Metal Detecting Old Farm Land for Lost Treasure

Bruce Lilienthal, hit the jackpot. He found a large, unusual rock on his Minnesota farmland.

Bruce Lilienthal, hit the jackpot. He found a large, unusual rock on his Minnesota farmland.

Metal detecting at pre-existing homesteads and old farmhouses is a GREAT tactic because old relics and coins lie here. What can you expect to find when you detect and dig an old farmland? Arrowheads, pottery shards, buttons, porcelain and metal thimbles, bits of colored glass and old ammunition or bullets. In 2013, amateur detectorist and producer, Bruce Lilienthal, hit the jackpot when he found a large, unusual rock on his Minnesota farmland. After testing and researching, he and his wife learned that it was a meteorite. They sold the rock for a modest $10.5 million!  It pays to search farmland, for MANY different reasons.

Scout Out Large Trees around a Homestead’s Foundation

Farm “markers” are indicators that a farm pre-existed; they often include large trees. These trees have grown very large because nobody has cut them  down. Always watch out for these markers because a favorable hunt site exists nearby. When you do find a “marker tree,” detect the area that immediately surrounds it. There are likely buried coins and relics hidden in the dirt! It was a common practice for people of past centuries to bury hoards of coins and valuables near marker trees. People intended to reclaim their possessions, but it often never happened. Now’s your chance to recover these precious items with your metal detector!

Expert Tip: Under-Searched Sites Will Yield Relics

Silver Navajo Indian Bracelet with Coral Inlay found in New Mexico with a metal detector.

Silver Navajo Indian Bracelet with Coral Inlay found in New Mexico with a metal detector.

The BEST places to find relics and old coins are at pre-existing homesteads, old farmhouses and former soldiers’ camps or battle sites. Obviously, there are many more locations that will yield valuables and artifacts, but these are a few good examples. Metal detectorists always face the challenge of choosing sites that are already picked over. Don’t shy away from these locations, because it’s impossible that every relic and coin has already been recovered. However, if you really want to increase your chances of treasure hunting success, it’s a great idea to find virgin sites or those that are under-searched!

How to Scout Out an Untouched Metal Detecting Site

Detecting enthusiast and relic hunter, Brian Palmer, has a clever tip for interested hobbyists. Investigate for signs of old home sites. In colder months (in some states), it’s almost impossible to treasure hunt. But you can do online research and scan old maps. It’s much easier to scout out sites when the grass isn’t high—and you can also see further into the woods. Palmer and his wife scouted around in the winter and found a fallen tree along a stone wall where there were stones in the outline of a home’s foundation. When they came back to search the area, their detectors hit on a jackpot of treasure!

Popular Relic Finds with a Metal Detector

The Palmers’ finds at this former homestead in New York included five Civil War “Eagle buttons,” flat buttons, a knapsack hook and two 1863 Civil War tokens. These tokens were issued because coins were scarce during the Civil War, but they only circulated for one year. They are great pieces of history! On another hunt they scouted ahead of time, the Palmers’ uncovered a World War I German buckle from 1839, an 1840’s Federal Navy cuff button and an Indian Wars 1874 Pattern belt plate. These are all examples of items you can find when relic hunting. Keep looking for new places to search and/or ask for permission if necessary. You, too, will come across some amazing relics!

Recommended Relic Hunting Metal Detectors:

Entry Level Relic Metal Detectors:

Mid Level Relic Metal Detectors:

Premium Relic Metal Detectors:

Resource:   “Western & Eastern Treasures” Magazine

Relic Hunting Abandoned Home Sites

Metal Detecting for Relics

When it comes to metal detecting for relics, you need to know where to look and also have the right metal detector.

There is no shortage of locations that are ripe for the picking of long forgotten remnants of the past (a.k.a ‘relics’). Just bring along your metal detector and let the excitement begin! Among the hot spots to locate relics are deserted or abandoned buildings. Anywhere people once lived will yield treasure that can be located by a metal detector. Many times you will find rooms in abandoned homes that were left just as they were when they were lived in decades ago.

Detecting for relics is different than searching for gold or coins. Old houses and buildings can present hobbyists with a tremendous amount of junk iron and nails. For these sites, using a small amount of discrimination will prove highly beneficial. You don’t want to use too much discrimination so as to reject valuable targets. Daniel Bernzweig of advises “If you’re using a detector that has a visual target display, rely heavily on it to identify your targets. Correlate the audio and visual signals before making a decision to dig a target.” Recommended reading for relic hunters is What are the Best Metal Detectors for Finding Relics?


Related: See the Metal Detecting Code of Ethics

Dump Digging: from Trash to Treasure Trove

Vintage Medicine Bottles can be found with the help of a metal detector.

Vintage Medicine Bottles can be found with the help of a metal detector.

Dump digging may sound down ‘n dirty, but the allure of finding beautiful antique bottles is enticing. Back in the 1800’s and early 1900’s, bottles were hand-crafted—some of them exquisitely designed. Ornate whiskey flasks, colorful ink wells, beverage bottles and medicine bottles embossed with a physician’s name tell the story of life many generations ago. The place to find historical and valuable antique bottles are old privy pits (a.k.a. outhouse or dump)—which were the lavatories of yesteryear.

Privy pits also served the purpose of a trash can. So after medicine bottles were emptied, they would be thrown into the pit. If you’re interested in collecting bottles, it’s quite gratifying to dig them out of the ground yourself!  By using a metal detector where you believe a privy pit once was, you can locate the general area of metal. The top layer of trash usually contains nails, tin cans, and old metal household items—an indicator that a privy pit lies beneath. This is where you can cash in on a “treasure trove” of antique bottles. Deep-seeking metal detectors and relic-hunting metal detectors are well-suited for locating privy pits. Learn more about this exciting pastime by reading: What are the Best Metal Detectors for Finding Antique Bottles?

How Metal Detecting Can Teach Us About History

History is all around us.  Books, architecture, music, and more abound reminding us of the times when they were first created.  But, we miss a great deal as well because so many historical items remain buried underground.  One of the ways these as yet unfound antiques and historical pieces can be enjoyed again is through metal detecting.

Using a metal detector, kids, adults, and seniors alike can all feel the thrill of unearthing a bit of history that would otherwise have been forever lost.  Not only that, these special artifacts help give us a glimpse into days gone by.  The types of objects used at that time, the materials required to make them, how that differs from today, and more is all right there, literally, in your hands.  No history book can compare to that type of experience!

Metal Detectors and Relics

The best metal detector for finding these still buried antiques and relics of “yesteryear” is a low frequency metal detector.  This means the machine is able to detect metals with a lower conductivity like brass, iron, and steel; the same types of metals widely used throughout history.

You’ll also want a relic hunting metal detector with a manual ground balance control.  Having a precise, manual ground balance control will allow you to easily fine tune the machine to whatever type of ground conditions exist so you’ll be able to detect even the smallest button or antique coin without the interference of the chatter created by soils with heavy mineralization.

A pinpointer is also important when looking for antique relics.  These types of targets range in size so much, and are often so valuable it’s wise to have a pinpointer along with you when metal detecting.  You can find metal detectors with built in pinpointers, or, you can purchase a separate pinpointer to have along with you.  Either way, a pinpointer will help you focus right in on your target reducing digging time, and, more importantly, keeping your treasures safe from a misplaced shovel or digging tool.

In addition, be sure to consider who will be metal detecting with you.  It’s an excellent hobby for the whole family, but, to make it easy for everyone to use the machine, you’ll want to consider a lighter weight model, as well as one with an adjustable handle.  Depending on your location a waterproof metal detector may also be important to allow you to search in places like creek beds and beaches.

Care and Preservation of Relics

Once you’ve found an antique historical artifact, be sure to clean it up very gently with warm water and maybe a soft toothbrush.  With proper care and preservation, relics found with a metal detector can be enjoyed by future generations. Or, for your best bet, take your treasure to a professional so this unique piece of previously lost history can look it’s very best for it’s second act.  Then, do your research and you’re sure to learn a great deal about the past through this precious treasure you’ve just found today.

Antique Bottle Digging: Rescued Treasures

Antique Bottle Digging

If you're looking to find buried antique bottles, you will need the right metal detector that can help you.

A privy pit may not sound like a very desirable location, but if you’re an antique bottle collector, it’s the place to be. Outhouses from long ago often yield stashes of old bottles. Dump sites and old campgrounds are other lucrative bottle digging spots. Believe it or not, old used bottles are highly collectible and can be worth lots of money. How do you know what types of metal detectors are best suited for bottle digging?

A metal detector cannot target or pinpoint a bottle, but it will pick up relics and some models like the Makro deephunter Pro Metal Detector can even detect voids in the ground. These voids can indicate an old caved in dump or privy pit. Usually, bottle diggers locate relics and trash first, which leads them to the dump sites. There are two recommendations for types of metal detectors for bottle digging: 1. two-box deep metal detectors and 2. relic metal detectors. Learn more by reading our article entitled “What are the Best Metal Detectors for Finding Antique Bottles?”

When asked about the best equipment for bottle digging, Michael Bernzweig of offers his advice, “A heavy duty shovel is one item needed to retrieve bottles and relics. The Lesche brand of shovels are top quality and will help get the job done quickly.”

Tips for Finding Antique Toys with a Metal Detector

metal detectors can locate an antique toy car such as the one pictured here

With the right metal detector, you will be able to find hidden treasures like antique toy cars.

Back in “The Good Old Days” toys weren’t made from plastic.  Toys were made of metal and made to last. This is great news for metal detector enthusiasts!  Antique toys like metal cars and trucks, tin windup toys, lead soldiers, and many others can still be found all around the world in many different types of locations that are easily accessible to metal detectors.  From former dumps to old home sites and more, old toys can be unearthed almost anywhere actually; and they can sell for quite a bit depending on the type of toy you find along with it’s condition.

You won’t locate anything if you don’t have the right machine though.  If toys and other types of collectibles antiques like these will be a primary target for your metal detecting expeditions, there are a few features you’ll definitely want to be sure your machine has in order to be successful in your search.

Ground Balance Controls

When metal detecting relics and antique toys, dealing with ground mineralization in many parts of the world is a reality.  Choose a machine that features a ground balance (also known as ground adjust) control.  This will enable the metal detector to filter out all this extra chatter caused by the ground minerals, while still being sensitive enough to target lower conductivity metals like those that antique toys were made of.

Lower Frequency Metal Detectors

Metals like cast iron, tin, and steel have lower conductivity and, as a result, will be best located with a lower frequency metal detector as opposed to a high frequency machine. Please see our newly released Learning Library article: “Antique Toy Hunting with a Metal Detector” for help in sorting out your best metal detector choices on this subject.

Pinpointing Control

the Garrett AT Pro Metal Detector is one of the best metal detectors for locating relics and antiques

Using a metal detector like the Garrett AT Pro, you will easily be able to find buried antiques and relics.

A metal detector that incorporates a pinpointing control is helpful when metal detecting relics like antique toys.  This additional capability allows your machine  to zero in more precisely on your target for easier excavation and faster recovery.

If your metal detector has these three features, you should be all set as far as your machine goes, but, once you locate something, good digging tools are a must to make target recovery easier and more efficient. Lesche digging tools are a good example of what we mean here.  Strong, tough and build to last, these aren’t garden tools, these are metal detector digging tools and the difference shows. In addition to a quality digger, consider a hand held pin-pointer like the Garrett Pro-Pointer. This device will help you quickly and precisely locate your target in the hole.

In addition to your equipment needs, we also recommend that you do your research in order to find a good site to begin your search.  Look for places that were vibrant communities during the late 1800s and early 1900s. Choose locations like old schools, parks, playgrounds, and as we mentioned above, old dumps and home sites.  If your research leads you to a private piece of property, you will need to get permission from owners prior to metal detecting there.  Without their OK you may end up in trouble for trespassing as well as for removing anything you find on private lands.

Now that your research is done and you’ve got all the equipment you need, you’re ready to begin metal detecting relics and increasing your collection of antique toys; and possibly the size of your bank account as well!

Take Antique Hunting to a Whole New Level with Metal Detectors

anitque hunting

For those looking to get started in antique hunting, having the right tools will help you find relics buried in the ground.

Antiquing is a beloved pastime for many. It reminds us of the “good ol days.” Holding a piece of history in your hands is a great way to transport yourself to another time and space. For some, a tangible item might conjure up great childhood memories. In fact, it may even present the opportunity to share these memories with your loved ones. Not only that, collecting is fun! It brings people from many different places and experiences together in an environment where they can share their passions and learn from each other.

For many, antique hunting is something that’s done in a mall, at a show, online, at an antique shop, etc. But, did you know that in addition to these common places, antique items can also be found outdoors and even underground? Believe it or not, there are actually many items including antique toys, kitchen items, jewelry antiques, and more that can still be found underground and in other locations like old home sites and former garbage dumps. While treasure hunting like this isn’t nearly as easy as heading to the antique shop to search for treasures, it is incredibly rewarding and really will take your antiquing experience to a whole new level.

Antique Hunting with Metal Detectors

Having the right metal detector will make it easier for you to find hidden antiques and relics.

Antiquing this way is made possible by time spent in libraries, town offices, and other centers of local history speaking with others and searching for information on places that would make good dig sites, as well as the use of relic hunting metal detectors. These types of metal detectors can find metal collectibles and antiques of all kinds. But, not only that, they’ll also lead you to treasure digging spots where you’ll come across non metallic types of antiques, such as thimbles and marbles, in addition to the metal ones the detector will alert you to.

Choosing the best machine for metal detecting relics and antiques is important.  However, the “right one” will be different for each person. As a result, the best advice is to do your research. Some of the features that are important to consider when choosing a relic hunting metal detector include whether or not you’ll be near water, your height, weight, and level of physical fitness, technological preferences, and, of course, your budget. That said, a good entry level relic hunting metal detector would be the Bounty Hunter Platinum  a mid level model would be either the Tesoro Tejon  or Fisher F75 LTD and at the top of the line is the XP DEUS.

Whatever model you choose, antique hunting with a metal detector is very exciting. Just like the antique mall, you never know what you might find; you might leave with great treasures, or, you might walk home empty handed. But, unlike in the shops, when you are actually the first one to find and unearth a beautiful treasure, the feeling is like no other; and neither is the profit!

Enjoy antique hunting on a whole new level and head out on your own search. Not only will you have a fantastic time, but, you’ll be doing the antiquing community a favor by locating and sharing these rare finds that would otherwise remain deep underground.