As seen in the July 2003 edition of W&ET Magazine
A Search For Woodland Time Capsules
By: Ed Fedory
Sitting here, still in the grips of a seemingly endless winter, my thoughts turn to that first hunt of the season, only a few short weeks away. I know you're reading this in the July issue, but as I'm writing it the snow is still on the ground. However, the river ice is starting to move south with the outgoing tide, the red-winged blackbirds have returned, and I actually saw a wooly bear caterpillar moving in the sun yesterday. The last snowstorm was on Thursday, and Friday morning's temperature was only 9*, but how far off can spring be? Soon
I've got a couple of hot leads for that first hunt, and heading into the woods is something my boots are itching to do. It's been far too long, and while it's kind of hard to think about metal detecting and relic hunting when you haven't seen any open ground since Thanksgiving, the day is coming. At least that's what they tell me.
Far from the fields of battle, this Civil War eagle breast plate was found near the remains of an old dwelling on the river's edge.
Finding cellar holes has never been much of a problem, especially living in a rural community within a rock's throw of a large river. This area in upstate New York has been populated for over 300 years, and if you were to count the number of original homes that are still standing from those early Colonial times, it would be no great task. You wouldn't have to take your socks off to make the final count!
Old buckles and early coppers are just a couple of the interesting finds to be made around the sites of early dwellings.
You can never tell what is going to come from the ground surrounding such sites. You can always count on some early coins, and more than your fair share of eating utensils, but I wouldn't have expected to see two shako plates from the War of 1812 surface at two different sites. I would have expected the requisite number of brass curtain rings and some drawer pulls, but I wouldn't have expected a Confederate Block "I" button, or a French & Indian War bayonet to see the light of day after being interred for so many years
Rarely does a cellar hole appear this open or this clean. Many times you'll find just a depression in the ground and a few scattered stones.
You needn't have attended any MENSA conventions to search around old cellar holes, but there are a few tricks and techniques I've used over the years that might make your first couple of attempts a little less frustrating and a lot more successful. To veteran hunters, some of these tips will appear as little more than common sense, and for that I will beg your indulgence, but I wouldn't stop reading just yet. It's said that "even a blind pig can sometimes find an acorn (insert truffle if you happen to be of the French persuasion)," because I just might have an angle or two which you've yet to add to your bag of cellar hole tricks.
We threw a bunch of old limbs over the top of this early stone-lined well so we wouldn't fall in, or break a leg, while engrossed in the hunt.
Some of the older roads will seem to have disappeared on the modern maps, but they are still there. They'll have a totally different appearance these days. They'll be brush and tree encroached and may appear to be little more than a wide dirt trail. Any bridges that may have once spanned the streams over the course of the old road will have disappeared by now, leaving only their stone-faced abutments. The homes that once lined their path will remain only as weed-choked stone foundations.
Packing Your Kit
This old hand-forged hoe was found on the site of a cellar hole, and displays rivets used in its repair well over a century ago.
Some of the sites you will search will invariably have seen a metal detector before. Working slowly and enduring certain frustrations on such sites will often pay off. Many previous hunts may have been short, and thus only the surface of the site's potential has been touched. Even experienced cellar hole searchers leave something in the ground for those who come after.