Mack Williams: Relics discovered using metal detector – Salisbury Post

Many people like to find old “relics” in antique stores; but recently my son, Jeremy, instead of walking through the doors of an antique shop, went straight down into the dirt in search of “antiques”.

The site was the small parking lot in dire need of repairs next to the law firm where Jeremy works as an investigator. Instead of investigating people, this time he was using his metal detector to investigate things that were left behind by people years ago (but that’s also “evidence”!). Of course, he had the lot owner’s prior approval. Jeremy surmised, after looking at old town plans of Danville, that several buildings had come and gone there; and also, during those times when the place was not occupied by a building, it probably became an “urban dump”. And, just like in the Holy Land (well, not exactly), the most recently discarded items were near the top, with the older stuff lower down.

Jeremy’s subsequent digging work was aided by a Public Works man using a backhoe who had removed the crumbling old paving. Before that, time and the “gentle push” of plants pushing through the cracks had widened those cracks even further! The horsetail rush “Equisetum” had found a welcoming habitat there, reaching a human size. But it was still very shy of its “Calamites” ancestor, which could grow up to 30 feet tall, with a “trunk” a foot wide. But that was millions of years ago; so, let me go back to the period from the late 1800s to about the middle of the 20th century, which is the age that Jeremy believed to be his discoveries.

Among the glass objects Jeremy found were an intact Danville Coca Cola bottle, a NuGrape soda bottle, as well as wine bottles and many other old containers, whole and fragmentary. One bottle bore the name molded in glass, “Bireley’s”. At its peak (1930s), it contained only 6 3/4 ounces of orange juice. I guess stomachs were much smaller then (inside and out).

Another of the items Jeremy found was a 10-12 inch ceramic jar lid. It looked like the top of a long-lost cookie jar; but the rest never came. It was as if “The Hands of Time” had taken the lid off the cookie tin, but misplaced the container (with the cookies).

One of the more unusual objects was reed-shaped, made of metal and marked with the letter “G”. Jeremy thought it was too small to be the “note part” of a harmonica, but rather, “squeeze-box” size. Sir Arthur Sullivan of “Gilbert & Sullivan” composed the ever-popular “The Lost Chord”; and I like to refer to this element that Jeremy found as the “literally lost note”.

I looked at a few there, finding a few bottles, an old ceramic can lid insert, a few pieces of a ceramic bowl or mug with some remaining painted flowers on it, etc. I saw something round sticking out of the dug up and piled up ground; and when I extracted it, to my surprise, I was holding the handle fragment of an old drinking mug. It was almost as if the handle of the cup was waiting there for me to take it!

Not far from the handle of the cup was a hole in the ground, about 2 inches wide, from which a single hornet emerged; but I knew there were many more below! Sometimes, and by chance, paleontologists are aided by fire ants dredging up ancient rodent bones encountered while building their nests. But as for the help of the fire ant or the hornet, I would refuse both!

About the old wine bottle I found, Jeremy said it may date from the late 1800s due to the texture of the glass and the construction of its lower “dimple”. The top was broken off and the bottle was filled with dirt and a few dozen long dead snail shells! I left the dirt and snails inside, thinking throwing them away would be like desecrating a grave. And by the way, when I look at the spiraling shells of those snails, buried in that old bottle of wine, I remember some of my evenings as a student of Appalachia in the early 1970s.

Much of the mystique (or rather the “science”) of metal detectors is that people use them to find coins. Among the metal objects, Jeremy found square-headed nails and other corroded iron objects; but curiously, he only found one piece with his metal detector! It was; however, a penny from 1929! I remember my first reading about the “great stock market crash of 1929” when I was at Granite Quarry School. During this heartbreaking event, people lost thousands and millions of dollars! Looking at the penny found by Jeremy in 1929, I realized I was looking at a very small portion of that earlier money, in this case, “physically” lost money.

The small car park is now re-tarred. Anything that Jeremy didn’t find, and to a much lesser extent I’ll have to wait for a day in the future when others can have as exciting a time as we did! It was like a “backtrack” from the sidewalk, leading to a brief moment of discovery before a “recovery”. Even though our search was below ground level, it reminded me of a long term comet, seen in the sky for a comparative moment in a lifetime.

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