Who does not daydream of being an archaeologist on some exotic locale, digging up our shared history? Or perhaps you are more the mercenary treasure hunter, looking for that grand stash of untold wealth?
In this video from Dr. Tones and Dirt Fishin’ America, we get to go on a metal detector guided tour of an old west ghost town, and while they do not dig up any gold nuggets or indian talismans, what they do find will certainly quench your thirst for discovery.
The history of the metal detector goes all the way back to the late 19th century, when a Parisian doctor developed a hand-held electrical device to locate bullets within a wounded patient. In 1881 Alexander Graham Bell constructed such a device to find an assassin’s bullet in President James Garfield. Bell’s detector worked, but was confused because Garfield was lying on a metal spring mattress.
While the first applications for metal detectors was in mining and medicine, the technology did not really start to develop until the outbreak of World War I, when it became a matter of victory or defeat, to find hidden land mines and tunnels. After the war, they were used to locate and dispose of the thousands of unexploded artillery shells that littered european battlefields.
Shirl Herr, an American from Indiana was the first to apply for a patent on a new metal detector design that used radio frequencies to locate metal. He helped Mussolini uncover roman Emperor Caligula’s sunken treasures at the bottom of Lake Nemi, Italy.
Herr’s design was further perfected by a Polish officer attached to the Scottish army during World War II. Lieutenant Józef Stanisław Kosacki’s improved hand-held unit helped British general Montgomery clear german land mines at the battle of El Alamein. Later, his design would serve with Allied forces in Sicily, Italy, and Normandy, defeating hitler’s “Fortress Europe.” Because Kosacki’s research was a wartime product, it remained classified for over fifty years.
After the war, commercial manufacturers developed their own systems and technologies, leading to the development of other useful instruments such as Geiger counters.
Today, the use of metal detectors by amateurs and treasure hunters is seen as a destructive use of the technology by many in the field of historical research and academia, however, it is not regulated in many places beyond national and state parks and Native American reservations. Many municipalities require permits but not much else for the hobbyist, and there are efforts on both sides to reconcile the activity. Many hobbyists have worked closely with serious researchers to maintain the integrity of sites and to help locate and identify important artifacts.
The best part about this technology is that the equipment is relatively affordable as an entry into a rewarding and fascinating hobby. Whether you want to comb the beach looking for loose change, or discover some long forgotten battlefield, metal detectors are inexpensive and fun. Just try to be aware of local and state regulations and be sure to acquaint yourself with the ethical and scientific concerns before you strike out to strike it rich.
Have you ever used a metal detector? What is the coolest thing you have ever found? Share your adventures with us here.
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