we can work hand in hand to help archaeologists try to get the artifacts out of the ground to preserve them and record our history," said Ron Guinazzo, a Chicago firefighter who has been metal detecting for 30 years.
"I lost my high school ring in 1983. I was on a military base in California. I lost my ring and I went and bought a little $50 metal detector to find my ring," Guinazzo said. "I never found my ring but I found so many cool things since then and as soon as I started I was hooked."
Guinazzo said he's likely returned $100,000 worth of jewelry that he found on the beaches in Chicago. Now he's at Montpelier looking for a hit on something historical.
"The stuff that's buried in the ground, it's amazing how much there is out there," he said. "Everything that comes out of the ground that gets recorded becomes a part of our history."
Working with metal detectorists is a partnership that Reeves hopes to continue in the future.
"What we're finding is that metal detectorists absolutely love this. It opens a whole new window into their hobby and what we'd eventually like to do is have more archaeologists and detectorists working together," Reeves said.
Montpelier is hosting two more metal detector programs in the spring. The facilities are open year round and archaeologists encourage people to stop by to see the sites where they're working and take a look at the lab.
For more information on the programs or to get involved, click here.