How to read land?

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Easylife
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How to read land?

Post by Easylife » Wed Oct 04, 2017 1:05 am

I could not find any good information on this subject, so I thought it might be of interest or beneficial to many if there was a post about reading land as to the more likely productive areas for finds. All our search areas are different but all hints and tips from experience would be of interest and no doubt benefit to many, especially when trying to figure out any historic events of a particular search site. Old maps and records etc don't really go too far back.
I am no expert but have lots of queries about this in general and also relating to a pasture permission of mine which shows to be previously undetected.
You can have a good productive field and the one next door is virtually barren apart from some trash, yeah, field use, but it seems a weird experience that doesn't quite fully add up.
Medieval deep ridge and furrow areas with very few targets but no medieval finds, maybe they were too poor to have anything to lose?
The ground is very dense so I guess items would find it very difficult to sink very far.
I've mainly had finds going back to 19th Century so far over maybe 60 hrs detecting partially over 200+ acres, with very few older finds, though the land has always been there!
Maybe the further back we go, less people to lose stuff so less finds?
This particular permission covers the main prominent hill in the area with a chalky brook beside, though a fairly sparsely populated area really, what is the likelihood of there being any purposely buried, votive or otherwise targets around the summit area? I need some good rain before allowed to search there though.
Back on main topic. :D
Do you generally find more good finds closer to tracks, paths, roads etc, rather than open areas? I notice that some avoid close to hedges whereas others make good finds there. Field gates should in theory be a good find spots but I generally find to be the worst areas for trash also, like the farmer has tipped the rubbish there and then dragged it into the field it usually seems.
I always assume that flattish higher ground near a water source may be a possible site of previous occupation. And land closer to occupation is logically likely to be more productive.
There is of course no logic to random casual losses and no definitive answer to the above but interesting to know of others finds patterns or experiences all the same. I know that many on here could add to this with their many years of experience. ::g


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Re: How to read land?

Post by thefiggis » Wed Oct 04, 2017 6:27 am

Great subject for a thread ::g

I've not been detecting for long so have no vast hoard of knowledge but I do have an observation concerning hedges and old footpaths, both existing and historic, on the permissions I have. While there are finds to be had on them, some of my best finds have come from just off them. I've made a habit of detecting a 10-metre strip either side of, say, an old footpath or hedgeline, and this has proven very productive. Bear in mind that old maps may not be particularly accurate and in any case the course of the footpath may have changed bit-by-bit over the years.

In the case of footpaths, in wet conditions these would have become muddy and users would have moved off to the side. I also look for possible shortcuts people might have taken and, again, this has paid off.

Looking forward to hearing from others on this subject.
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Re: How to read land?

Post by Pastmember01 » Wed Oct 04, 2017 7:40 am

Good topic.
When I first started I assumed the finds would be where people lost them. But then if you think of the number of buttons then there would be a lot of field workers with their trousers round their ankles!
In a discussion with Stuart Elton (our resident seal expert and I hope he doesn't mind the quote) he said, "Before the 20th century all rubbish was thrown onto the midden heap, which was used as compost on the farmers' fields, hence we find so many strange items out there. 'Dung money' is a term used to describe the hammered coins that are found on farmland that has been fertilised with the straw that was thrown on the roads of towns in the days of horse drawn transport to mop up the poo and mud. Anyone dropping a coin was likely to loose it in the mess and the farmers were happy to harvest the 'manure' in exchange for fresh straw."
On one of my permissions there are definitely two areas where a range of artefacts come out but have no real rhyme or reason for the location except for the above explanation.
It doesn't account for everything but it's more to throw in to the mix.

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Re: How to read land?

Post by Saffron » Wed Oct 04, 2017 10:52 am

Excellent subject.

As metal detectorists one way to look at it is what causes the finds we make, I break this down into 3 classes -
1) Casual losses by people working on or crossing the land
2) Spread on the land, eg Stuart's "dung money" or buttons in shoddy (shredded fibre of waste woollen cloth).
3) Hoards / offerings (I know they are different but see below for reason for combining).

So lets try and relate these to reading the land.
1) Casual losses by people working on or crossing the land.
a) Working on the land.
Normally the agricultural activities that needed the most manpower and time would be near a village - just check a map or your own area and you will see most ridge and furrow that had crops is near habitation rather than a distance from it. There was a recent thread about small fields producing more finds than large, but as was pointed out these were normally near the village while the larger ones for say sheep would be further away.
So for casual losses by people working the closer to habitation probably the better.
b) Crossing the land.
Obviously footpaths connected adjoining villages, often more directly then roads, also notice how many come into the village near churches where they would have been used by people from outlying farms to attend church (which most people would have many years ago).
Then you have old trackways and drovers routes that would also have been used for centuries.
Any of these are well worth searching. But as thefiggis said do not stick directly to the "official" line of the path as people would go either side to avoid boggy ground, and take shortcuts, so look either side of them.
In both of these cases people would often take shelter from heavy rain so under old trees can be a good place to try.
2) Spread on the land
Fields with crops would need more "fertiliser" than pasture so again these are likely to be nearer the habitation.
3) Hoards / offerings
What these should have in common is features in the landscape. For instance offerings were often made at springs. While if you buried a hoard you would want to be able to find it in the future!, so you would not choose the centre of a flat 100 acre field - I read an article the other day say about some finds that had been found near standing stones (check not scheduled!!).
The problem here is that often what were features in the past are no longer visible due to farming, drainage etc.

You also have to consider the terrain, take rivers -
A very small one would provide water for live stock and could easily be crossed. The source could be place for offerings, while the banks could contain a hoard.
A wide or deep one might be difficult to cross so look for old fords.
A large one on a flood plain could well have marsh or boggy ground near its banks which people would have avoided.

You mentioned gateways, I always find to much trash in them - but others have found good items that have been dropped by people climbing the gates, and hedgerows, I find ones near roads are always full of modern trash that has been thrown from passing cars but ones in open country can be more productive.

But there one big problem with reading land that has already been mentioned. With two identical looking adjacent fields one might be productive while the other is barren for no obvious reason.

So I suggest do your back ground research by looking at old maps and documents, study the ground and look for potentially good spots ....... then walk all over the permission because you just never know!!

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Re: How to read land?

Post by Easylife » Wed Oct 04, 2017 11:59 am

Well put Evan. We all ideally try to locate a hot-spots, whether the site of habitation, a meeting place etc which should have better finds. Some fields have distinct areas of coke which could be a sign of nearby habitation, but also may have just been spread on the land. I read that coke was not from steam tractors. Patches of small ferrous may be where a timber building once stood (or an oil drum rusted away). I noticed on one old map that many fields once contained a small building, possibly a timber store? I will check those areas out next time.
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Re: How to read land?

Post by oldartefact » Wed Oct 04, 2017 1:59 pm

One reason why a field one side of the hedge is full of stuff, and the field on the other side is empty, could be that I've done the one on the other side.. ::g ::g ::g

Seriously though there are two elements to reading land
1. Reading the landscape ...
2. reading the field ...
The two are linked but distinct, and different skills are needed for each.
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Re: How to read land?

Post by Easylife » Wed Oct 04, 2017 7:19 pm

oldartefact wrote:
Wed Oct 04, 2017 1:59 pm
One reason why a field one side of the hedge is full of stuff, and the field on the other side is empty, could be that I've done the one on the other side.. ::g ::g ::g
So it was you who cleared it of all the trash :)) :)) :))
oldartefact wrote:
Wed Oct 04, 2017 1:59 pm
Seriously though there are two elements to reading land
1. Reading the landscape ...
2. reading the field ...
The two are linked but distinct, and different skills are needed for each.
Yes, both interesting. Would you care to expand on that at all? ::g
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Re: How to read land?

Post by Koala » Wed Oct 04, 2017 9:21 pm

Lines of trees

Humps, bumps patches of different vegetation and so on.

Most hedges were removed or added around WW2

Old hedges tend to have more different species.

Big trees about a meter in diameter are normally less than 100 years old and so on.

I normally stay near roads and/or look at the horizon for dips and ridges.

But at the end of the day finds could be anywhere.

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Re: How to read land?

Post by tcawood » Wed Oct 04, 2017 9:26 pm

I've been contemplating this subject of late, and I quite enjoy the pre-digging research process, though as a complete newbie I am eagerly learning as much as I can. So before I start reading the land itself I go through the following.

Hopefully this is useful for other newbies.

Research
Old Maps
Websites like http://maps.nls.uk/geo/explore/side-by-side/ allows you to look at old maps for an area, in fact this site also shows the contemporary map side by side.
I look for the following things
  • Windmills - they were historical sites of activity and trade and most communities had them
  • Fords - shallow river crossing and the paths leading to them have good potential
  • Foot bridges - you sometimes see them marked on old maps but not on newer maps as road bridges have been built
  • Standing stone sites - The stones may have gone but if used for offerings the area may be worth a sweep
  • Highest point on landscape - Often used as lookout posts in times of conflict
  • Paths and Tracks - and as mentioned above, either side of the path as things bonce and roll
  • Gates and Stiles - Good call earlier re gates and trash, but I find Stiles to be a different proposition and the physicality of getting over one can often dislodge things
  • Sites of old Inns - Drunken people all over and lose things a lot
  • Previous buildings/industry - You'll sometimes see a company building on an old map that isn't on the contemporary one, can be good for coins but also industrial rubbish. Keep an eye out for abbreviations and Google them if you aren't sure e.g. Smy = Smithy which could be a horseshoe hotspot ;-)
  • River/Stream - Old water courses can be seen as well as current ones
  • Churches/Chapels - As mentioned above, sites of congregation, often peole attending in their 'best' clothes etc... Sun. Sch. also shows up on some maps and similar applies but with a great number of picnics ;-)
  • Wells - Often shown as W on old maps
  • Missing features - keep an eye out for things that show on old maps but that have gone missing on more recent ones, common sense should be applied to whether they may be good search spots.
LIDAR
Nope, I didn't know what it was until recently either, but it's a laser mapping tool that can be good for sub-soil features. https://www.lidarfinder.com/ shows LIDAR side by side with a current map.
LIDAR can be used to help spot land features that aren't necessarily obvious to the naked eye and may provide good starting points for detecting.
Aerial photos
Similar to LIDAR, can show features that aren't obvious from the ground, you can find them online, buy books with them in and use Google Earth to see images going back a few years. Again you are looking for features that suggest potential habitation or land use that's not visible today... the classic Saxon roundhouse from Timeteam!
Ask
The landowner/farmer etc often already know loads about their land, ask them and they can be a mine of useful knowledge, including where things have been found in the past.
Historical sources
Check local second-hand bookshops, Charity Shops, Amazon and Ebay for titles relating to your area. Also check out http://www.british-history.ac.uk/ and other online sources, see what comes up, look for when the area your detecting on is first mentioned in historical records, events through history, summer fayres and that sort of thing.

I think most of the in-field tips have been mentioned already, but remember that some of what you think you've found in the research may not pan out in the field - that's half the fun ;-)

All of the info above was gleaned from this and other foums, articles, books, Timeteam and some common sense... oh and a great series of articles on field archaeology in Treasure Hunting magazine.
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Re: How to read land?

Post by Easylife » Wed Oct 04, 2017 11:10 pm

I completely agree about people deviating from footpaths, I see it first hand on my pasture permission where they can be seen to walk anywhere including in other fields or following any field boundary even. Gateways and styles are the common points where they all had to pass though, quite a few coins are found in a direct line between them. Also there are public footpaths and private footpaths crossing land, so the busier public ones should have more losses, but not always. Then people go off the footpaths to have picnics etc. So a scattering with a few hotspots maybe. :D
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Re: How to read land?

Post by Easylife » Wed Oct 04, 2017 11:31 pm

How about close to parish boundaries? It is odd to see a sudden boundary deviation as if to capture a specific landmark or area which once must have had some importance. As a real example, a parish boundary follows the centre of a brook, it suddenly deviates north to capture a mill then back south of the brook to capture some farmland as if to compensate for the mill. After following the brook again, the exact same thing happens again, the parish boundary suddenly deviates north around another mill then south of the brook as if to compensate land before continuing to follow the brook again. It would appear that the parish to the south wanted control of the mills, maybe to tax them? Maybe the land presumably exchanged had significance? I don't know! Any ideas? :D
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Re: How to read land?

Post by oldartefact » Thu Oct 05, 2017 12:14 am

Easylife wrote:
Wed Oct 04, 2017 7:19 pm
oldartefact wrote:
Wed Oct 04, 2017 1:59 pm
One reason why a field one side of the hedge is full of stuff, and the field on the other side is empty, could be that I've done the one on the other side.. ::g ::g ::g
So it was you who cleared it of all the trash :)) :)) :))
oldartefact wrote:
Wed Oct 04, 2017 1:59 pm
Seriously though there are two elements to reading land
1. Reading the landscape ...
2. reading the field ...
The two are linked but distinct, and different skills are needed for each.
Yes, both interesting. Would you care to expand on that at all? ::g
Reading a Landscape https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Landscape_archaeology
Reading a field: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geophysic ... chaeology)
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Re: How to read land?

Post by Easylife » Thu Oct 05, 2017 12:22 am

Interesting, it all adds to the big picture ::g
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Re: How to read land?

Post by littleboot » Thu Oct 05, 2017 9:08 pm

Some excellent points made already....especially the point about footpaths deviating and changing their line. It gets muddy, or a tree falls down (in a time before chainsaws) and its easier to simply go around it. In a field they can move around quite a bit...after all it is open ground and the only things more or less fixed are the stiles.
Parish boundaries are another important one. Some are extremely old. Here in France it is the same. The majority of Communes created in the Revolution simply followed the same boundaries of the old Parish. It was just a handover from church/feudal power to civil power. Some of the boundaries go back into the first millennium AD. I recently found a Roman site by studying the map. Two short sections of straight intersecting road and a very odd peninsular of one old parish into what would be more logical to be in another. As if, as already said, it was purposely incorporating something that is no longer visible.

Some other points.....
Take a round tour of your permission/ field before you start. Anomalies in the landscape can suddenly become obvious when looked at from a different perspective. Ridges and dips for example. I take a compass and look out for south-east facing slopes. Most sheltered from prevailing wind and most likely place for a dwelling.

Water is a good starting point. It was essential to have a pond for watering livestock until piped water came along relatively recently.

Rocky terrain. Bear in mind that things have had centuries to sink. You do your research and then find nothing older than Vicky. It doesn't mean your theory was wrong....but more likely that the ground conditions are such that the goodies are out of range. The earth can seem dense enough yet a coin just sinking a centimeter every decade for 400 years....do the maths.
Rocky land, shallow bedrock, stops that process.

Hedges/ gateways etc can produce because some are old and some follow even older boundaries. Don't be put off by trashy ground with lots of signals. Learn to master your machine so that you can sort the wheat from the chaff. If you yield to the temptation to avoid all the chatter and digging in search of 'quieter' ground you are missing the point and missing lots of good stuff. Get stuck in, remove the trash and debris bit by bit and unmask the other stuff beneath.
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Re: How to read land?

Post by Easylife » Tue Oct 10, 2017 1:25 am

On my pasture permission I was aware of some brick type rubble around a field gateway which I had just assumed that the farmer had put there to help when it gets muddy. Just found out that it is from a 16th century watermill which stood just a few metres away, just goes to show! Will give that situation more thought next time. :D
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Re: How to read land?

Post by littleboot » Tue Oct 10, 2017 3:05 pm

That's great news about the watermill. It just goes to show that we can't take things for granted and make assumptions.
I find that alongside learning to recognize metal objects it pays to become knowledgeable about non-metal items. Knowing an approximate date of pot fragments is the obvious one.....but also being able to date things like bricks and tiles. I regularly pick 16th century brick pieces off the fields I detect. Also flints that have been shaped for walls. Stone that has been worked, etc etc.
Any mill is a good place to detect. It will have seen money change hands.
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Re: How to read land?

Post by Oxgirl36 » Wed Oct 11, 2017 12:34 am

Some superb points above. Just a couple of other things to consider. Firstly old field names. In my area there is a Mill field and a Hall Close - guess where the mill and the medieval hall were situated? And look at old footpaths. If they converge in the middle of a field something was going on.

And ask yourself if you needed wood, water and somewhere to grow crops with a low risk of being flooded or ambushed by some marauding army where would you chose? There's a reason most Roman sites are on the south side of a hill, re-using much earlier settlements. :D
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Re: How to read land?

Post by littleboot » Thu Oct 12, 2017 10:15 pm

Yes indeed. Our house is built into a south-east facing slope and it is thus sheltered from the wind and gets the morning sun. Like a micro-climate out the front and always 5 or more degrees warmer than just a hundred metres up the lane.
We have SamianWare coming up in the garden. It was a good place to live then too.....and of course they had the choice.
Good point about field names. Some need a bit of lateral thinking....Stoney Field or similar references can often refer to a field that has had occupation on it a long time ago and therefore building rubble.
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Re: How to read land?

Post by Easylife » Fri Oct 13, 2017 9:11 pm

Some great posts above. When trying to guess a landscape feature remember not to get too focused on your assumption in case it is wrong. Try to keep a completely open mind unless there is some definite evidence.
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Re: How to read land?

Post by liamnolan » Sat Nov 11, 2017 12:45 pm

Evan especially and others have summed things up well. Don't ignore your "inner thoughts" when checking out a new field. We are all attuned in some way to the rest of mother Earth and some who are sensitive enough can "feel" a sense of what has happened on land a long time ago. People come and go over endless years but I believe they can leave some sort of trace behind. How many times have you been drawn towards a certain part of a field, or felt completely at home on detecting a field that others have ignored because nothing comes up? Detecting success can be as much about sensitivity of the mind as sensitivity of the machine.
Votive offerings - these were placed in specific areas chosen to appease the Gods and may have been spots that tribes had frequented many times. For those ancestors the places held a bit of magic and so perhaps we may also still have a glimmer within our souls of that long lost magic!
Its a bit like why certain people can find lost rings etc for people and others cannot, you get a feel for the items and then your mind will take you in the right direction.
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Re: How to read land?

Post by Koala » Mon Jan 15, 2018 2:07 am

Could be coincidence but

I tend to find medieval in boggy low areas
(except coins which tend to in a straight line in one area)

And roman towards the top.

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