Le blog de Jean-David Desforges

Digging history: Metal-detecting takes Q-C enthusiast to historic dig

27 Janvier 2015 , Rédigé par Jean-David Desforges Publié dans #Pressions sur le patrimoine

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When Frank Juarez got a metal detector, it brought him a lot more than lost pocket change and the occasional bauble. It opened a door to history.

And that door recently led him to work alongside archaeologists in Virginia at a dig at the estate of our fourth president and “Father of the Constitution” James Madison.

Juarez retired from Case IH in East Moline in 2004 and started metal-detecting in 2005.

“I joined Iowa and Illinois Treasure Hunters Club; we meet the first Thursday of every month,” he says. “I actually started so I wouldn’t gain weight. I just needed something to do. I also do a little fishing. If I’m not doing one, I’m doing the other.”

“At this time of the year, (club members) are doing research, looking for sites and tracking down property owners,” he says. “In the spring, we will go out and ask permission to (use metal detectors) on the property. It’s probably our number one rule: we always have permission to be on the property. We try to get out before the farmers put their crops in or after they get them out. Some of these fields used to be cities or towns. It’s pretty interesting stuff.”

Juarez says it’s customary for metal detector enthusiasts to offer the property owners anything found on their property; often it ends up going to local historical outfits.

“We just want it to get it out of the ground,” Juarez says. “A lot of the fertilizers and chemicals farmers use on their fields really eats things like coins up. This history belongs where people can see it. We say ‘we dig up the past for the future.’ ”

The club, which has about 100 members, also does service projects, raising donations for shelters or taking kids out and letting them do a little treasure hunting.

“Saint Mark’s (Evangelical Lutheran Church) has a campground and we have the kids come out. It’s a blast,” he says. “We have ice cream and pop; we bury a few coins so they can have the fun of finding something. They make us cards; you look at some of them and just have to laugh. It’s a good time.”

One of the more interesting things Juarez has found is the guts to a wind-up Civil War-era timepiece. His “hunting buddy” Darwin Gillespie, of Port Byron, found a Civil War-era breastplate on a hunt in Kentucky.

“He’s the luckiest guy I know,” Juarez says. “That was a bucket-list find. He was so excited. It was beautiful. It was one of the best things he’s ever found.”

Last November, Juarez, Gillespie and Chuck Smalley, of Cordova, traveled to James Madison’s Montpelier Estate in Virginia to work alongside a team of archaeologists studying the grounds. Juarez’s $750 tuition was paid by a scholarship from MineLab, after he wrote a 500-word essay about why he wanted to be at the dig. MineLab makes high-end metal detectors.

“I just told them about why I thought recording this history was important,” Juarez says.

At the site, they dug with the archaeologists, using scrapers and sifters to recover the items. Juarez found a stone arrowhead and Gillespie found the base of a glass goblet bottle.

“They have a map that shows a record of where everything was recovered,” says Juarez. “There was also a classroom portion that went over how they do the work. They had a sheet listing the different kinds of nails and when they were used, so you could come up with a date on the structure by what kind of nails you found. It was really interesting.”

MineLab got involved because the expertise of skilled metal-detectorists fits the needs of many archaeological research projects on historic sites.

“It was a great trip, and it’s open to anyone who likes history,” Juarez says. “I would encourage people to do it.”

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