Metal detectorist's mysterious find

Jim Wirth of OpenRoad.TV has been a passionate metal detectorist ever since he was a kid. Jim wrote to me:
MetaldetectttttI hang out on a website called, which has forums all related to metal detecting. One of the forums (which I've used myself a number of times) is the "What is it?" forum, where people can post a picture and description of something they've found metal detecting yet have no idea what it is or what it was used for. There is a thread on this forum that I thought would interest you and your readers. Who knows, maybe you or one of your readers might know what this item is...
Metal detectorist's mysterious find


  1. guesses, either part of something that counted, or part for indexing/machining gears/sprockets?
    or it could be one of those thingies, used for that stuff, over there.

  2. steampunk rotary phone dial with the necessary digits for interplanetary communications. somebody call neal stephenson.

  3. What is it? Upside-down is what it is!

    But right way up I’m with DeWynken (#2) in thinking it’s a decoder wheel.

  4. typical Boinger-bait, look at the comment spike. Pattern seekers all.

    Boing Boing should have a puzzle feature. Crypto/anagramic/crossword/whatisit/scrabblejumble/what have you.

    It is a fixture of the furniture of geekitude to seek the glory of first!

    What ongoing puzzle would suit?

    Harass your favorite Boinger with your suggestion.

  5. get the ball rolling: in the tradition of “Ow, My Balls!” (ready?) “DUDE! Whatthefukizzit??!” accompanied by an image of the indiscernible.

  6. It has no mechanical linkage, and the notches at the edge of the counter wheel appear to be finger operated. And it’s bent by someone up there at the top. It’s a 1-15 counter of course. There is no way this decodes anything. What game goes to 15?

  7. My guess would be a ring sizer. Measures your finger to figure out what size ring would fit you.

  8. My guess is that it was maybe part of a scale that couldn’t go past 15 pounds or ounces or whatever it was?

  9. This might have nothing to do with it… but It prompted the recall of a story I read – back in the days of Hypercard version 1.0 – and I don’t recall the source of the story, but it was about a programmer who in the ‘olden days’ wrote something to increment a rotation based or gear incremented computer that counted to 16, from 0 to 15… Nobody but this clever guy could figure out how to get the mechanical count to reset to 0 except this guy who incremented by 1

  10. by the by… it’s upside down, because that triangle pointer points to the number you want to read.

    How many balls in a rack? (15!)

    notice the indent at the “top” where you can flick the wheel with the end of a pool cue.

  12. I’ll bet it’s a very old gap gauge. Look at the fingers – the finger marked 1 is much thicker than the one marked 15. They decline in thickness as you go around the circle from 1 to 15. To use it, you’d poke the thing into a gap and read the number next to the biggest one that would fit in the gap.

  13. It’s a thickness gage. If you look when you line up the little numbers with the arrow the thinnest tooth sticks out on the left. When you line up the 15 with the arrow the thick one sticks out on the left. I don’t know what it adjusts but you can pick the number and adjust something to that value.

  14. i dunno, but according to the device that quarter appears to be emitting between 7 and 8 SOMETHINGS

  15. As to Pool, not so much a score counter, but a counter to keep track of which ball is in play in Snooker. And you could notch it with your finger

  16. How is this an improvement on the old square beads and twine method of keeping score at pool? I think you are close but no cigar.

  17. Its for crackheads, so they can count how many rocks they have smoked. after 15 it doesn’t matter.

  18. Is that really it? What Burger said on page 5 of the TreasureNet forum? He sounds convincing, but I don’t know that it is really identified.

  19. Yeah datawhat… I don’t see any connection or flow mechanism.

    I cleaned up a more recent similar device recently and was puzzled by one of the control mechanisms… similar in function. It was a simple circular plastic dial about 1/2 inch thick and the back was one half closed, one half open with a semi circular hole. I couldn’t see how it controlled the air flow at all… until it was in place.

    Then it covered a same shaped semi circular hole in the interior wall of the unit, and that hole was divide in half again, so that, positioned properly, the dial apportioned the air flow from one part of the interior wall hole to the other part of the interior wall hole through the dial itself.

    Unless there is a part or some mechanism is missing, I don’t see how the 15 count gadget regulates anything. Not saying that’s not what it is, but I don’t see how it does the job.

  20. akbar56 – As far as I know, Michael Shanks doesn’t do historical archaeology.

    I hate to be a killjoy (actually, I won’t lie, it is a little fun), but metal detectorists do regular, serious damage to archaeological sites. People who do this tear artifacts out of their context, rendering them nearly useless for interpreting the past. Wow, what a great hobby. Even if I knew what the object was, I wouldn’t identify it for the person.

    I think for the third or fourth time I’m asking boingboing not to feature articles on the active destruction of the material remains of the past.

  21. Yes, Giant… it limits the range of the dial.

    Yes, Colleen. The reason this is a mysterious object is that exactly – It has no context.

    I think the value range of 1 to 15 is a residue of it’s dial function, driven more by the external teeth and the finger sized notches than any actual count function.

  22. @64.

    I don’t think this post had anything to do with ‘active destruction of the material remains of the past’.

    Also wouldn’t metal detectorists also be responsible for finding a great many archaeological sites/items that otherwise might have gone unnoticed for a long long while or possibly even forever?

    Like those people in England (?? – featured on Boing Boing a while ago) that found the very valuable ancient coins on some guys property. Those coins are now in a museum. People were shocked that they were found where they were, so I doubt any archaeologists would have been digging there looking for them any time soon.

    Now they’ve been found, the land owner and the father and son that did the detecting are quite rich and the coins sit in a museum assisting people to interpret the past!

  23. This looks like an older version of a sewing tool. You roll it on carbon paper, then you roll it on fabric to mark the dotted lines on pattern pieces- before it’s cut- to use as cutting guidelines. Voila.


    I did look on treasurenet, but there are five farking pages of guesses and I wouldn’t know a right answer from a joke anyway.

    Don’t leave us hanging if you know what it is, I beg you.

    And Colleen, I didn’t know that about metal detectorists. I always figured they hung out searching for loose change on beaches, which I wouldn’t imagine have much archaeological value.

  25. @SFBanane, those sewing tools are more in the order of pizza cutters – rotary tools on a handle. The teeth of this one don’t seem to extend past its backing, so I don’t think it would work. Plus, what would the numbers before, and why is there a gap at 15?

  26. I’m guessing it’s a pill counter. Each notch would drop a pill into a bottle or tray, and two rotations of the dial would count out a typical 30-day supply.

  27. kay_the_complainer, right it would be missing the stick that it attaches to, and I’m thinking this is an older version of the pizza-cutter looking one. Also thinking this could be a measuring device for a surveyor, along the same lines but they dip it in chalk and as it “walks” down the road you tick off the number of times it passes 15 to measure.

  28. #48…. if indeed those lozenge shapes on the fingers get thicker, then what we have is a circular wedge, and as those tabs passed under the triangle tab (?) they would apply pressure acting as the valve on some kind of hose or vent? perhaps? to close it off? to restrict he flow of air? refridgerant?

  29. Check out the owner of treasurenet:,28494.0.html

    Yup, that’s who I want to be handling our past.


    Actually, I worked on a rather intensive survey of a Mexican-American war site on the Texas/Mexico border that had been intensively looted by metal detectorists. Nothing much was left. Thanks, guys!

    There’s also the habit of detectorists of trying to find Confederate war belt buckles. It’s a little funny that they’re actually desecrating the graves of their heroes.

    The gold coins don’t tell us much, as they were taken from their context, and lord knows what else they dug up on their quest to get rich.

    Anyway, detectorists CAN help archaeologists, but they do not do it by weekend looting of sites. Here are some pretty good resources on how:

  30. Sfbanane, the teeth don’t look like they would touch the surface and thus wouldn’t transfer the pattern. Good guess, though.

    Colleen, the site appears to be run by a wingnut who believes in Ouija boards. Did I miss a paragraph, though, where he turned out to be a Nazi or something?

    And, furthermore, what is the goddamn thing?

  31. OMG Colleen! Amateurs are scaling the ivory tower! I’m just aghast!

    Human history is what survives human looters, same as it ever was.

  32. Whatever it is, it’s probably patented. So start looking through all the patents. I would be good to know more about where it was found though. Mining site? Side of a river?

  33. Ridl@46: “wait, what’s a dikfour?”

    a) Fucking, ostensibly.
    b) One less than a dikfive.
    c) One more than a dikthree.
    d) Trolling.
    e) Pissing (see D).
    f) All of the above.

  34. Ahh. I know what it is!

    It is evidence, according to controversial metal-detecting treasure seeking beach-combers who have been silenced by mainstream archeology for far too long, that in a distant age long long ago, apes could talk.

  35. Takuan, metal detecting at minimum screws up post-1492 archaeology in the Western Hemisphere. Earlier dates depend on how much metal the local cultures used. In other parts of the world, it’s a bitch. Look at the websites of antiquities dealers, and notice the quantities of provenance-free miscellaneous metal artifacts that are pegged as medieval or older.

    In the meantime, if you want circumpolar Pleistocene remains — mammoth tusks, mastodon molars, complete Irish elk skeletons, etc. etc. etc. — now’s the time to get them, because they pop up as the permafrost melts.

    Skatanic @13, Anonymous @30, it’s neither a spinner from the Game of Life, nor a circular pocket rosary. Both of those would have ten points, not fifteen.

    TonesFromMars @44, I don’t think it’s a pool table counter. Those tend to be bigger, more robust, and more visible from a distance.

    My guesses: It could be part of a timing device that used this wheel to count up to a quarter hour, then flip a counter. However, if that were the case, it would have to mesh with other gears, and I don’t see any holes or fittings in its center that would allow that to happen precisely enough.

    It’s not part of an Enigma Machine; it’s too cheesily manufactured. The same objection probably applies to industrial machinery and weighing devices: too cheesy, not precise enough.

    In the end, I’d have to guess that it’s a control device from some kind of old analogue-era appliance. If so, the numbers could be meaningless — manufacturers frequently invented their own scales.

    Takuan @24:

    Boing Boing should have a puzzle feature. Crypto/anagramic/crossword/whatisit/scrabblejumble/what have you.

    I’m fond of cryptograms myself:


    Computer analysis not allowed; just pencil and paper. If you get stuck and need a hint, run this through ROT13:

    Uvag: “AS DFAXF SI ISJ AM” vf qrnq rnfl.

    I’m all for more games and contests, maybe even with an occasional prize given out. Anybody object?

    1. Unless I’m terribly mistaken, that should read:


  36. I actually know what that is. You guys will think it’s pretty dumb, but im nearly 100% sure because ive got a slightly smaller one of those. It broke off of an old assed rotary dial phone that came with the house. It’s actually to control the volume. I used to play with it when I was a kiddie. Do i get anything?

  37. Ohhh-kayyy… simple letter substitution (ah, a head code, any English school-boy could catch it!)
    …let’s hope the clue is in Punnish…. (grind, whirr, click….

  38. I have no time now to read all the previous comments, so sorry if this has already been said –and sorry for my English as well.

    I think it can be part of a coin counting machine. I worked in a bank for a year here in Spain and we had such devices. When a customer came to pay a sum in his account with a large number of coins, he would tell me that they all were, e. g., 2 euros coins, and then I selected the correct gauge in the machine. It would count every coin that had the correct gauge, and take apart the rest of the coins that could be there. The machine had some kind of charm, for it had to be activated with a crank, and it was kinda funny.

    It was not perfect, though. I live in a city that is in the bordier with Morocco, and in that country there are coins that are almost exactly the same than 2 euros coins, only that they had a much lower value. My machine always thought they were 2 euros coins.

    Anyway, I think that could be the use of that strange device.


  39. Hee hee – no-one ever expects the English school-girl
    Thank you for the which – mebbe i can get some sleep now :)

  40. me? bitter? to make a hollow laughing sound. Nay, not at all… sleep well then – and deeply. That odd tapping in the night will be just the wind…. sweet dreams then…

  41. Theresa should give, as a prize, the ability to append the string “, but then, my vagina seems to be full of sand, so I may not be the most level-headed source on this.” to the comment of the winner’s choice.

  42. Sammich, we used to play a variant of the game from Philip K. Dick’s “Galactic Pot Healer” – fake translations of Sci Fi movie titles (imagine translating into Japanese and then back into English), and we try to guess the original.

  43. old game where we left it(adopted from Galactic Pot Healer), science fiction movie titles warped through punnery and other literary abominations.

  44. i can’t sleep now until i know what the “Old game” is… I’ve heard people calling for people to “pose” before, i thought you were all just painters and/or oglers….

  45. ah – maybe i see – i’ve read plenty of PKD – but the bulk of it was when my kids were small and i was sleep-deprived, it amplified the experience somewhat. But I don’t remember ever reading “Galactic Pot Healer” – it’s always sci-fi movie titles is it?

  46. Yes – it is another temporal anomally – it can take whole minutes for the pigeons to relay our words across the atlantic

  47. no, that is instantaneous (Shroedinger Homers).It’s the steam-fired Boing server that causes the delays.

    The genre could be anything, we just stayed with SF film since it worked well.

  48. cool – sounds like fun!
    I shall keep my ears open, but tonight (this morning) i really had better try to sleep a bit.
    night night!

  49. I reckon its an old milk order indicator – shows the milkman how many pints you want him to leave for the next day. (15 pints should be enough for anyone ;)

  50. You’re all wrong, it’s quite obviously a handy belt buckle mounted pie indicator; you simply rotate the dial to indicate the amount of pie you wish to consume at any given time. I find it streamlines the whole face/pie interface personally. It’s on page 4 of the new IWANTSONEOFTHEMS catalogue.

    It’s a gestation wheel.

    Clipped on a rabbits cage, you can count the 10 to 15 days it takes until you can see whether the animal is pregnant.

  52. it is a measuring device / gauge to set the distance between points, much like we do for spark plugs. one can tell this by looking at the alignment of the numbers as compared to the apparent varying thickness of spokes on the gear. one fifteen is at the one side, the thickest spoke is at the measuring side and when 1 is on the other side, the thinnest spoke is on the measuring side. it is a ‘gapping tool’ like but much larger.

  53. It looks like an indicator for a molding process. Sometimes on the bottom of a molded part, or on one of the detachable pieces of a set of molded parts, there’s a batch number indicator. Someone turns the dial to reset the number for each batch.

    Although I actually like #98s idea better (“old-assed rotary phone” volume controll).

  54. That looks almost identical to the level counter for Munchkin atop which you place a pewter Munchkin mini, but it has 20 spots instead of 10. Thus, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was a similar game accessory.

  55. No idea what it is…but I am glad to learn of this metal detector forum. I found something in the backyard of an old farmhouse that has always puzzled me. It’s a tin or copper disk about 4 inches across with a very finely detailed engraving of a man and woman on horseback and they are dressed in the style of mid-18th century. It looks like a lid of some sort but no idea what.

  56. Ok Game fans, here’s two, an easy one and a slightly tougher one. Clue=Caps denote words.

    Both films: one’s horror, one’s sci-fi.

    1. The Demesne Downs-tools Astern

    2. No-mouth-must-scream-machine ito-takagi-yajima french-town Dread

    Game On!

  57. It’s a metal object that someone created in order to confuse future metal-detector-treasure-seeker-ers.

  58. re: #98 DungeonBrownies:

    “It broke off of an old assed rotary dial phone that came with the house. It’s actually to control the volume. ”

    I think the lad’s got it – but I think it’s to mechanically control the volume of the ringer bell itself, and not the volume of the voices thru the handset. The plate has two screw holes at the corners, to hold it onto the base of the phone, has a couple of hooks so it can be hung on a wall, and the cutouts are finger-sized for easier adjustments.

    Either that or it’s a kitteh deboning device.

  59. Sammich takes her first win, in her first game!

    Well done, now you gotta pose one, know the rules?

    Basically, you take a phrase or title, and run each word, individually, through a thesaurus (or similar, eg bablefish), and present the encrypted phrase along with a topic.

    You can be sneaky and do syllables, like the “AM-ITY-ville Horror” one above, or whole words. Or you can use different senses of the words: son/sun for extra ninja points.

  60. DungeonBrownies @98, please don’t post your comments in boldface, or everyone else will start doing it in self-defense.

    Did anyone else notice that Antinous solved that puzzle first while correcting my typo in the original? (Damn! That’s after I proofed it three times.)

    (long comment alert)

    Takuan, the truth is, these things are easier than they first appear. Like crosswords and sudoku, cryptograms are worked by successively constraining the set of possible answers. Two things that help:

    1. Ignoring the part of your brain that keeps protesting they’re are written in Pig-Mordorian.

    2. Thinking of words and texts in terms of their metadata. The letters in the encoded text aren’t letters per se; they’re a set of twenty-six arbitrary symbols that stand in for the real letters. You know how crossword addicts get to know words like etui, and the names of obscure European rivers? Do enough cryptograms and you’ll get friendly with words like people, little, and believe, which are in common use but have distinctive letter patterns.

    I shouldn’t have started with a plaintext that didn’t include the. It’s hard to say anything in English without using the, and once you spot it, much is revealed. Here’s a cryptogram which I swear is easy to crack. Let me see if I can encode it without making a typo this time:


    1. Scan for three-letter words. In this case, we have two, DSW and JOW. One should be the. The other, in order of descending probability, will be are, not, you, but, or something else.

    Which one do you pick? Remember the existence of other basic and unavoidable English words: they, that, then, there, those, these, thing, et cetera. If either DSW or JOW are the, then either DS or JO should appear as the first two letters of other words. In this case, it’s an obvious choice: DSW is the. Write in the letter translations:

    tJIGJF, the tOGth NZ, theZe thNFEZ
    e eJZNeO thJF theB TNOZt JMMeJO.

    2. Now look at your two-letter words. This text only has one. That’s not as helpful as it might be. We’ll return to it in a moment after a discussion of the more general rule.

    If you have a lot of different two-letter words, figure out which first letter is commonest. That letter will very likely be “i”: if, it, is, in. If a lot of second letters match, suspect “o”.

    do go no so to
    of oh on or
    he me we
    as at
    by my

    If you’ve started by spotting the in your cryptogram, look out for “t-“, which will be to, and thus give you “o”.

    But back to our cryptogram, with its single inobvious NZ. We’ll try a different approach.

    3. It’s not too early in the game to play “spot the syntax.” Words that start with “th” tend to be nouns and pronouns, and we’ve got a lot of them. theZe is either these or there, so there’s a good chance we’ve got a plural verb lurking nearby. eJZNeO is a poor candidate, but JOe is an obvious one: are. Transform the whole accordingly:

    taIGaF, the trGth NZ, theZe thNFEZ
    are eaZNer thaF theB TNrZt aMMear.

    We’re now in the range where some people can read the plaintext just by looking at it.

    4. See what outstanding characteristics are left. For instance, we’ve got several words with “Z” in them: NZ, theZe, thNFEZ, eaZNer, TNrZt. In two of them, “Z” is the final letter, which suggests that it’s “s”. Check to see whether that fits: Ns, these, thNFEs, easNer, TNrst. It’s a good match. Ns and easNer now make it obvious that “N” is “i”, and so:

    taIGaF, the trGth is, these thiFEs
    are easier thaF theB Tirst aMMear.

    5. We’re now into the endgame. trGth needs a vowel and only one fits, so “G” = “u”. thiFEs has to be a plural vowel, and the commonest one fits, so “F” = “n”, “E” = “g”. Since thaF now becomes than, it’s obvious that theB is they, so “B” = “y”. Tirst and aMMear succumb to brute force — there’s only one letter in each case that works: “T” = “f”, “M” = “p”. So:

    taIuan, the truth is, these things
    are easier than they first appear.

    The last step is left as an exercise for the reader. Proper names are tough that way.

    There are a few more basic useful landmarks, like checking your word endings to see whether more than one of them ends in the same three-letter string. This will likely be -ing. Contractions are less useful than you might think, aside from I’m, [word]’ll, and shouldn’t’ve.

    Finally, steer clear of letter-frequency analysis. Most cryptograms are too short for it to work. It’s at most a rough check for hypotheses; viz., a letter that occurs only once or twice in a long passage is probably not “e”, and one that recurs frequently is probably not “q”.

  61. i’m afraid i’m going to have to pass on this one, real life is rather hectic here just at the moment.
    please excuse me – i didn’t understand the consequences of my actions.
    and anyhow – Roach got the hard one…

  62. Sammich, all good, it’s not a rule, per se. I just wanted a distraction from all the things I’m supposed to be doing :)

  63. Did anyone else notice that Antinous solved that puzzle first while correcting my typo in the original? (Damn! That’s after I proofed it three times.)

    Not fair! Antinous, after all, is a professional psychic.

  64. it’s a still camera picture counter.
    and the 15th a bit different tells you that this is the last picture.

  65. I like the idea of a volume dial on an old phone or some similar device.

    NOTE: The protruding metal tab would prevent more than one revolution at it would be obstructed by the pointer (indicator).

  66. David Pescovitz, Jim Wirth —

    Can you spare a hint for those of us who don’t look up the answers in the back of the book?

  67. Great! Cryptograms! I think BB should just work on becoming a one-stop replacement for the entire comics page of those old “newspaper” things. We have a good start with Cryptograms and this newfangled “game.” Now we need

    1. crosswords
    2. the Jumble
    3. sudoku
    4. bridge hints
    5. daily astrology
    6. COMIX! (actually, having a webcomic guest blogger or something would be cool – those people need exposure and do really good work – a week with XKCD cross-posting on the BB might be real neatoid)
    7. advice columnists (Dear Xeni?)
    8. innane celebrity gossip.
    9. tv listings.

        BoingBoing, you have your assignment. Get cracking. We expect an entire site redesign along these lines within the month.

  68. well in the end, whatever this device may be, I for one welcome our Metal Detecting, cryptographic, wire gage measuring, American civil war history artifact looting overlords!

  69. Dear Xeni,

    I am a 15 year old boy and I have been going out with my girlfriend for about 4 months now. Lately she has been pushing me to do sexual things. I am not sure I am ready yet. I love her and don’t want to affect our relationship. What should I do?

    ~ Pressured
    ps. can you get me George Michael’s autograph?

  70. I don’t understand the game!!!!! Arkizzle? Sammich? I read the rules. I read the questions and the answer and I still can’t see how one connects to the other! please help.
    Dear Xeni – best idea ever!

  71. 1. The Demesne Downs-tools Astern

    The demesne (the Empire)
    downs tools (goes on strike,strikes)
    astern (back of the boat, back)

  72. 2. No-mouth-must-scream-machine ito-takagi-yajima french-town Dread

    Book: I Have No Mouth, But I Must Scream. Central character is a computer called AM

    An algorithm, usually shortened to ITY

    french-town: ville

    Dread: horror

    Thus: The Amityville Horror

    It’s all google-fu really :)

  73. He has holes in his head
    (Jim Morrison et al.,
    but Rod Stewart alone
    out of his first band);
    and his teeth, they
    glow in the dark.

  74. ..they’re all game threads!

    But mostly down here in the UnderBoing, away from all the bright lights of the action above :)

    Might be nice to have a dedicated thread for the official games. But you’ll never stamp out the illicit, lower-thread, death-matches. There is too much honour and privilege involved.. and woe to you who tries!

  75. I think the rabbit gestation counter by milarepa @140 gets my vote. Clues that support it:
    – There is no linkage other than the teeth. No linkage at the central pivot, no way for mechanical force to be transferred onwards after the disc was rotated by the teeth.
    – sheet aluminium teeth would be too soft and fast-wearing to work as cogs, so wouldn’t work well as a linkage;
    – reinforcing rib on the teeth is intended to prevent bending at right angles to the plane of the disc, at the cost of slightly reducing its resistance to twisting forces. Reasonable if the teeth are being pushed by a finger which might not always operate in a perfectly in the plane of the disc, but less reasonable if the teeth were being used as a machinery gear;
    – looks like it’s intended to be clipped to a cage (two long tabs at the bottom fit through over one cage bar, two hooks at top hook over another);
    – the absence of a “rittle” spring (a spring to make it go “click” and not move from the current count. A rabbit day counter is unimportant enough that mere stiffness of the rivet would suffice);
    – the softness of the metal makes it unsuitable as a gap measurement or coin counter;
    – the stop pin prevents it revolving right round: it needs to be reset each time, and since there’s no mechanical linkage to do that, it’d have to be done by hand. So it’d seem unreasonable to use this to count multiples of 15 (like fluid ounces), and then need resetting every time, unless the reset events are uncommon, and have a reasonable chance of occurring at some value less than 15, or unless it’s more important that you don’t get it wrong and go past and then start over by accident, than it is to make resetting inconvenient to the user.
    – the rounded teeth with rounded indents is a fairly common method of making a clear counter that is operated by fingers: systems described already in this thread include phone volume, coin type selection, etc, though all these would need some linkage from the disc to drive the thing they were counting. If counting is the only operation it performs, all it needs is the thumbwheel and the numbers.

  76. @Colleen, #65, #68, #84:

    Firstly, denigrating someone’s beliefs doesn’t make you look the better authority. If someone gets ideas from a ouija board, prayer, or a desktop Shiva screensaver doesn’t in any way affect their works. As an atheist, I think they’re all equally mad, but I don’t consider them any worse than getting ideas from a dream, rolling a dice, sticking a pen in a map, or a flash of inspiration.

    Secondly, digging up stuff and carting it off to museums is what archaeologists are famous for. It was only through international agreement by governments and other non-archaeologists in 2005 that we’ve finally started, after centuries of archaeological desecration, to twist some arms to repatriate some remains… but only if they’re not still “of scientific interest” to archaeologists.

    So, archaeologists: you are people in glass houses, throwing Elgin marbles and ancestor-bones.

    Archaeology is a living subject. Graffiti, removals, changes, improper cleaning efforts, and secondary reuse of stonework made today, all instantly become part of the site’s history. This history does not belong just to archaeologists, it belongs to the people, as a whole.

    Who has more right to a site? Who will do more damage?

    You, with the degree in archaeology from the respected university, interested in the papers you might publish, the collections you might give it to, the labels you might put on it, the respect you will gain from your peers, and the grants you might get? But only interested in the pieces you’re interested in, from the times you’re interested in, and to the exclusion of anyone else who might be interested in other aspects, like pollen counts in the earth you mix up and discard, clay structures in the potsherds you mark as “useless”, incursions from modern dates that you mark as aberrations, and so on. But at least you’d put the interesting bits in various museums, and the boring bits in various boxes in storage somewhere, right? Apart from the bits you tip back in the hole when you’re done, of course. So you’re keeping it all “in context”, right?

    Or the tribesman, who’s predecessors you would dig up, but he would rather leave buried, who reuses stones from his predecessor’s temple to shore up his shack, who forges the metal artefact into a knife, and who sells the spearhead he finds to feed his family, along with all the potsherds?

    Or the person who wants to build a mall or nuclear reactor or car park there, and has a bit of paper saying they own the site?

    Or someone with a metal detector who spends years researching a location and then only affects the top metre? Don’t they have just as much right to be interested in the past and their predecessors, and indeed in any possible profits they can get therefrom, as you or the tribesman? Is there actual data showing the relative “damage” they do, compared to the benefits of their finds? Is there data comparing this alleged damage to the damage done by builders and engineers? Or is the archaeological muck-slinging purely based on bias rather than facts?

    Or someone in a hundred years time, with nanotechnology so that he can study sites in situ, truly “in context”, without affecting the layers of earth above them. As a nano-archaeologist, their task is to interpret the site with an eye to its entire history, from the footprint they left themselves in the rubble of the mall, to the oldest element, including the laying of the sediments and what they reveal about weather and pollen in the intervening years. Except… they can’t, because you got there first with your earthmoving equipment and winches, and all that’s under the mall is scrambled earth, spilt diesel, and an archaeologist’s trowel.

    From all I’ve seen, archaeologists, both today and in the past, are just metal detector fans with a feeling of entitlement, a scorn of potsherds, bigger grants, better instruments, and earthmoving equipment.

    [Disclaimer: I’ve never owned or used a metal detector, not know anyone who has. These are my moral beliefs, but I may be talking out of my rear, and would not be upset to have that rear handed to me on a plate in this issue. I’d *love* to know that archaeologists had the moral high ground, but that’s just not been my experience in reality.]

  77. It’s an old gap measuring tool. Serves the purpose of a reverse caliper for much smaller spaces. Common use of one was to check the gap spacing in sparkplugs. You also used it to check tolerances in machine tools.

  78. He has holes in his head
    (Jim Morrison et al.,
    but Rod Stewart alone
    out of his first band);
    and his teeth, they
    glow in the dark

    ..The Doors……ummm

  79. Its an OOPART plain and simple! how could anyone miss!? lol, look up on wikipedia to see wat i meen :D

  80. Dewi Morgan, I love your comment about the metal find. I was hoping someone would show up here who has your appreciation of material culture.

    I’m less enthusiastic about your comments to Colleen. Archaeologists are not just pothunters with pretensions. They’re after the knowledge to be gained, not just the artifacts. They make sure that information about provenance and position travels with the artifacts they find. They don’t destroy sites the way pothunters do. And they do sometimes assess and rebury sites for later excavators who do a better job. Why don’t they do that with more sites? Because once a site is known, the odds that it will remain undisturbed are getting lower all the time.

    Nobody’s saying that metal detectorists shouldn’t take an interest in archaeology. The point is that real archaeology feeds everyone’s knowledge, and the artifacts for the most part remain publicly available. Pothunting leaves us the poorer for the things we’ll never learn from destroyed sites, while funneling the sexier artifacts to upscale dealers and rich private collectors.

    Most pothunters aren’t acting out of intellectual curiosity. They’re just making money. These are guys who’ll knock the heads off all the statues in a temple because the heads are easier to transport and sell. Not long ago they stole frescoes off the walls of a Pompeiian villa.

    I think it would be a great idea to get metal-detectorists more interested in archaeology. A program like the U.K.’s Portable Antiquities Scheme, with a well-designed website that linked to finders’ Flickr sets, so that more people could learn the joy of endless speculations about small toothy numbered metal dials, would be a good place to start.

    Personally (the following daft idea is entirely my own), I think we should also support and encourage the production of top-quality fake antiquities and fossils. Mind, they should be marked or tagged in some unobtrusive way so that researchers can tell they aren’t looted authentic artifacts. The locals who now work for pothunters can instead make a better and more sustainable living concocting fraudulent artifacts to sell into the international antiquities trade.

    I don’t see any moral objections to it. If a private collector can’t tell it’s not a real Antietam minie ball/”killed” Mimbres pot/bit of Roman jewelry/Mayan stele/Anasazi petroglyph/fragment of classical sculpture from Asia Minor/Babylonian cylinder seal/medieval spur roundel/Biblical-era oil lamp/string of ancient Egyptian faience beads/ex ossibus saint’s relic/Clovis point/et cetera, they’ll be just as happy as if it were the real thing. In the meantime, it’ll do real damage to the illicit antiquities trade.

    May I give you some links?

    The Illicit Antiquities Research Center is a great site. I intermittently drop by there and read as much as I can stand at one time. Follow the links in their About Illicit Antiquities section for a good survey of the problem. Culture Without Context is their twice-yearly newsletter, which they archive online.

    These links are news stories that have been collected on the website of ATADA, the Antique Tribal Art Dealers Association:

    Precious artifacts stolen, ancient culture shattered: Looters ravage Indian ruins to sell pottery, heirlooms on the black market. Continues up through the end of the Tidwell narrative.

    An Island in the Hudson, Plundered in Search of Indian Artifacts.

    10,000 Stolen Relics Recovered; Artifacts from across West Constitute Major Theft Case.

    Illegal Internet and Other Tribal Art Sales. An interesting (if appalling) look into the hoked-up online antiquities trade.

    “Gift” Had Petroglyphs. An arrested homeowner tries to explain how he just happened to have a stolen three-ton boulder with ancient petroglyphs on it sitting in his front yard.

    Loot: Along the Antiquities Trail: One artifact’s journey to New York reveals the inner motivations and mechanics of the worldwide market for looted antiquities. A major article from the New York Times.

    Ancient Maya Altar Retaken from Looters in Guatemala. As with any lucrative criminal activity, the trade in illegal antiquities has been passing out of the hands of amateurs.

    Maya Monument May Connect Little-Known Ruins With Mystery Site. An account of the forty-year quest to find the site that was the source of a flood of major Mayan artifacts that hit the illicit antiquities market in the 1960s.

  81. Takuan @193 FTW! It is indeed “The Doors of His Face, the Lamps of His Mouth.”

  82. Arise, arise Readers of Boing Boing!
    Fell frolics awake: riddles and rebi!
    Genius shall be judged, talent tested,
    A word-day,
    A wit day,
    Ere ye win prizes!
    Solve now, solve now!
    Solve for splendor.. and the game’s ending!

  83. The moon grows old o’er the Southern Lands
    The dream maker readies his golden sands

    to what puzzles may come, I far they must wait
    ‘less their nature be parsed in my dreaming state

  84. I thought that I would rest my head
    upon my soft inviting bed,
    but hear I wait for measure bold.
    Let puppy wine. Let husband scold.
    A challenge now to us is dealt.
    Be true Boingboingers and heartfelt!

  85. My precious orbs do acquire some semblance
    Of old Karloff’s or Sarandon’s
    If upon this eventide we may enjoy a dance
    I beg ye haste or I abandons

  86. Oh wait, Arkizzle asked for theme,
    I must have got it in a dream,
    Or else by rhyme o’ercome, have blamed
    F-nail for what he’d have disclaimed:
    a Saturday too much AK,
    not AFK and hard at play.

  87. If anyone has an account with could you get the picture of this?
    to quote:

    As shown in FIG. 1, the rear cover 5 has a central opening 143 disposed in an axial alignment with the film advance hub 109. A plurality of frame number identifiers 145 which include respective imprints of the numbers “1”, “2”, “3”, “4”, “5”. . . “15” are located on an exterior face 147 of the rear cover 5 in evenly spaced relation substantially about the opening 143. The frame number identifiers 145 correspond to the successive frame areas of the film disk F. The film advance hub 109 is supported with a free end portion 149 of the hub disposed loosely within the opening 143. This enables a pointer element 151 on the free end portion 149 of the hub to point out the particular frame number identifier 145 corresponding to the frame area of the film disk F in the exposure position. “

  88. Ok, I created an acct. because my anonymous posts are being held for moderation and I want to be the first to suggest that this is a film frame counting part of a Kodak disc camera, which had 15 frames.


  89. I thought when I first saw it of those cameras that held the discs with the tiny pictures inside them. Pictaviewers or something. I had one when I was younger.
    You’d click it, and look through the binocular eyes, and view your picture. Usually the disk had 12-16 images on it (something like that), and at the end, you’d have to take out the picture disc and replace it with a new one.

  90. Ok, it looks to me like part of a seed drill, an old planter. It’s adjustable for different seeds . . .

  91. Yay, nice to see I was so deeply wrong in my support of the rabbit thing :D

    As for metal detectorists… I still feel that it’s improper to paint them all with the general brush of:
    “metal detectorist == looter”
    “archaeologist != looter”
    … that simply doesn’t reflect real life in any significant way.

    Teresa Nielsen Hayden@#197 – sorry, I’m gonna call that as a weak Red herring/Guilt by association logical fallacy. You deftly posted many great but deeply off-topic links, lambasting “looters”, rather than “people using metal detectors”.

    These looters may be archaeologists, may be their assistants and labourers, and most often appear to be be locals who know the site, but in none of the cases linked were they metal detectorists.

    NB: you don’t need a metal detector to detect or pry off the head of a statue, or a frescoe, or a three ton boulder, or any of the other things. You need eyes and a crowbar. Similar… but subtly different.

    I don’t see any evidence that being able to measure inductance makes you evil. Is there actual data showing the relative “damage” they do, compared to the benefits of their finds? Is there data comparing this alleged damage to the damage done by builders and engineers? (or hamhanded or malicious archaeologists, come to that: the Elgin Marbles in London are irreparably damaged, compared to the ones in Athens, and that was in the name of “restoring” them!)

    I don’t see any answer to my question of who has more right to a site, and whether archaeologists have any more moral right than looters.

    I do see the following, in a vehemently anti-metal-detector paper, which goes so far as to define “damage” as “finding something and not reporting it to a museum”, which is farcical by any measure. [Heavily edited by me below, in a partisan way, for brevity and for my point: reading original strongly advised]

    # […] Hundreds of thousands of artefacts are found each year by detectorists – many no doubt from archaeological sites, rather than off­site locations (Chapter 3, passim). This counts as ‘damage’, because only a minuscule number of such finds are reported to museums.

    [Wait… what? Run that by me again? People find stuff. People might be finding stuff and not reporting it, which is “damage”. Some of them might be doing that on places where they shouldn’t. Thus, because some of them might be unreportedly finding stuff, and some of them maybe in places they’re not meant to, then they are all evil? But only the ones who find stuff by measuring inductance.]

    # […] At some sites, they have provided the main – and occasionally the only – means of dating specific periods of occupation. At others, they have located important diagnostic objects that might easily have been missed by the naked eye. Elsewhere, they have made impressive contributions to the detailed understanding of site layout.[…]

    # […]In 1970, […]only 1,150 Icenian coins were known. Today, we know of some 12,946 coins, the increase almost entirely the result of metal detecting. About two thirds of all metal artefacts seen by the British Museum between 1988-93 are known to have been found by detectorists, in addition to half of all coins and no fewer than 89% of all hoards. More Icenian hoards have been found by detectorists in the past ten years than were found by conventional means over the previous three centuries.

    # […] 2,389 objects were found by metal detectorists in 1993, out of a total of 7,207 […]

    # The use of metal detectors by archaeological units is widespread but unsystematic. […] Fewer than half possess their own detector […] Few seem up to date on recent technological developments [… so basically, British archaeologists are, in general, incompetent at even one of the most basic tools of their job. I feel so proud.]

    # Metal detectors have been responsible for some major advances in archaeological knowledge, and could bring many more. […]notably in our understanding of iron age coinage and the bronze age of south­east England. […] to trace the line of ancient routeways […]

    …So basically, amateurs do vastly more work than the pros, but currently, archaeologists treat the amateurs as criminals, then vandalise the sites themselves by “sterilising” or “chaffing” them, and posting signs warning of large fines and badness if the amateurs use their metal detectors.

    And yet the main crime, the main “damage” they complain of… is underreporting of finds!

    If they acted like astronomers instead of the RIAA, and took amateurs under their wing, posted signs with how to actually report stuff you find, and informed people that stuff they find will not be stolen from them if they reported it… then I suspect that Really Awesome Stuff would happen. Like, just maybe, more reporting, and more cooperation.

    When you’re told what you’re a criminal if you do something, that’s just a teeny bit inclined to make you less eager to report it.

    Most people with a gun don’t go out and hold up banks. Most people with a penis don’t commit rape. Most people with a car don’t drunk drive. And staggering though it might be, reading the anti-metal detector rhetoric out there, most people with a metal detector don’t go prospecting on protected historical sites.

    It is illogical and bigoted to tar tool users with too broad a brush.

    In particular, I feel that Colleen was completely out of line for insinuating that someone using a metal detector in an Alaskan homestead was a vandal, just because he used a metal detector. Would she claim that a hunter was a burglar just because he used a gun? Of course not.

    Also, I think I lied in my last post: I have a “stud detector”, to test where to drill into a wall, which I think works by inductance. Am I now a vandal?

  92. The rhyme at 2 23,
    Tells of a link you may see.
    While it may be simple
    It’ll raise your dimples,
    And it is certainly
    Silly, and free.

  93. We can has game! Winner can has prize! See new entry, appearing soon. I’ll post a link here when it goes up.

    Suggestions for other games will be cheerfully considered.

  94. Yay! Say I, to the fabulous news,
    Our rhymes found time to delight and amuse.
    And frighten our muse, if I’m telling the truth,
    There’s nothing quite like Boing Boing’s Poet’s-Pursuit!

  95. Dewi, I have a stud finder too. It’s a small rare-earth magnet a silk thread glued to it. The other end of the thread is tied to one end of a chopstick. On an old-fashioned lath-and-plaster wall, it can tell you that the builder was slightly offsetting the nails in the lath to keep from splitting it. All it makes me is ingenious. It’s not the tool; it’s what you do with it.

    Also, you’re overreacting; but never mind.

  96. With reference to metal detectors ruining the lives of archaeologists – I feel I should point out that it wasn’t so long ago that Archaeology was a hobby for people of means, who would strip sites of historical interest and lug the swag back to be shown in their local museum (Elgin marbles anyone?).

    ps I’ve never owned a metal detector.

  97. Clearly the bent-up nub would smack into the arrow on the other side.

    When it makes contact, the gear would have a gap centered in the opening. Another gear must have interacted with this contraption via that gap.

    It looks like behind the opening, a small shelf of metal bends down. This bend is aligned with the “hooks”. So it looks like it slid over the edge of something, either something thin, or something that had slots near its edge to accommodate the hooks.

    Whatever it is, it looks like it could only have been reset by manually counting back.

    Could it be something that operates on a 14-step back-and-forth cycle? When the nub hits the arrow, the interlocking mechanism would sense the inability to move further, and then reverse, going back to 1 and reversing again when the nub hits the arrow in the other direction.

  98. A User@241:

    I feel I should point out that it wasn’t so long ago…

    Only a century or two!

    Tell you what: next time you have a really bad toothache, let’s treat it using the most advanced dentistry techniques available back then. When the procedure is about halfway through, we’ll stop and ask you whether you still think that period is sufficiently modern to be relevant to the discussion in this thread.

    Archaeology wasn’t “a hobby for people of means.” All you’re actually saying is that such education as was given to children of the working class didn’t include ancient history or foreign travel, and that as adults, they didn’t have the means to go haring off to the Dardanelles for years at a time. That’s still pretty much the case. Insofar as people of modest means now have access to information about ancient peoples and places, they have it via scholarly, methodical archaeology, which publishes and shares its findings, and puts its artifacts on display. Pot-hunting sells most of its finds to wealthy private collectors. It always has.

    Furthermore, you can hardly call what Lord Elgin did “archaeology.” No one was in any doubt about the Parthenon’s location or provenance. Stripping it of its sculptures was more in the spirit of Venice stealing its four bronze horses from Constantinople and Napoleon later stealing them from Venice (except there wasn’t a war on at the time), or the ongoing appropriation of Egyptian antiquities.

    I’ll grant that Schliemann was a ham-handed amateur who made a mess of the initial excavations at Hisarlik and other sites. He was criticized for it at the time. He was also by no means the first amateur archaeologist to identify Tel Hisarlik at the probable site of Troy. Note that the others didn’t just go hire some diggers and have at the ruins.

    Every field of scholarship starts somewhere. At the same time that Schliemann was hacking away at Hisarlik and the Mycenean tombs, Flinders Petrie was beginning to invent real archaeology. Less than half a century later, you have Howard Carter being so meticulous about recording the position and state of every object in Tutankhamun’s tomb that it took years and years to get through them all.

    Another thing you don’t understand about those semi-amateur early expeditions is that there were never very many of them, and they were limited in what they could accomplish. While they did notable damage in some areas, the total amount of damage was not all that great. Back then, foreign travel tended to be slow and difficult, the roads were terrible if they existed at all, and nobody had power tools.

    Their expeditions were in no wise comparable to the wholesale destruction of archaeological sites that’s going on now all around the world. It’s like the difference between a few lit matches and a general conflagration. The earlier work of archaeologists has taught the general population that old artifacts are cool. This has created a market. Meanwhile, modern technology has made it a lot easier to find and exploit archaeological remains.

    Site-wreckers now have ATVs and power tools, and they go at sites with crowbars and chainsaws. Schliemann at his most careless still cared about discovering ancient history. These guys don’t give a damn about it. They just want to pry out some saleable objects and unload them as quickly as possible.

    I never said that everyone with a metal-detector is a vandal, and I certainly don’t think it. Dewi was so taken up with making his great argument that he missed my approving mention of the British Portable Antiquities Scheme, whereby people who find surface or near-surface artifacts can voluntarily record them, which preserves a fair amount of information on them, and alerts archaeologists to potentially significant sites. I hope it works out.

    But equating archaeologists and site looters? No way. I may respect people who mistakenly hold that opinion, but I cannot respect the opinion itself.

  99. I’m not making the case for fencing purloined cultural assets like the Getty and Met contested artifacts, which were put on the market by looters (though it is worth debating how much both museums suspected the true origins of the returned items).

    But rather, pointing out that archaeology has only recently (read that as within living memory) become respectable.

    “The case involving the University of Chicago was the first to move forward, targeting ancient artifacts from Persepolis and Chogha Mish. The Persepolis Collection was discovered in the 1920s and 1930s, consisting of tens of thousands of clay tablets dating to the Achaemenid Empire.”

    full text here:

    “the Peabody Museum of Natural History at Yale in September, has brought a low ebb in the university’s relations with Peru. At issue are a large group of artifacts that form the core of the show, excavated at Machu Picchu in a historic dig by a Yale explorer in 1912.”

    The explorer mentioned is the real living man Indiana Jones was based on

    full text here

  100. what does more damage to archeological posterity are laws forcing full site assessments and digs upon discovery of an artifact. Some property owner trips over an arrowhead and is then saddled with undevelopable property unless millions are found to satisfy legal demands. Meaning the owner either covers up the arrowhead or tosses it in the nearest river.

  101. #246: By contrast, a few months back when I was still in London, I chanced on a part of the archaeological site of Merton Priory, underneath a road overpass, which had been opened to the public for a day. I learned from one of the volunteers there that the majority of the site was located under the nearby (giant) Sainsburys, who had structured their entire building such that the site was undisturbed for future generations to excavate.

    One thing he mentioned was that it is actually undesirable (and presumably not required) to fully excavate a site in the U.K., since at that point it becomes legal to put all the artifacts into holding and demolish it.

    Anyway, I think it’s a fine balance between incentivizing property owners to report finds and ensuring that they take adequate care of them when they do. I’d rather lose an arrowhead or two than have people pouring concrete into substantial and important ruins.

  102. @ Teresa Nielsen Hayden

    > Also, you’re overreacting; but never mind.

    I’d say I was procrastinating. When overreacting, I curse briefly. When procrastinating, I research carefully.

    If *only* I did it the other way round, my life would be infinitely better.

Comments are closed.