The difference between a successful metal detectorist and those who are not can sometimes come down to which guy is the most knowledgeable when it comes to reading the landscape. Whether you are detecting at an 1800’s Victorian house or an abandoned homestead in the woods there are indicators that you can read which can help you increase your chances of finding better targets.
Knowing what indicators to look for can make the difference between having an okay hunt and having an epic hunt! One feature that you can look for are square curbs that are traditionally smaller than modern curbs. When you see square curbs with 90 degree angles, that’s an indication that the property may be older than it appears at first glance.
The grass row between those curbs and the houses are where the horse & buggies would have parked, and then later where cars also parked. Those curb strips are good areas to find dropped items. Likewise the area between the sidewalk and house is another great place to find dropped items.
In Victorian times, houses had decorative or ornate wrought iron types of fences. Houses and fences were built of a better quality than what we see today. Those fence types can be a good indicator that you are in an older area, even if the house itself doesn’t look very old. It’s possible that a newer house was built in place of one that was torn down.
Old farmsteads also had fences, both rock and wooden. Sometimes a farmer would hide his cache under a wooden fence post. When he needed some money, he “had a fence to mend” and no one was the wiser. You might want to dig those larger targets that a lot of guys ignore. A jar of coins in a mason jar is going to sound off like a larger target. If you pass those larger targets up, you might be walking past that cache of gold coins that you’ve always been searching for.
In the yard there will also be other spots that you should detect. Look for depressions in the ground that are round. Many times when trees are cut down or fall down, there will be a depression left in the ground where the tree once stood. Likewise, look for Daffodils or other flowers that are in a circle. More than likely those flowers were planted around the base of a tree. Detect those spots because in the early days houses did not have air conditioning, so people would sit outside under a shade tree and have a drink or picnic. Last year I found a gold ring in a patch of daffodils. I figure that the lady of the house probably lost her ring while planting those flowers. Yucca plants are another plant that is routinely found growing on older homesteads.
If you see Yucca plants or daffodils near a path or walkway, or even just randomly in the woods, you are more than likely near or on an old homestead. Someone planted those flowers since daffodils are not a native plant to the United States. The species is native to Western Europe from Spain and Portugal east to Germany and north to England and Wales. Some old timers say that daffodils are deer resistant which is why they thrive well in gardens. Yuccas are widely grown as ornamental plants in gardens. Many species also bear edible parts, including fruits, seeds, flowers, and flowering stems which may explain why Yucca plants are found on old farmsteads. Native Indians found yucca plants very useful for many things such as needle and thread, rope, and even used it to make shampoo.
Another good indicator of an old homestead where no house stands today is if you find non native trees growing seemingly at random in the woods. Look for trees or bushes that are in a row. If you see fruit trees in an area that seems out of place, chances are you’ve found an old homestead.
A great area to find old coins is along walking paths and sidewalks. Older sidewalks will be lower than the surrounding grass and soil. That indicates that over time the soil has accumulated and that more than likely the sidewalk has sunk a bit over time. If the soil is level with the sidewalk that may tell you that some topsoil has been removed. That can be a good sign because older coins are going to be deeper usually, so with some topsoil removed you may be able to get to some deeper coins. If you’re detecting where the sidewalk is level with the soil and grass and you aren’t having any luck finding old coins, chances are that when the soil was removed, so were the older coins. Both instances will give you one more idea of where you should concentrate your efforts and maximize your detecting time. I’ve found more Quarters near sidewalks than in any other two areas combined!
Another spot that you may want to focus on is large bare areas where the grass doesn’t grow very well. If you notice that the grass grows beautifully everywhere except a certain spot, that might tell you that a building or outhouse may have stood there at one time. It can also indicate a high traffic area that people may have congregated in the past. Check out those bare spots.
The cracks in sidewalks are often over looked by most detectorists. Coins can work themselves down into the cracks and become lodged. Most older sidewalks don’t have rebar running through them, so in older spots you can get away with scanning over the sidewalk. I have found old coins this way, and usually just use a screw driver that’s been rounded and blunted to pop the coins from in between the cracks.
Along old driveways, both concrete and gravel are great areas to detect. In the gravel and beside the driveway can be a honey hole for coins. Think about it, you’re reaching into your pocket for car keys and when you pull your hand out coins drop in the grass, or your wedding ring comes off and you don’t even notice that it came off. Detect those areas along driveways and walking paths.
In days gone by mailboxes were at the end of driveways and people could pay for postage by leaving coins in their mailboxes. As a result, coins were lost where the mailbox once stood. Don’t ignore the beginning of a driveway when detecting an older homesite.
Additionally, the front steps of an old house are another great area to find lost items. When people reach into their pockets to pull out their house keys coins and other items can come out with the keys and fall through the cracks in the wooden stairs. Sometimes you can detect under those steps if they have open sides. The area under steps is a nectar sector for old coins that were dropped through the years. (I just wanted to say nectar sector) You can also look for sidewalks that seemingly lead to nowhere. That can tell you that another building or outhouse may have stood there at one time but is now long gone. It can also indicate that the house may have been remodeled or rebuilt at one time. Maybe those sidewalks led to a side entrance, or possibly to a porch that was removed.
Old gas lamp posts in the yard can be a good indicator that a house is older than the 1970s. Gas lamps were used regularly up until the ‘70s before becoming too expensive to operate. You might also look for old swing sets or other play areas like a sandbox. Those can indicate that children do or did live there at one time. Those spots can hold old coins and other artifacts lost by kids playing.
Very large trees can be another great area to find old coins and other relics. Back in the day, older trees were used for wind protection for the house and shade in the summer time. Those old trees were gathering areas, and even if a house no longer stands on the property, those big old trees can still be a honey hole for you. I have found old coins and even rings around large trees in the woods. Sometimes clothes lines were run from the house to a tree. Detecting the area around clothes lines can turn up old coins or other trinkets that fall out of pants or shirt pockets.
If you look out into a field and see a few very large trees sitting there, chances are a house sat in between or near them at one time. Don’t ignore those trees, swing your metal detector around them and you will be rewarded like I was the other day when I found a silver plated Roy Rogers Saddle ring from the 1950’s by a large tree in the woods.
I knew a house had sat there at one time, and on my second target of the day I found this ring! Old trees mean old things! Over grown areas can sometimes be great spots to metal detect. It’s possible that the area wasn’t always overgrown.
Rectangle or square depressions in the ground may also indicate that a building once stood there. Many detectorists have great luck detecting old cellar holes. One way to find old cellar holes that aren’t easy to spot is to scout the area while there is snow on the ground. There are two reasons for that, one is that when there is snow on the ground, it is easier to see the contour of a depression in the ground. If you see a rectangular depression that is lower than the surrounding ground, chances are good that a house or barn once stood there. Secondly, if you do your scouting for old homesites in the winter the leaves will have fallen off of the trees and you will be able to see further into the woods. I have found old foundations much easier during the fall and winter because it is easier to see when the brush dies back.
If you find pieces of red brick or shards of ceramics scattered about that can also tell you that a house once stood near by. When you see signs like these you can set your metal detector to all metal mode. When you start hearing a lot of chatter from nails scattered about, you can then turn the discrimination up and start working the area more thoroughly in search of better targets.
Learning to read the landscape can help you find areas to detect that others may not recognize.
In a way, Metal Detecting can be compared to professions like doctors or teachers in that we must constantly be evolving in our education in order to hone our skills. As the years go by the good targets become harder to find. If you are constantly adding tools to your toolbox you will be successful in areas that others aren’t.
Be sure to Always seek permission to metal detect on any private property and fill your holes no matter where you metal detect. We hope that you find these tips useful and wish you the best on your future hunts!
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House 1 – city-data.com
House 2 – vanishingsouthgeorgia.com
Plant Image: Detecting365.com