If you’re an amateur archaeologist, a treasure hunter or simply want to learn more about your area’s past, rest assured that you don’t need any equipment at all to get involved in archaeology – just your natural curiosity, and a few tips. This article describes how to get started in fieldwalking, with practical advice and hints to make the most of your experience.
Are you interested in history and thrill at viewing artefacts that may be hundreds, even thousands of years old? If visiting a tidy, quiet museum isn’t your thing and you aren’t particularly desperate to see a gold coin, fieldwalking is one of the most basic archaeological activities. You need no equipment apart from shoes that are comfortable to walk in, wellies if it’s muddy, and a coat or other practical clothes: floaty skirts are unfortunately a no-no. You will need to be willing to have your head bent for a considerable amount of time, so take back problems into consideration. The “knack” to fieldwalking is in the location – all that’s involved in choosing a good site is simple logic.
First, and this is essential, make sure you have permission to be on the land. Trespassing is a prosecutable offence. Stick to public footpaths and bridleways or if you’re lucky enough to know a farmer, make sure you ask them first. You don’t have to get it in writing, but make sure your intentions are clear and at least offer them an even split if you find that coin hoard! When you’ve got your land, the next logical question is: is it in a promising place? A field out literally in the middle of nowhere is obviously not going to yield as much as one close to a historic town due to lack of human activity. But was it once, a long time ago? During the Roman occupation of Britain, some of their towns and cities flourished until today, but isolated villas and farms can still be found in unlikely places. Check the local history section of your library to see if any settlements were recorded. Another good place to fieldwalk is on the route to somewhere important – in the past, the only real route to somewhere was “as the crow flies”. If your field lies between two historic places (churches, abbeys, anywhere religious will lend itself to pilgrims travelling between them), it is a likely place for people to have dropped things on the way.
Once you’ve found your place, do what it says on the tin and walk the field. Your best field isa crop field that has been tilled or ploughed, which means artefacts hidden below the surface have been thrown up. Never walk on crops, always stick to the edges of the field, or if a designated footpath runs through, a track will be cut for you. There are often tractor tracks that are walkable also. Even if the field hasn’t any crops yet showing, avoid walking on the soil as your wellies will compact it down and hinder growth. Don’t be discouraged if you find nothing; it’s only a matter of time. Flints, clay pipe, coins and everything else are all sitting out there waiting in fields for people to find.
Fieldwalking doesn’t have to be a solitary pursuit, unless you prefer it that way – get together with historically-minded friends, take a pack lunch, and, with express permission from the landowner, spread out in a line and completely cover one field. There’s more chance of finding something interesting with more than one of you.
Remember, history belongs to everyone and nothing compares to owning a part of it, no matter how small and seemingly insignificant. It’s great to find a sword hilt or a hoard of gold coins but a pot shard or even a piece of clay pipe speaks volumes about people’s everyday lives in the past. If your find seems to be particularly interesting, consider donating it to the local museum so that more people can enjoy it and get inspired to explore their local field
The hairy woodpecker is a wood pecker common to most of North America.
Do you want to get your kids out of the house and into the backyard for outdoor fun?
This article explains what it is, where it comes from and how rare it is to find it