Identifying Metal Detecting Artefacts

11th May 2015 — 11 Comments

© Mrs. John

This post – a few suggestions for doing basic post-research on your finds – is mainly designed for newcomers to the hobby. When you start making interesting looking finds you naturally want to know more about them. What is the object you’ve found? How and when was it used. etcetera?

For many detectorists, carrying out simple research can be as interesting and exciting as unearthing the object in the first place.

The word RESEARCH consists of two syllables. The prefix RE means AGAIN and the verb SEARCH means to EXAMINE CLOSELY. And that is what you are advised to do, look just a little closer at the object you have found. Your search for knowledge starts here. So, how do you go about it?


Crotal Bell

First, I advise you to join a local detecting and/or attend organised digs. Both places are ideal venues for meeting like-minded people. You will also find many detectorists who will be only too pleased to share their vast experience by giving help and advice on your finds. Be prepared to be astounded by the wealth and breadth of knowledge available and also pleasantly surprised to discover that your object is something significant after all!

This is just a beginning. Many detecting finds are common and relying on others to identify your find may not be what you regard as pure research, but it will provide the catalyst for you to go further and find out more. It may be your first introduction to the term ‘crotal bell’, for instance, but your new-found knowledge will enable you do meaningful Google searches using that phrase.

The story about an unremarkable piece of copper elsewhere in this blog shows how research on what appears to be a mundane find, can prove to be so fascinating. It’s worth repeating . . . when you first start detecting, never throw anything away until you are absolutely sure it is just a piece of dross.

Your local Finds Liaison Officer (FLO) may attend the club or digs you attend and will also provide an identification service, taking the more interesting items and recording them on the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) database. If this isn’t the case, the United Kingdom Detecting Finds Database (UKDFD) provides a similar service which may be easier for you.

You could also register on an on-line detecting forum. There are several around and your new-found friends from the club or digs will be able to recommend a good one to join. You may be able to get identifications and also chat with like-minded people as well as joining in lively debate . . . but not always on detecting related subjects!

REFERENCE MATERIAL – Contact or visit a detector dealer to see the vast range of books available on helping you to recognise and identify your general detecting finds. There is a large choice available and as a beginner, it is the book which shows pictures or a graphical representation of artefacts that may be most useful. A fine visual guide (for example) is Benet’s Artefacts by Paul Murawski, priced at about £30. Benet’s is not an academic study, but shows clear coloured photographs and gives brief descriptions of artefacts ranging from the Stone Age through to the Tudor period.

The enthusiastic and dedicated beginner is eventually going to find silver hammered coins. The second book I recommend is Coins of England and the United Kingdom by Spink, which is the standard catalogue of British coins, also priced at about £30. This book is the only single-volume reference work which features every major coin type from Celtic to the present day and is considered an essential reference for all detectorists, not just beginners. Cheaper copies of previous editions are available from places like Amazon or fellow detectorists who have purchased the latest version.


Check in Spinks! Henry VIII Halfgroat issue date 1526 – 1544. Found by JW in Buckinghamshire ©

At this stage in the hobby, I don’t recommend that you spend a lot of money on books, because later you may decide to specialise in certain finds, choosing the book to suit your interest. For example, button buffs can purchase Brian Read’s definitive guide, Metal Buttonsor his compendium on clothes fasteners Hooked-Clasps & Eyes. Both come highly recommended. 

Whether your interest is in buckles, buttons, crotal bells or clothes fasteners, there is likely to be a book on the subject, but you don’t have always have to pay for all the information. For example, Chris Marshall’s research on buckles may be a few years old, but is still consulted by many of today’s researchers. The work can be found on the Net and you are able to print out the drawings and text for future reference. Chris’ only stipulation is that the information should be free and not sold in any form. Download the buckle pages from where they are hosted on the UKDFD:

Some detecting clubs will have guest speakers who are often experts in their particular field. Look out for them! Whatever your interest, be inquisitive, ask questions and explore every avenue!

Good Searching!



Congratulations to Mackenzie Crook on being awarded his SECOND BAFTA for DETECTORISTS!



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11 responses to Identifying Metal Detecting Artefacts

  1. Thanks for sharing yet another great piece

  2. Thank you for such an informative article John. One year into the hobby and info such as this helps considerably
    Regards – Paul

  3. Love your blogs John, not being very experienced myself I never feel out of place reading them. There is (like this post) something for everyone and always very interesting and informative. Keep up the good work…….now where’s that pinpointer again……….damn it’s Monday morning already…….work. Have a great week John

  4. Sound advice and will certainly help to resolve some of the bewilderment of how to go about recognising what the new starters to metal detecting finds are all about.

  5. Very nice and I like the shout-out to Mr. Crook for his great work on Detectorists. You are fortunate to know him and had the pleasure of interviewing him.

  6. good read as always

  7. Another quality read John, and hats off to Mr Crook !

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