Metal Detectorists Help Montpelier Discover Slave History


This past week twelve metal detector experts from Minelab Americas attended a week-long metal detecting program to help archaeologists search for plantation sites across the property. The program also provided the participants an opportunity to learn about how archaeologists use metal detectors to discover and define archaeological sites. This week-long program is part of a larger national effort to help metal detectorists and archaeologists find common ground in the preservation and discovery of historic sites.

The week was tremendously successful on both fronts—discovering sites and finding common ground between the two groups. In our metal detector surveys of Montpelier’s East Woods (for those familiar with Mud Camp, the area of the Sheep Barn) we covered an area of approximately forty acres and discovered three slave quarters dating to the 1820s-60s and a late 18th century barn/work area. We also performed metal detector surveys in a 300ft x 300ft area in the fields below the Visitor Center that had been identified by our resident metal detector expert, Lance Crosby. In this area, we located three dense clusters of metal artifacts that suggest three slave quarters. We selectively sampled several squares and revealed artifacts dating to the 1790s-1830s–the “sweet spot” for our current study of the Madison-era slave quarters.

In the process of the week’s work, the archaeology staff and the metal detecting experts formed a common bond. The participants found a passion for our most common metal artifact—the common nail. Metal detectorists learned how nails can help identify the date for a site and how the site was abandoned. In addition, the archaeology crew found a new appreciation for how metal detectors can make rapid discoveries of sites on the property—while maintaining the rigorous methodology that archaeologists must use. We all found the hobby of metal detecting can be very successfully joined with the scientific method and approach of archaeology. In the end, we all found common ground to stand on, and in the end established friendships that we will cherish.

Metal detector survey of slave site below Visitor Center.


Metal detecting for new sites in woods at Montpelier.

Group shot at the Montpelier mansion.



Montpelier Staff