A Case of Mistaken Identity

. . . We immediately pronounced it to be a Roman relic and he was persuaded to take it to the museum . . .

THIS POST HAS LITTLE TO DO WITH METAL DETECTING

Sometimes even the ‘experts’ in the archeological world can be wrong in their assessment of metal objects. Such mis-identifications makes one realise that often the person with the real edge on determining the past use of a find is the detectorist with years of experience. The moral of this tale is that we mustn’t take for granted that everyone in the archaeological world (or indeed the hobby) knows everything about everything. If in doubt, seek a second opinion.

I was reminded of this fact in a book read recently, A Personal Memoir of Aylesbury in the 1920’s by WR Mead, who had spent an idle day with friends during the summer holidays excavating in the garden for ‘likely treasure trove.’ The childhood incident had stuck in his mind but, in fairness, I think the details are of doubtful authenticity and may have been embellished in the retelling.

Mead says: “Nothing materialised during the morning dig save for some inconsequential oyster shells (there were many others in our own New Street garden). However, during the lunchtime, absence of the principal digger enabled a broken spearhead from some nearby railings to be concealed at the bottom of the excavation.

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TRENCH ART?

Trench Art is commonly defined as any decorative item made by soldiers or prisoners of war, where the manufacture is directly linked to armed conflict or its consequences. The most common example found by the detectorist is a decorated shell or bullet casing from the First World War. The term is also used to describe souvenirs made by soldiers during WW2, but is much more uncommon.

The term trench art conjures up a mud-spattered soldier in a soggy trench crafting a souvenir for ab loved one at home while dodging bullets and artillery shells. I think that image is far from the truth. The origins can be quite diverse and can include mementoes of war made by convalescent soldiers, souvenirs made by prisoners of war in exchange for food, cigarettes or money and so on. The lighter, fashioned from a cartwheel coin, was supplied by Mr Miyagi.

Art objects from the trenches of WW1 were generally created during pauses in battle, which could last weeks or months. These extended periods of time offered the soldiers’ ample time to carve or etch scrap metal into souvenirs. A soldier certainly needed a hobby to occupy his mind during these seemingly endless periods of inaction. The spent shell casings were plentiful so they became his material of choice.

The cynics will even tell you that enterprising French and Belgian citizens in the 1920s made such artefacts. Today, commercial firms offer ‘trench style art’ to those tourists touring the European battlefields.

The origins of trench art lie in the so-called ‘Prisoner of War Work’, in existence from the Napoleonic wars, and probably earlier. This work is characterised by its exquisitely intricate nature – impossibly labour- intensive, conjuring up images of months and years in captivity with little or no activity but that which you made for yourself.

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Tudor Gold Aglet

The AGLET s simply a lace tag that prevents the fibres from unravelling.
Take a look at the Tudor example found by Oliver!

Oliver Clark talks with John Winter

I don’t use a detector so I rely on my eyes and trusty rake. I started mudlarking in late 2013, and because the three-year Thames Foreshore Permit is valid from January to December, this meant that it only covered me for just over two years. I now have a regular licence.

Oliver astride his moped

Despite this, that single purchase was one of the best investments I’ve ever made. I’ve always had an avid interest in finding long lost items from the past and used to do field walking with my dad when I was a boy.

One of my first significant finds on the Thames was a complete Georgian wig curler. Initially I had no idea what it was, but I knew it was ‘a something’. It wasn’t until one popped up on one of the Facebook groups I realised exactly what it was.

A Georgian wig curler

It’s often like this; if I’m not quite sure what it is, I pick it up and identification might come months or even years later. Having said that, I try not to hoard too many things. I regularly take back bits that have outstayed their welcome in my expanding collection of overflowing Tupperware boxes.

For those of you who have never heard the term before and don’t know what an aglet is, they are decorative ornaments used at the end of points (laces) to secure a garment, and are and often found in pairs on hats, or dresses. See Ian’s Shoelace Site for more information.

The best time to go mudlarking depends very much on the tides, which means I often find myself down there in the middle of the night armed with a head torch and accompanied by a friend. I find it more magical searching at night although it can be pretty scary. It’s very easy to get cut-off from the tide, or stuck in mud, so for safety reasons it’s always essential to go with at least one other person.

Funnily enough, most of my little gold bits have been found at night. Perhaps it’s something to do with the way my torch illuminates and highlights the gold.

Take a look at the portrait of Elizabeth de Valois, Queen of Spain – 1568, and especially the jewels. Notice the ribbons tying her sleeves and skirt are tipped with long, golden pearl-set aglets.

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