The first article was a lot about the pull offs in the fields and if you haven’t read it I highly recommend starting there. You can find it HERE (Finding Places to Metal Detect – In Depth – How to Overlay Maps) . Over the years I have done a lot of map overlaying, leading me to some great spots to metal detect but overall, my best spots were found by using the methods discussed below that pre-dated the earliest maps.
It does take more time and research to hunt these sites down considering I can usually overlay a township in an hour and find a 100 plus sites that are long gone but the sites I have found that pre-date maps are worth the extra time and effort.
Water source – For obvious reasons you will often find the earliest houses, settlements and fortifications along creeks and rivers. Waterways were the highways of the day before modern travel. Of course everyone needs water for drinking, bathing, cleaning clothes and watering the horses and livestock. Every book I have ever read about early exploration/settling of new areas involves waterways. All of the travel and early settlement involve water.
High ground – All of the places I have found are always on high ground. On hills, sides of hills but always on the high ground. Saying that, I do know of a few early settlements that were moved due to flooding so don’t rule anything out but in most cases you will find that most settlements and houses were on high ground. Topo maps are a great resource to find those high spots along the water.
Indian villages – Not only can you find Indian artifacts, trade goods and relics relating to the village but the earliest white settlers to the area would take advantage of the land already cleared. I have yet to metal detect where there was once an Indian village and not come across at least one early house site.
Ground depressions – The depressions are caused from outhouse holes and cellars being filled in then over the years the ground settling. This really works best if you can get permission for a sight or if you’re interested in a particular area and can pull over with a pair of binoculars. I was metal detecting a yard once where the barn still stood, house had been gone a few years. I had permission for the whole property which was over a 100 acres. After I detected the grass where the house once stood a few times I was finishing up one day and pulled out my binoculars to see if I could see anything. While scanning the field behind I spotted a small dip in the field and set out to see what it was. I found that it was either an old outhouse or where a cellar once was because the coins and relics started coming in. I ended up hitting that spot a few more times then again, started looking around. On back a little further on a side of a hill facing me there was a dip, it wasn’t so easy to see but it was enough for me to investigate. Sure enough another house site. Between the two they gave up some great artifacts! Many other sites I’ve metal detected had nothing of the sorts but I will say many of the sites I’ve found on hills and especially on the sides of hills will have enough disturbance that I can usually tell if something was there.
Trees in the fields – I used to drive by this field all the time that had one huge tree up towards the front and a few hundred yards behind had 4-5 trees in a patch. I always knew something was up with those trees but I couldn’t find anything on any of the maps. One day while doing some research at the library I came across a pamphlet/book written many years earlier of all the cemeteries in the area. Several of them I had never heard or knew about. While looking through it I came across the land with that group of 4-5 trees. On that property somewhere was a cemetery and I knew it had to be in that patch of trees. I got permission and went straight back to those trees and found headstones. Many times I’ve been driving and seen a tree or a couple of trees in a field and many of them have led me to early home sites.
Stones, glass, pottery, brick – Of course this works better when you are on a site and it worked a lot better before they went to no till many years back but it is always a sign that you’re on a site. Even with most farmers only tilling the land every few years, many times I have found sites by scanning with binoculars. If I see a hill, high spot or something that sticks out to me in a field I will pull over if I can and scan with binoculars. Many times I have caught the glint of something in a field and once permission is obtained I have found early house sites with glass sitting on top. I have also spotted brick scanning with binoculars as red tends to really stand out when you’re in dark soil.
Talking to landowners/farmers – On many occasions, by talking to local farmers and landowners I have found out about sites on their property. I will never forget talking to a farmer to get permission for a site in his field from the 1870’s. Not only did he know about it he knew about two, supposedly earlier sites from his grandfather’s stories when was a young man. Sure enough, with him giving me the general area of both I was able to locate even earlier homesteads on his property that pre-dated the 1870’s map.
Drones – Detectorists are using them more and more as a tool to locate places of interest. My first experience with a drone was with a DJI Phantom 4 (starts at about $1,200) that my good friend Matt owns. He brought it out to a site I had permission on where I knew a house once was. He flew it out to all the high spots and anything that looked of interest, dropped down to about 8 foot and scanned looking for any signs like pottery and glass. Within about 20 minutes we had determined that none showed any promise. What I did learn was how amazing a good drone can be and what a great tool it is. When he would drop down to 8 foot you could see everything in amazing detail including a worm crawling next to a small rock! What would have taken me at least a few hours to walk to each potential site and scan with my eyes on the ground only took him minutes!
Recently I have been reading articles about a drought in the UK and how several new Archeological sites have been discovered using drones. With drones they are finding a big contrast from the grass/crop from where structures once were due to the drought.
Just a few months ago I purchased a DJI Phantom 3 lightly used with 3 batteries, a carrying case, range extender, extra props for 400 dollars. It’s amazing how easy these are to fly and in safe mode almost impossible to crash, a small child can operate them! Money well spent in my book.
Local Historians – Every community has someone who loves history and has a vast knowledge of the local history. I once ran into a lady at the library and I was carrying around a book on early, local history. She started telling me all about it and before I knew it she was giving me so much information I had to write stuff down. When you can find someone like her that finds your hobby interesting, you would be amazed at what information they will give you and just how much they know.
I hope this will lead you to some early sites, if you have any other ways you find early sites I would enjoy hearing about them!