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  • Writer's pictureTim Murphy

Diggin' In Virginia XLI: Coles Hill

On April 6-8, 2018, I attended my sixteenth Diggin' In Virginia relic hunt--this one held at Coles Hill. This was the organization's fifth trip to the site and my second (check out the story on Diggin' In Virginia 32 to see how my first trip went!). This hunt was different than most, since the majority of the relic hunters there were looking for trash pits. Coles Hill has been absolutely pounded over the years, which has consequently left surface finds few and far between. Trash pits are very deep and extremely hard to find, but they are treasure troves for relics! I decided to try my hand at pit digging this hunt, so I grabbed my probes and headed out to the fields, hoping to find something worthwhile over three days of digging.

Linsay Stokes, 11, with her first dug bottle!

I'll spare you a long, rambling account of my hunt and summarize it right here: I didn't find much...just a few bullets and a crusty Eagle button. This was really my first time probing for pits, and I didn't realize how much of a learning curve there is to it. I knew the basics--look for discoloration (like ash gray or charcoal black) on the tip of the probe or in the soil sample, listen and feel for changes in the dirt layers, etc.--but I never put them to practice before. It is incredibly hard to find these pits if you don't have any prior experience looking for them (like me). What made it even more challenging is that these pits had no rhyme or reason to their layouts. Usually, the pits are in rows, just like the tents were. However, the pits at Coles Hill were scattered all over the place and a good portion of them had been dug before. I spent hours on end sticking the probe into the ground and finding absolutely nothing. I know for a fact, however, that some of the pits that were uncovered I had walked and probed directly over! I did come across a few previously-dug pits and found a lot of glass shards, but nothing whole. To make matters worse, my 11" DD Commander Coil for my GPX crapped out midway through the hunt, an unexpected $200-minimum expense.

It was a frustrating hunt for me, but a good learning experience nonetheless. Practice makes perfect so they say, and I certainly got a lot of practice in probing this weekend. I also got some great advice from experienced pit diggers on how they go about finding pits, and I'll be sure to implement those tips and tricks next time I go out. While the hunt was essentially a bust for me, it made me a better relic hunter. I'm sure that in time, along with some more guidance and practice, I'll be able to find pits with less difficulty, and that's something I have to look forward to.

Jimmy with a nice champagne bottle

Despite my lack of success, I did witness some fantastic relics get pulled out over the course of the hunt. On Day 1, Kim and Linda Cox opened up a pit that yielded some impressive gems, most notably a squat soda from Boston and a blue-feather salt-glazed jug! They finished their pit with 22 bottles, the jug, and numerous other relics. Absolutely incredible! Not nearly 20 feet away, Doug Stokes and his daughter, Linsay, opened up a deep pit (around 5.5 feet!) that also gave up some bottles. They ended up finding seven or eight whole ones, including two John Gibson and Sons Bourbon Whiskeys! On Day 2, my digging buddy, Jimmy Spalding, and Dennis Bjorklund found a trench-like pit in the woods. For two days, they pulled out countless buttons and bullets, a breast plate, and some nice glass! Some highlights from the pit are a Cathedral Pickle and Peppersauce, an inkwell, and a Jamaica Flask.

For the hunters who managed to get into pits, they pulled out some amazing artifacts! And for those of us who had no luck this time around, it was a great experience to watch. Diggin' in Virginia is always a fun time, no matter what you find. Thanks for reading everyone, and make sure to check out the slideshow below to see more of the relics that were uncovered!


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