This is the Holloway token found by Kathleen whilst fossicking with the Bendigo Prospectors in the Victoria goldfields of Australia. No doubt she was, like the others, looking for that large gold nugget. The token doesn’t look much but is very interesting when its provenance is known. With a nugget I know nothing about it, except a large one will make money and provide me with Pinot for the rest of my life.

Holloway token, courtesy of NUMISTA


For Want of a Nail

For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

I guarantee that when you started metal detecting you collected a load of ‘scrap’, including nails. We all did. After cursing you unceremoniously hoyed them into the hedgerow. But wait. Horseshoe nails are part of our social history. Would you like to know more? The importance of horseshoe nails is often overlooked. Here’s a taster.

Did you know that nails were originally made by hand, usually in the Dudley area of the Black Country. That was the name given to the industrial region located in the midlands of England.  At the time it was considered the “workshop of the world” as the industrial revolution gained full momentum. Its name is derived from the smoke of many thousands of ironworking foundries and forges, and the countryside which had been spoiled by the working of coal mines. 

The Black Country, 1870s | © Griffiths, Samuel, editor of “The London Iron Trade Exchange” / WikiCommons

You can find out what West Midlands life was really like in the 19th century by visiting the Black Country Living Museum. Visitors to the reconstructed open-air village can take part in a number of activities, including a silent cinema, underground mine exploration, traditional metal-making demonstrations or even hop on one of the historic Black Country trams. The Black Country Living Museum was even used as a set for the popular BBC drama Peaky Blinders.

Types of Handmade Horse Nails – borrowed from Willet’s book “The Black Country Nail Trade”

Many different types of horse shoe nails were made, because of the different breeds of horses or ponies, the work they dd, and also regional preferences.

The image on the left shows a nail maker making horseshoe nails at a block frame. Middle shows a derelict nail shop and a lady nailer [cottage worker]. After the introduction of machine-made nails in 1830 this cottage industry, which employed 50, 000, went into decline. WikiCommons and World History Archive.

Continue reading “ANOTHER BLIDDY NAIL!”


Mark’s Original Communication

“Well back in very early 2016 I may very well have found the best find I will ever get metal detecting. Whilst out on a very cold February day I got a banging signal, I dug this signal and kept digging & digging down to about 12 inches and came across the beautiful patina green of bronze. Not knowing what this was I retrieved, very carefully what ended up being 8 plates stacked on top of each other. I had no idea what these were. I returned home and cleaned said plates (water and soft tooth brush only). I placed these tp dry on my window sill and as the light caught them I noticed writing. On close inspection I could see that this was latin and was on all plates both sides. You can imagine my heart rate at this point. Anyway I sought advice from others and we decided it may be a dipma. I informed my FLO who got very excited at the prospect. Anyhow, it then went on a journey of research and translation and eventually (one year later) came home and is now going to be in pride of place in a local museum. It turns out to be probably the only near as damn it complete diploma of any kind found in GB. I am very proud and lucky to be the person to find this which has thrown a few spanners into the works of history along the way but onwards and upwards. here are the Hi-Res pics before the museum restore it for display.” [SIC]

Mark Houston

We all know that the external appearance of something is not a reliable indication of its true nature. And that turned out to be the case with one of Mark Houston’s detecting finds.

He was using a Garrett AT Pro and has been detecting ‘seriously’ or about six years.What he discovered in a Durham field on a wet and very cold day in February 2016 has proved to be of great importance. Indeed, his find has added to the knowledge of how archaeologists and other experts interpret our history.

Mark ecstatically declared, “The diploma is my ‘gold’ and ‘silver’ all rolled into one. I reckon, with this discovery, I’ve re-written some of the pages of history!”

At first glance the eight small pieces of bronze ‘plates’ stacked on top of each other didn’t look much and, being a biker, reminded him of the cells from a cycle battery. The find that Mark had plucked from the soil interested him because of their beautiful green patina. At this early stage, he placed them in his pouch, not realising what he had found, but something ‘inside’ told him that they were much more than just ‘hedge fodder’.

A complete Roman military diploma dating to AD150, awarded to VELVOTIGERNO MAGIOTIGERNO F(ILIO) BRIT(TONI) (Veluotigernus, son of Magiotigernus, a Briton) during the reign of Antoninus Pius.

At home, and after careful preliminary cleaning with a soft brush, he noticed what he thought to be Latin words on each plate. At this stage he became very excited and couldn’t wait to show them to Ellie Cox who, at that time, was Finds’ Liaison Officer [FLO] for County Durham.

It is her expertise that determined that the objects were ‘diplomas’ in the form or two bronze tablets that had been originally hinged together with an inscription on both sides. These diplomas certified that the named holder had been honorably discharged from the Roman army and granted Roman citizen statusas a reward for service. Evidently theyare found across the former territory of the Roman Empire and are copies of original documents kept in Rome. None of the originals survive.

Ellie says, “The texts are highly formulaic and the Lanchester source for the study of the Roman Empire because their contents give precisely dated military details in individual provinces, thus enabling further reconstruction of the details of garrisoning of Roman Europe. This diploma (and those like it) give the names of consuls, provincial governors and unit commanders they also shed light on the power structures of the empire. Last, but not least, they illustrate the biographies of individual soldiers, especially of non-citizen auxiliary soldiers who joined up for the material rewards and opportunities for social mobility that military service offered. The prospect of citizenship (with legal status and the prospect of financial advantages) for those who served their full term (typically 25 years), as well as for their families, was an attractive benefit of military service.

See details on PAS database. Unique ID: DUR-C3E4F

This example demonstrates the links the Roman Empire created between Britain and the rest of the empire, as the individual to whom the Diploma was given, has a native name: Magiotigernus (initial study suggest this means great king). This demonstrates that this individual had his roots in the native population and likely came from the region in which he deposited the diploma. We can see the full circle of military service with the Roman forces demonstrated by this individual. In this instance it appears that a local man has chosen to serve with the Roman Navy, travelled and served with the German Rhine Fleet, and returned after his period of service as a citizen to his home in the North East of England.

Given the strong links the individual who was awarded this Diploma had with, the region, it is wonderful and very appropriate that Mr. Houston has allowed the object to be acquired by Durham Museum of Archaeology so that the object stays within the region and will
be accessible to the public and for further study.”

Ellie wishes to thank Roger Tomlins of Oxford University and John Pearce of Kings College London for their work on the transcriptions, for which she was very grateful.

The diploma is on permanent display at Durham University Museum of Archaeology.