The question “who owns archaeological artifacts?” isn’t one that’s easily answered. The United States, and each state within, has its own laws concerning ownership rights to archaeological artifacts. Most of these laws, like the Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979, have a distinct year that separates which objects belong to the federal or state government, and which are permissible to be lawfully owned by the public. Read more
Several months ago, I was invited by Butch Holcombe, the publisher of American Digger Magazine, to join him on a metal detecting trip to historic Augusta, Georgia. As I soon learned, the city is undertaking an aggressive “beautification” plan, in which public and private developers are reclaiming abandoned and condemned properties, tearing down dilapidated houses, and replacing them with new ones. Our mission? To search recently bulldozed lots for historical remnants of the past. Read more
“Reader, did you ever eat a mussel? Well, we did, at Shelbyville. We were camped right upon the bank of Duck River, and one day Fred Dornin, Ed Voss, Andy Wilson and I went in the river mussel hunting. Every one of us had a meal sack. We would feel down with our feet until we felt a mussel and then dive for it. When we got to camp we cracked the shells and took out the mussels. We tried frying them, but the longer they fried the tougher they got. They were a little too large to swallow whole. Then we stewed them, and after a while we boiled them, and then we baked them, but every flank movement we would make on those mussels the more invulnerable they would get.”
After waking up from sweet dreams of finding a CSA (Confederate States of America) plate (buckle or accoutrement), Butch Holcombe set out with his metal detector to explore a site in North Georgia that saw action during the Civil War. It was 1973, a time in which finding Civil War artifacts was much more prevalent than it is today – especially those rare relics that are coveted by collectors both then and now.
On the side of a ravine in Vicksburg, Mississippi, young John Jr. squirmed on the ground with his outstretched arm desperately trying to reach an object buried deep inside the Mississippi soil. Having just dug a 14-inch deep hole with the help of his Brother, Mother, and Father, John Jr. extended his hand and fingertips just enough to make contact with the object. He could see enough; and feel enough, of the object to know that something cool was waiting to be unearthed. Being the kind of mom that she is, Nikki pushed her metal detector to the side, rolled up her sleeves, and helped her sons unearth a piece of Civil War history – a Confederate cannonball from the Siege of Vicksburg (May 18 – July 4, 1863).
Q. How would you describe yourself?
A. First and foremost, I would say that I’m an historian. To be great at the hobby of recovering Civil War relics, you have to have a passion for it–researching and discovering all of the nuanced, intricate historical details. I think most everyone in this hobby is an amateur historian in their gut.
I have a passion for Civil War history and I only focus on that time period. My degree is in chemistry; and I liked it at the time, working for both Textron and DuPont for a while. However, there’s a difference between liking what you do and having a passion for what you do.
Q. When did you fall in love with this hobby?
A. It started with the Centennial Anniversary of the Civil War. I was 10 years old in 1961, and 14 years of age come 1965. Those are real formative years for a young boy. During the Centennial, the newspaper had a big section every week, and living history presentations were also a big deal. I attended a few of them, and as a 10 to 14 year old, it made quite an impression. Those were the years when I said “you know what, this stuff is cool.”