“They’re not that different from you, are they? Same haircuts. Full of hormones, just like you. Invincible, just like you feel. The world is their oyster. They believe they’re destined for great things, just like many of you, their eyes are full of hope, just like you. Did they wait until it was too late to make from their lives even one iota of what they were capable? Because, you see gentlemen, these boys are now fertilizing daffodils. But if you listen real close, you can hear them whisper their legacy to you. Go on, lean in. Listen, you hear it? – – Carpe – – hear it? – – Carpe, carpe diem, seize the day boys, make your lives extraordinary. ” – Robin Williams, Dead Poets Society
Have you ever heard it? Or do you just snatch your great find out of the ground, bite it to test for gold, and wonder how much it will fetch on eBay?
Your finds – your older finds – are literally speakers for the dead. No they can’t actually talk. But they can tell a tiny fragment of the stories of the people who owned, lost or were otherwise associated with them. Groups of finds from the same site can work together to even tell you more about who lived at or frequented the place. With a little historical research, perhaps what you already did to find the site in the first place, a story starts to take shape. With a little imagination, a compelling story can begin to manifest itself in your mind.
Many single finds may just have a brief line to tell – a line in the story of someone’s life. You don’t know who is speaking, but someone is:
I was a woman here in this park in the 1920s. I lost my ring.
We fought and died right here. Right here in Franklin.
I lost my offering money in the church playground.
Other finds, such as this child’s locket etched with a name recovered from an early 1900s school site, can tell us more.
My name was Laverne. I lost my locket at the Sardis school.
The etched name makes this one of my all-time favorite finds because it is one of the rare instances where I have a name to go with the “voice”.
My favorite stories are those of home sites, where you can assume many of the objects, especially recurring and similar ones, are related to the family that lived there.
Take the home site I am working now. It’s in a field, where nothing is left above ground, but the things I’ve dug tell volumes about the former residents. I can tell they had an iron stove, they stored vegetables long-term in jars, they had a mantle clock. They hunted with a shotgun. Someone wore suspenders. They travelled in a wagon. They had horses with nice tack. Sure these are generalities that probably apply to every home of that era, but together they speak, and start to paint a picture in your mind.
As I hunted the site more and dug more objects, I heard more whispers. I found two WWI era army buttons. I found a mouthpiece to a cavalry bugle. Most of the coins I have found at the site so far are dated 1910-1925.
I found the site on an 1887 map, and it appears again on a 1907 map. The name B. Lillie is printed on the map next to the tiny square that marks the home site. The voice is now telling me:
They called me “Lilly”. I fought in the Great War. I was a bugler.
The newest coin at the site was early 1930s, which is when I imagine the home was abandoned, perhaps lost because of the Great Depression. Volumes of information, yet nothing remains save a few relics and a quiet voice.
As detectorists, we have access to a virtual museum right under our feet. The best part of metal detecting to me is trying to hear what my finds say about the real people who lost them. Some clues are obvious. Others require a bit of assumption. Research, perhaps the research that you did to find the site, may provide names and other details. And imagination is required to put everything together in your mind, and to hear the voice of the Speaker for the Dead.
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