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Relic Hunting: What do you think about it? - Civil War Preservation - Civil War Talk - Civil War Interactive Discussion Board
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 Posted: Sun Nov 12th, 2006 01:53 pm
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Widow
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I'm not a relic hunter. I've never even seen a metal detector. Some members of my Bull Run Round Table have metal detectors, but I've never talked with them about their hobby.

I'm not opposed to relic hunting, as long as it's done in a responsible way that respects the rights of the property owner.

Maybe there are some lunkheads out there with a bulldozer for brains and a vacuum cleaner for arms. They trespass where they're not wanted. They open gates in the cow pastures, but don't close them. They drive over grasslands, leaving holes and ruts where they get stuck in the mud. They disturb the shallow soils in the woodlands, leaving holes and ditches that start erosion and silting of the streams. They leave their dirt piles and trash behind. They take everything they find, not for the thrill of discovering a historic artifact, but for the possibility of selling it for profit.

Those people antagonize the land owners, and spoil relic hunting for everybody.

Then there are those who get permission, and search carefully to protect what's left. They may even photograph the site, and use a GPS to identify its location, to aid in determining the origin and significance of the find. If they spot something like undisturbed earthworks, they report it to the land owner as well as a historical society, preservation group or somebody who would know how to identify and possibly protect it.

I'm not talking about people who accidentally find something while on a hike. On 1 Nov 2006, Regina posted in the General Civil War Talk section that she had found bones at Monocacy. There was a lively discussion about her actions. She wasn't relic hunting, just keeping her eyes open.

So let's talk. Tell me more about the art of relic hunting. About discovering the origin of your find. Good stories about sharing and respecting. Bad stories about vandalism and theft.

Patty



 Posted: Sun Nov 12th, 2006 08:38 pm
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ole
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Widow:

I'm not a relic hunter either, but I can understand the fixation in the hobby. After all, if one can go nutzoid over M&M trinkets, why not relics? Personally, I'd like very much to have a button from this place or a ball from that, but buying them can't approach the thrill of finding one.

It's a case of responsible hunters being handicapped by restrictions on the vandals. Oh well.  I'll just sit back and say, "too bad." I really don't care enough to get exercised about it. Unless it's something like that relic-hunting contest Mr. Aubrecht mentioned a few weeks ago. Then I can only fume and fire off an e-mail.

Ole



 Posted: Wed Nov 15th, 2006 02:56 pm
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calcav
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Imagine visiting Petrified Forest National Monument in Arizona and being told there is no longer any petrified wood on the park, collectors have carried it all away. Every piece on the surface has been taken and everything subsurface has been excavated. Or driving to Dinosaur National Monument in Colorado/Utah and discovering that aside from the few pieces in the museum all of the fossils have been carted away for private collections. 

It is not that hard to imagine actually. Nearly every Civil War site that does not enjoy Federal or State protection has been looted of its artifacts. Looted may not be the best term to use. How about pillaged. Or desecrated. Yes, desecrated works. Nearly every Civil War site (battlefield, skirmish, hospital and camp) is a graveyard. In order to collect the pieces of our history that will end up on a mantle or on E-bay those graves must be disturbed. Next to bullets the largest quanity of items found are buttons and belt buckles. They are found by the thousands and thousands. Did they get lost during the heat of battle? Some perhaps, but the vast majority were buried with thier owners, or being overlooked, not even buried at all. We have all heard how animals came up and dug up the shallow graves and the bones and uniform bits were scattered in all directions. Which makes the entire field hallowed.

There is a place and procedure for collecting artifacts from a battlefield. Here at Shiloh such activities are conducted by NPS archeologists from the Southeast Archeological Center in Tallahasse, Florida. They work under the guidance of the Antiquities Act of 1906, the Archeological Resources Protection Act of 1979, as well as the Code of Federal Regulations 43 CFR 3. When an area of the park is to be disturbed by construction or road work, the archeologists come in and conduct surveys to remove any of the cultural resources that would be impacted. Every item found is individually tagged, bagged and mapped using GPS. When neccessary Ground Penetrating Radar is used to ensure the site is fully documented. The results of the operation are mapped out on computer programs that often reveal battle lines or camp areas.

I have assisted in numerous surveys of the battlefield and have seen some remarkable artifacts. A button comes to mind that had been on the uniform of a Louisiana infantryman. In excellent condition, you could plainly see the pelican sitting on her nest. It was made of brass and if left undisturbed would look the same a hundred years or more. But a new road would have destroyed it or disturbed it so it and a few dozen bullets had to be collected. But the discovery of the button did not usher in new knowledge of the battle. Before we began we knew that heavy fighting had occured on the site and that Louisiana troops were present. In fact the computer prepared maps only reenforced what we already knew. That the true battle lines had been properly marked by the Battlefield Commission and the Veterans back in the late 1890's.

A very good friend of mine, a Park Service archeologist, once made an intresting observation and shared it with me. We were looking down into a hole where a looter had dug on the park and removed some unkown artifact. He said that each artifact lying buried on the field is a page in history, a page we only get to look at once. When the artifact is removed from the field the page is ripped out of the book. If conducted under contolled conditions we can make a copy of the page, but even then, when the artifact is disturbed the page is gone forever.

A frequent justification used by relic hunters is that the item will be lost forever if they do not collect it. Those items made of iron perhaps or steel, but the bronze, brass and lead will be there forever. But even if it does deteriorate I'd much rather know that it is happening on the scene of a great struggle rather than in some shoebox in the back of the closet.

In closing I'd like to share the Mission Statement of the National Park Service:

The National Park Service preserves unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of the national park sysytem for the enjoyment, education and inspiration of this and future generations. The Park Service cooperates with partners to extend the benifits of natural and cultural resource conservation and outdoor recreation throughout this country and the world.



 Posted: Wed Nov 15th, 2006 08:35 pm
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Fuller
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My feeling is that people do not have the RIGHT to take relics but they do have the PRIVILEGE of looking at them behind glass walls in museums.  Leave it to the professionals who have the correct tools to extract them.  This one is a given.

 

Fuller



 Posted: Fri Nov 17th, 2006 03:12 pm
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Art B.
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Consider Gettysburg alone. One million visitors EVERY YEAR, year-in, year-out. If each visitor to The Burg was to pick up just one, small piece of rock at the railroad cut, at The Angle, or elsewhere, there wouldn't be any walking paths, no walkways around monuments or under observation towers, and the like.

The "oh, it's just a little piece; nobody will miss it" mentality would spread, like an oil slick on water, to encompass branches from the peach trees @ Sherfy's, a bolt from the Oak Hill observation tower, an elevating screw from a cannon at some remote portion of the field, the musket barrel broken from a monument... you see how the damage can escalate; in some cases, it actually has happened.

Widow & CalCav have made excellent posts, their points certainly deserve reflection by everybody who visits this site.

Art B.



 Posted: Mon Feb 26th, 2007 03:06 am
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Johnny Huma
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I guess we cannot condem the relic hunters of the past as if they did not relic hunt we would have few things to look at.  Relic hunting in most cases started right after the battle left the area. Townsfolk would run out and grab anything they could from the area as a momento of the battle. In today's world there is little room for relic hunting as most things that were visible at one time are not now. Relic hunting should be done the right way and by the right people. You are always going to have people who visit Civil War battlefields and grab a rock or a stone or a piece of wood but in reality those things probably were not there during the battle anyway. I have seen people grab loose chunks of rocks from Devils Den and stuff them in thier pockets and although it urks me there is no way of stopping it as long as the Park lets people climb all over the rocks and people let thier kids destroy our past. I think if someone owns a property that a battle has taken place on and they want to relic hunt on it well then let them relic hunt. There is no way to stop that. But if it is a part of the park owned battlefield then let the relic hunting to the experts and save the finds for history....

Huma

 



 Posted: Mon Feb 26th, 2007 05:12 am
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ole
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I like that sign you see posted occasionally, but I don't know the origination: "Take nothing but pictures; leave nothing but footprints."

Ole



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 Posted: Wed Mar 14th, 2007 10:55 pm
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Fuller
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It's amazing how quickly the hunters appear.  Think of the oak tree that was stolen limb for limb simply because Grant and Pemberton met close by during the surrender of Vicksburg.

It was but a short time before the last vestige of its body, root and limb had disappeared, the fragments taken as trophies. Since then the same tree has furnished as many cords of wood, in the shape of trophies, as the "True Cross."  Grant--Personal Memoirs
There are those who hunt for the thrill of finding a piece for their own collection and those who see the dollar amount attached to it.  My concern is where these items end up.  Illegal hunting is exactly that...illegal. 

For those of us who do own relics, make sure someone you know and fully trust are aware of the items.  How many times has a grandson cleaned out the garage of their grandpa who had passed away and thrown out that old rusty tin can (canteen) not knowing the true value of it?  The relics my family owns are all passed down through the generations.  Nothing was taken from the ground.  They are all stored in a safe place and the coming generation will be aware of them and will learn to respect them.

Fuller



 Posted: Sun Mar 18th, 2007 04:16 am
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BushwhackerBilly
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  Relic Hunting... I live outside of Richmond, and frequently relic hunt. I do it on lands where I have permission from the owners, as a rule. I also do it in areas where there is construction in the works, for this whole area was fought over several times during the Late Unpleasantness.
    To use the argument that it's all "Hallowed ground"is being a bit stuffy, IMHO. I do a lot of work with period maps to work out places where the Union and Confederate armies camped, had supply depots, and generally used as right of ways. I find a lot of things like this, such as buttons from discarded greatcoats, breastplates, broken accroutrements, etc. when RIR was building a new satellite parking area on the site of an old star fort, one of my friends found a Virginia tongue and wreath buckle. Bullets, both dropped and shot, are literally everywhere. I know of people who have found graves, and they're always treated with respect, and reinterrment in a local cemetery is the ticket. So, what's the problem? Irresponsible people who go onto NPS lands, or hunt where they have no right, and give all of us a bad name. I don't deny that they're out there, people.
   When you find a bad apple, you cull it, don't you?<G>



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 Posted: Tue Mar 20th, 2007 09:42 am
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gettysburgerrn
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I agree I dont much se the point...but then again my wife doesnt see much the point of my interest in the civil war...hahaha

ken



 Posted: Tue Mar 20th, 2007 02:12 pm
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David White
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I've taken Civil War relics to schools to show kids and other than feeding them hardtack that was the highlight of the show for them holding the bullets, money, etc. from the period.  They are surprised by the heft of the bullets, which allows you to discuss medical aspects of the war, how rifling affected the fighting versus past wars, etc.  Those things even unimpressed kids seeem to pay attention to.



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 Posted: Tue Mar 20th, 2007 08:24 pm
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susansweet
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One of our members at the Drum always carries a pocketful of miniballs and grapeshot etc with him when he goes to events.  He takes it out and puts it on the table . Then when the kids come buy the tells them about the different items.  He has some that are dropped, some that are pulled, some that are flat .  It was so cool this week end to hear him talking to the kids picking up the various pieces. 

He is the gentleman that trained us about the armory room at the Drum.  As part of the training we each got to choose two mini balls to have when we are showing the kids around.  I picked up a paper cartridge at a reenactment last year to go with it to show the kids too. 

Kids were asking if the mini balls were for sale.  I said no but there was a gentleman down the aisle that had miniballs for sale by the piece.  He told me later that he had sold a great deal.  Makes you wonder what the kids are going to do with them. 

Another one of our members had her husband buy her an enfield reproducion so she could show the kids how to load a rifle when she was doing tours.   She go it for Christmas.  

 



 Posted: Tue Mar 20th, 2007 08:26 pm
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susansweet
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One of our members at the Drum always carries a pocketful of miniballs and grapeshot etc with him when he goes to events.  He takes it out and puts it on the table . Then when the kids come buy the tells them about the different items.  He has some that are dropped, some that are pulled, some that are flat .  It was so cool this week end to hear him talking to the kids picking up the various pieces. 

He is the gentleman that trained us about the armory room at the Drum.  As part of the training we each got to choose two mini balls to have when we are showing the kids around.  I picked up a paper cartridge at a reenactment last year to go with it to show the kids too. 

Kids were asking if the mini balls were for sale.  I said no but there was a gentleman down the aisle that had miniballs for sale by the piece.  He told me later that he had sold a great deal.  Makes you wonder what the kids are going to do with them. 

Another one of our members had her husband buy her an enfield reproducion so she could show the kids how to load a rifle when she was doing tours.   She go it for Christmas.  

 



 Posted: Wed Mar 21st, 2007 09:57 am
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gettysburgerrn
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I actually worked with a friend who was a living historian in a field hospital.  I have to say people including kids were fascinated with the instruments and practice of battlefield medicine..macabe perhaps but interesting..

Ken



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 Posted: Wed Mar 21st, 2007 02:13 pm
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David White
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Bama:

Whether they are dug up and not seen by the general public or never dug up, what's the difference, the bottom line is they are not seen either way.  Are you viewing these objects as sacred that should not be disturbed or are you saying you would have no interest in finding such relics?

BTW, I don't relic hunt but don't begrudge anyone else's right to do so as long as it isn't impacting an area of historical significance, i.e. battlfield, major camp, park land of some kind, etc.  But if someone digs up bullets, buckles and buttons on priviate land what's the harm?  In the best case, they'll share it with others as an educational tool.  In the worst case, they will horde it and it will not be seen, which doesn't seem to be any worse than buried in the ground and never seen.  Most of the items these folks dig up are a dime a dozen and nothing of lasting historical consequence.

Last edited on Wed Mar 21st, 2007 02:14 pm by David White



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