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Life in Community

Bruderhof Discovery Channel, Part 2: A Man Found a Treasure

June 20, 2017 by

England is a land of antiquity and in my last post I told about some amazing finds by our students in the Beech Grove school.

In the past two years the students and I have discovered history deeper in the ground of our local fields and pastures. The reason: our school acquired a metal detector. New possibilities have opened up to us. Historical treasures buried in the ground reappear after centuries in hiding. Together we go fishing in the dirt.

We set the detector on nonferrous metals so we do not dig for every iron nail we pass. When I get a quality signal, we dig out a shovelful from the spot.

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Ben makes the plunge

Ben makes the plunge. (TC)

Then the students take our proximity hand probe, which beeps within two inches of the metal artefact. Often there is a whoop and a holler – another coin! “How old, do you think?” Ben, of giant pumpkin fame, especially enjoys this occupation.

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Ben pulls out another coin

Ben pulls out another coin. (TC)

We do have to wade through the World War II mortar fins, bullets, and shrapnel, but then older history gratifyingly appears. Roman coins with still-discernible busts of ancient Caesars (and their wives) remind us that even the mighty Romans dropped things. Dozens of delicate bronze thimbles and lead spindle whorls from Roman to medieval times attest to much handwork done by the ladies of old.

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Silver Roman Antoninianus Coin

Silver Roman Antoninianus Coin, Otacilia Severa, wife of Philip I, AD 244-249 (Found by Kara, age 5, good eyes, near to the ground!) KENT-968E29 (MM)

 

We found a rare hammered silver Henry III coin from AD 1247 and another hammered silver Edward I, c.1302-1315, that have been buried in our cow pasture for 700 years.

A bronze memory ring, embossed with a leaf motif and the word MIZPAH, indicates a Jewish presence in this area during post-medieval years.

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Medieval Mizpah Ring

Medieval Mizpah Ring (C. Borg) (MM)

Bronze cast Crotal harness bells ring once again after silently lying in the ground since the 1600s. As we clean off the dirt, each student always hopes to be the first to give voice back to these long-silenced bells.

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Postmedieval Crotal Bell

Post-medieval (c. 1500-1800) Crotal Bell KENT-B2EC4D. Used with the permission of the Portable Antiquities Scheme and Kent County Council. (PAS)

 

A post-medieval Nuremberg jetton of Hans Schultes III (German jetton master in 1608) came out of the ground in fine condition. Jettons were used for calculating business transactions on a chequer board. The obverse inscription - GLVCK KVMBT VON GOT ALEIN – means “Prosperity comes from God alone.” Sound familiar? It’s a forerunner to “In God we trust” on modern American currency.

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Nuremberg jetton of Hans Schultes III

Nuremberg jetton of Hans Schultes III (c. 1608- 1612) KENT-453078. (MM)

Through other finds, a silver shilling and a silver farthing from 1817 and 1818, we learned an amusing physiognomy detail about the English king at that time. These are called “bullhead” coins because old King George III had such a thick neck.

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1817 George III Silver Bull Shilling

1817 George III Silver Bull Shilling (MM)

Recently we unearthed a medieval bronze seal matrix from the 1300s which was used for making wax seals on documents. It portrays the head of a bearded man in a bowl. The seal’s legend reads “*CAPV D IOHIS⌣” which translates to “head of John,” referring to the decapitated John the Baptist. Medieval seal experts Harvey and McGuinness attribute anonymous personal seals of this form to the fourteenth century, and cite “Caput Johannis” as one of the pious phrases commonly employed. An abbot making a sacred promise might have said, “I will stamp that by the head of John.”

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A medieval bronze seal c 1300

A medieval bronze seal, c. 1300 KENT-0198A9 (MM)

Our best find, however, is a sixteen-carat gold Georgian fob seal from the 1790s with a black onyx gemstone and the initials “ESP” engraved next to a helmeted bust of a young man. This is the Georgian identity stamp of some landed gentry or nobility. Did it fall off his fob chain while out on a foxhunt? With local historians we are still pursuing what the initials might stand for; searches of local family names have yielded no clues. How far did this man ride before he crossed our Kentish field?

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a Georgian seal matrix

Georgian seal matrix c. 1714-1850 (C. Borg, A. Manke, Z. Maendel) KENT-D8D25B (MM)

Last October, my son Arlo made a two week visit to the UK, and while out on his first detecting walk he had beginner’s luck, finding a large bronze Roman coin and then this hammered silver Edward III groat, c. AD 1354. The outer circle reads, “I have made God my Helper.”

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Edward III groat

Edward III groat, c. 1354, (MM)

A fisherman at heart, Arlo caught this new obsession, and on his second pass of a recently ploughed field out came a heraldic personal seal c.1250–1325. It reads in reverse, “S’ TOVMAS DE CAV(N?)E,” which translates as “seal of Tomas of Ca_ _ e“ It likely relates to the variably spelled family name Caune/Cawne or Chawne. One family bearing this name is known to be operating in the South-East of England during this very time period. Experts are rigorously pursuing the heraldry with the help of the Royal College of Arms and a number of documents from the time period that may bear its impression. The jury is still out, but could this Sir Tomas be the same knight and sheriff charged with keeping law and order just across the Thames in Essex? Did he lose his seal while in pursuit of a felon making a dash for the coast? Historical clues like this are wonderful stuff!

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Heraldic personal seal

Heraldic personal seal, c.1250-1325 (Arlo Meier) (MM)

Portable Antiquities Scheme tells me they have only about 5000 recorded seals from all of the United Kingdom, 500 of which were found in Kent. Of these, only one quarter are legible. Here, we’ve found three in the space of a year. How cool is that? A Georgian gold seal, a monastic seal, and a personal heraldic seal.

The list of our finds goes on and on: musket balls and cannon balls (Civil War era, 1600s), buckles, brooches, rings, spoons, tokens. Harness brass and old horse shoes. Each tells a story of the inhabitants of the land we presently stand on, walk on, and farm. Without doubt, this is a land with intriguing tales to tell.

Our most recent find is a silver Iron Age coin that has just been validated as an early Roman Republic denarius. It has “Victory in the Prow” on the obverse and a quadriga (four horses) with chariot on the reverse side. This would date this early Roman coin to 130 BC.

The New Testament makes several reference to silver denarii: the Good Samaritan left two denarii towards the cost of the robbed man’s room and board, and Judas was paid with thirty silver denarii.

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Victory on the prow obverse quadriga

Victory on the prow (obverse), quadriga (reverse) c. 130 BC, KENT-C6ACF6 (MM)

Every time I go out with the students and we find a new historical treasure, we whoop and high five. One of these days we hope to strike gold: just five miles down the road, the Ringlemere Cup, a Bronze Age gold vessel valued at £270,000, was discovered by a metal detectorist in a potato field. It’s just like going fishing; you might only catch a minnow this time, but there is a historical whale out there waiting to be caught. It’s only a matter of time, luck, and enthusiasm.

For us the parable in Matthew 13:44 has taken on new meaning. It likens the kingdom of God to treasure hidden in a field. Paraphrased it goes, “A man found a treasure hidden in a field; he bought the whole field for joy!” We know that euphoric thrill of discovering something very precious hidden in the ground.

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Ben running through the field after Mario who is using the metal detector

He bought the whole field for joy! (TC)

Again, we are grateful to members of Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS), a voluntary government-run reporting group, who help us properly identify and record the provenance of the artefacts we find.


Did you miss Part 1?

The thoughts above are those of an amateur enthusiast, not a trained archaeologist; please help me correct any factual errors I might have made. Although I recently moved back to the United States, students and staff at Beech Grove will continue their discovery of history.

Photo credits: The Portable Antiquities Scheme and Kent County Council/The Trustees of the British Museum (PAS), Tim Clement (TC), Mario Meier (MM)

And lastly, here's a short slideshow of Ben going out detecting.

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Mario Meier

Mario Meier

Mario Meier and his wife, Robin, are parents of four grown children, and grandparents of two. They live at the Rondout...

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