CLAREMONT — A Claremont cornfield off Chestnut Street drew the curiosity of numerous drivers and residents Thursday when more than 80 men and women were busily combing the cut fields with metal detectors and spades.
The “detectorists,” a recently popularized term to describe metal detecting hobbyists, had come from all corners of the eastern United States, from New Hampshire to the southern tip of Arkansas, to attend the BONE (Best O Northeast), an annual weeklong treasure hunt across New England.
The BONE, now in its twenty-seventh year, is the creation of George Streeter, a metal detecting supplier in Marlborough and publisher of the Treasure Hunter’s Gazette, a magazine for detecting hobbyists.
“It’s just a great way for people to get together and share and brag about our finds,” said Brian Thomas, of Peterborough, who helps Streeter organize and run the annual gathering.
BONE 27 includes five days of treasure hunting this week, from Tuesday to Saturday, on sites located around New Hampshire. Thomas said the organizers prepare all year to get permission from private landowners to detecto on their land.
The event usually takes place in April but was rescheduled this year due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Junk, treasures and mysteries
Many of the diggers on Thursday said the finds on the Claremont site were relatively sparse though the hunt was still early at that time.
The Claremont field also had a high bar to reach following the group’s trip to Tenney Farm in Antrim, which detectorists said was a remarkably successful hunt.
In Antrim the detectorists unearthed a trove of various Revolutionary period coins, buttons and buckles, including a large number of eighteenth century silver Spanish reals, a popularly used currency in Europe and America.
“Ninety-five percent of what you usually find is junk, like beer cans, plow parts or pipes,” said relic hunter Bob Way. “But then you find something that makes it all worthwhile and you want to go find your next thing.”
Way, a former Keene resident, now lives in Pinehurst, North Carolina. He has been a detective for five years and this is his fourth year attending the BONE.
Way was among the luckier hunters on Thursday morning, having found a 1776 King George III coin in the Claremont field.
Jack Harrison of Marlborough, Massachusetts said the BONE attracts many detectorists from the south in search of revolutionary war or period treasures, whereas the south is ideal for confederate war finds.
Way said he found his first real treasure, a CSA uniform button, six months into his metal detecting hobby.
“[A dealer] told me that 100% of relic hunters are looking for something like that but only one percent of them ever find it,” Way said.
Way said the annual BONE gives him an opportunity to visit his family in Keene.
Many of the detectorists said they are particularly drawn to the history or mystery behind the buried treasures.
“It’s [pretty amazing] to pull out some coin from 1780 that someone dropped more than 200 years ago,” Harrison said.
Sometimes, on rare occasions, an unearthed treasure can be quiet valuably monetarily.
Ken Broe from Lake George, New York, said he found a silver ring set with diamonds, priced at $10,000, in his first year of detecting.
“After that I couldn’t stop,” Broe said.
Sometimes a digger’s story about their indoctrination into the hobby proved as interesting as their finds.
Karen Hathaway of Plymouth, Massachusetts, said her husband David bought her a metal detector earlier this year as a present for their thirty-second wedding anniversary.
Hathaway, an avid beachcomber, said she typically walked the shoreline seeking shells or sea glass, but in her first ten minutes on the beach with her metal detector she found a custom-designed ring and was immediately hooked.
Hathaway stood along the edge of the field with two detecting friends, Linda Yaeger from Crestview, Florida and Lori Simpson from Buckner, Arkansas.
At 11:30 a.m. Hathaway said she had yet to venture into the field.
“I am more of a beach person,” Hathaway said.
The BONE group is expected to continue their hunt at the Claremont site on Friday before proceeding to West Swanzey for their final hunt of the week.