By: Vincent C. Pascucci
I had been detecting for a couple of hours in a large park in the small city in which I was born. With several acres of park surrounded by mid to late 19th century homes, one would expect to have come up with something of interest. Researching the area, I had previously found an 1850s woodcut print of the park. Although now it was just grass and mature maple and oak trees, long ago it had been much more. The woodcut, depicting a typical Sunday in the park in the mid-19th century, showed carriage paths, carriages filled with people, a small lake, and a gazebo with a band surrounded by an audience sitting on the grass. This was clear evidence of the potential of the site.
Unfortunately, this outing turned up only new coins, with nothing of interest in the way of older finds. In the past I had pulled a few interesting finds from the site: Indian Head cents, Buffalo nickels, and a few newer silver dimes. However, it could hardly be called productive given the site's size and history. I knew the site had been hunted often in the past. Clubs from towns 30 miles away had come to detect it more than once. Apparently, they had done a fairly good job.
A few years ago I wrote a book called Metal Detecting Previously Detected Sites, published by White's Electronics. This particular park is one mentioned in the book. It has grudgingly provided me with some finds, but it has always required the use of many of the techniques discussed in the book. Others have found it equally challenging. I've taken friends there on various occasions to see if different equipment or individual techniques might help. All have found that the park requires all their effort to locate the targets left behind. Even with maximum effort, some have left empty-handed.
When I wrote the book, I took the narrow perspective that a "site" was a defined, specific location. This park met that perspective and was quite clearly previously detected. But since writing the book I've found that people often extend their perception of a previously searched location from individual sites to areas with many sites. When they find a park which is pretty well picked clean, like the one I had been hunting, they assume that all sites within the area ("area" being generally every place within an hour's drive) are picked clean. They say things like, "There's no place left to hunt around here. It's all been done." They assume that whoever did such a good job of emptying the big, obvious sites would also have been skilled enough to search every possible nearby location. As a result, they go looking for new areas at greater distance in which to find untouched territory. Or worse, they simply stop looking altogether.
With the realization that some people view the issue of "hunted out" as an area effect rather than site by site, it seemed the issue of how to be successful when detecting previously hunted areas was also important. All the techniques for individual sites still come into play, but added to these is success in finding overlooked sites in otherwise well detected areas. What is interesting is that such places don't have to be sites off the beaten path, out of view, or requiring hours of research to track down. Some are easily accessible and in plain sight. They just are not quite so obvious as other potential detecting sites or, perhaps more likely, their potential is underestimated. In either case, these plainly visible and easily accessible sites are often automatically dismissed as either unlikely ever to have had anything to find, or long since hunted out if they ever did.
So, what does all this have to do with the large park and its few finds? Well, leaving the park, as I drove through town on my way home, I passed by a nondescript site just three blocks from the park that had been detected so thoroughly. This site clearly was in an area that might have been subjected to extensive detecting in the past, as evidenced by the nearby park. However, it was different enough from "normal" sites that perhaps it had been overlooked.
The site could be considered a small park, but would more accurately be described as an overgrown street median. I had always wanted to spend a few minutes there, figuring that would be all it would take to cover the whole area. It is an odd little plot. The main avenue is a few degrees off being perpendicular with the side streets, and the house lots were allowed to angle slightly across the front to accommodate this. But between two particular side streets, the lots had been kept perfectly rectangular. To achieve this, a short street at a slight angle to the main avenue, and perpendicular to the two side streets, was added between the two side streets. This formed a wedge-shaped area of grass perhaps 200' long, expanding from 20' wide at one end to perhaps 30' at the other. There were a few trees probably dating back 50 to 100 years, and the surrounding homes dated from the late 19th to early 20th century.
The setting was certainly enticing, but the size of the site suggested that it likely had seen little use as a park. Yet it should be remembered that we look at such places from an early 21st century perspective. Fifty or more years ago, though, things looked a little different. In those days people did not have 50 TV channels for entertainment, and there were no video games and computers to occupy their time. Keep in mind, too, that city homes had only small lawns on which kids could play. Even a small grassy area adjacent to a few homes would provide a place for kids to congregate, and for adults to informally socialize on a warm summer evening.
Despite all this, as I passed by the site for the umpteenth time in so many years, I wondered, as most other detectorists likely would have, just how many finds such a small area could ever have contained. Also, considering that I had waited years to get around to detecting it, plenty of others had already had the same opportunity before me. What could possibly be left? I decided I would answer those questions the next morning.
Bright and early- well, early at least- the next morning I arrived at the little park, or large median, as the case may be. As I often do, I began a meandering course through the little site to see if any particular area stood out as better than others. It wasn't long before I turned up a Wheat cent. This is always a positive sign as it shows both the potential for some older finds and the possibility that the site was not hunted to depletion in the past.
A few minutes later, nearing the curb along the main avenue, I picked up a good "half dollar" signal on the older Eagle Spectrum I still use. Being near a curb, though, this type of signal can often be some large piece of metal swept in from the street, so I wasn't unduly excited. I began to probe for the target, and sure enough, the Spectrum had it right. Up came a 1906 Barber half. The little plot was suddenly looking quite interesting.
As I continued my wandering explorations, more Wheat cents surfaced with a little encouragement from my trowel. It was becoming clear that there was a reasonably good density of finds at the site, and this caused me to shift into a patterned search of the location. I spent the next two hours working a longitudinal pattern, covering the small area in detail. The take was fairly good given the limited area. In addition to numerous Wheat cents and the Barber half, my better finds that day included a Mercury dime and three silver Washington quarters.
I returned to the site a few weeks later and covered it again, this time in a pattern perpendicular to the length of the site. Among the additional targets turned up were a 1934 Mercury dime, a silver Roosevelt dime, and a 1902 "V" nickel. The little median had really provided a good concentration of finds. It is likely that I was the first person to search it, at least with anything resembling a modern metal detector. I found this very interesting considering that just three blocks away, the large, old park had been so thoroughly covered by others before me. Apparently, none of those who had hunted the park had ventured over to the little median.
Now, I should backtrack a little bit and give credit to a friend for some of the success I've described here. As I mentioned, I had known about this little spot for many years and had considered hunting it in the past, but I had always felt there were better spots to try. So, what finally spurred me to check out this little site? A few weeks earlier, my friend had been detecting a similar site in another city. In this case, the area was a more typical grass median dividing two lanes of a street running through an older section of town containing homes dating back to the 18th century. His finds were admittedly few, but they were certainly of interest: one old musketball, one Indian Head cent, and an 1809 Capped Bust half dollar. Knowing that such targets might be waiting in these small, overlooked grassy areas between streets is the kind of thing that encourages a serious searcher to take a second look at them. I definitely wasn't disappointed when I finally decided to act on my hunch that the little site I'd been driving past for years deserved a closer look. Maybe it's time to do the same in your town, too.