Local metal detectorist finds important relic in local fields

  Posted: 09.06.21 at 08:26 by The Editor

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A local metal detector has discovered an interesting find in fields between Radstock and Frome - a very rare, perfectly preserved, medieval pilgrim's ampulla.

Katy Harris, who has been detecting for three years told Nub News : " I didn't know what it was when I dug it up, I could see that it had some medieval markings on it but I have, in the past, dug up some things with those kind of markings which are modern, so I wasn't completely sure. I took it home, washed it very carefully and took a closer look.

" I took some photos and uploaded them onto a metal detecting page to show to the experts and that was when it became exciting. "

Dated around the 12th to the 14th century

So firstly it is exciting because of its age, but as Katy explained: " I have found lots of interesting things before, but even when it was identified I hadn't appreciated quite how interesting the find was.

"That is because the marking on the ampulla - which is the size of a very small purse - is a clue to where it came from and therefore where the pilgrim had visited before returning home to Frome.

Katy Harris has been metal detecting for three years

" What used to happen was that pilgrims would journey to a historic site or monument, would buy holy water or oil and then take it back their home or to the land they farmed and scatter it to ask for a blessing for a good harvest. They are usually found in a corner of a field or near a stream, and that is where I found it, in a field, close to Frome.

" Also what could sometimes happen would be that people would bury them with a gold coin inside. Sadly not in this case."

What is happening to the artefact now ?

" Each site would have its own unique design and marking and that would be inscribed on it, so I am currently liaising with the Somerset Museum to get it formally identified, so we can find out where the relic came from.

" It could be somewhere quite close like Avebury or Stonehenge, the pilgrim could have visited, or perhaps further afield. We just don't know. But it is in very good condition and things like this don't often get found with the markings intact."

What happens if you are lucky enough to find buried treasure?

Katy explains: " Anything you find while out detecting which might be interesting or you think might be worth something you have to let the Finds Liaison Officer know, they then liaise with the coroner to determine whether or not it is officially 'treasure'. What usually happens is that if it is of significant value, or interest, it gets sent to the British Museum. They decide if they want to buy it and the general rule of thumb is that the item is split 50/50 with the landowner.

" But I am not expecting to get rich from this. I did not take up metal detecting for that, I do it solely for enjoyment. I would love the British Museum to have the piece and having spoken to the landowner where I found it, we have agreed we just want it to go to a nice home where people can enjoy looking at it."

There have been some spectacular local metal detecting finds - one of the most famous - and one that re-defined archaeology itself, was the famed Frome Hoard.
You can read about that discovery - the largest collection of Roman coins ever discovered in a single vessel - by clicking HERE : The Frome Nub News site

So how can you start metal detecting ? Can you just buy a metal detector and off you go?

"No, there are very strict and important rules about metal detecting. You can't metal detect on lots of public land or at places of historical interest, so for instance you couldn't just take your detector to Nunney Castle and start running it around. The rules are there to protect the sites and it is very very serious if you break them. You can be fined or even go to prison. "

The rules include:

Always getting the landowners' permission
Not assuming that you can freely go metal detecting on all beaches
Always declaring what you find

One tip from Katy

"Register with the National Council for Metal Detectorists. It is only £8 a year to join, it gives you a lot of support and advice, and it also gives you public liability, so if you have an accident then you are insured as well.

"Finally if you were hoping to find a fortune from a quick trip out, think again.

"Contrary and sadly, " says Katy, " the chances of you going out for a couple of hours and finding a gold coin are pretty much negligible. It does happen... but you get a lot of people who have been detecting for 20 to 30 years and have never found anything of huge value.

"I have found lots of bits and pieces over the years but this is the first thing I have found of big historical significance. "

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