The first thing that comes to most people's minds when they see a metal detectorist at work is: Do they ever find anything of note? In the case of Jason Jones, the answer is a resounding yes.
In January 2023, Jason uncovered a unique Viking die in a field near the Norfolk market town of Watton. It would later be classified as a find of national importance and sold for a cool GBP 15,000. Here is his story.
A new family passion
Jason and his family first began metal detecting four years ago after he bought one as a birthday present for his son, Rio. Soon, the entire family was hooked.
"We have three children – the oldest is 19, the youngest is nine, and we all love it. No session is ever the same, and we never know what we will unearth."
In addition to exploring their local area, the family has also traveled all over the UK to participate in group digs and various events. They had already found a wide range of other artifacts, including various Roman objects and medieval hammered coins.
Yet nothing could have quite prepared Jason for what he would find in a field close to their Norfolk home.
"As I exposed the find in the hole, I thought it would be a large modern find due to the size. But then I turned the piece over in the clod of soil and revealed the front of the die… Straight away, the detail looked something special. At this point, I had no idea of the importance of this find, only how stunning it looked."
The discovered Viking die, bearing intricate carvings, provides valuable information about the Viking art in the 11th century. Photo: Jason Jones
Understanding the find
Unsure of what he had in his possession, Jason posted in a metal-detecting Facebook group to ask for a second opinion. Within minutes, people were commenting and debating about what it could be. Jason soon realized he might have something special on his hands.
To find out what, exactly, Jason contacted Norwich Museum, where Helen Geake from Channel 4's archaeology TV series Time Team went on to analyze and record the find.
The object, which is made of bronze and is known as a die, features an intricate carving in the Urnes style that is thought to depict two key symbols from Viking mythology, the world tree Yggdrasil and the monstrous serpent or dragon, Níðhöggr.
Jason and his family live in an area of East Anglia that was initially settled by the Vikings after the invasion of the Great Heathen Army in the ninth century. The Urnes style, however, represents the final phase of Viking art, with experts dating the piece to the 11th century.
Though the experts at the museum couldn't say for sure, the piece was probably used to adorn a Viking helmet.
"The curve in the die is natural. It probably comes from the repoussé work on the piece of a helmet that protects the ears and cheek or the front nasal area. The date would tie in with Harold II defeating the Vikings before losing to William I."
The experts at the museum soon designated the die as a find of national importance. "I was in total shock," recalls Jason. "As detectorists, we often read up about the history of the UK, and the Vikings always pop up. But at no point did I ever think I would find a Viking artifact like this."
Jason and his family would have been delighted to have kept the piece. However, rules in the UK state that the value of any object found on private land should be divided equally between the landowner and the person who uncovers it.
With the find initially valued at GBP 16,000-24,000 (USD 20,500-30,800), to retain ownership, Jason would have needed to pay a large lump sum to the owner of the field. "This wasn't an option for us, so we decided to go the auction route."
The auction house Noonans took on the job of selling the piece. It was eventually purchased for GBP 15,000 (USD 19,280), though Jason and his family hope it will be displayed to the public at some point in the future.
With their adventures stretching across the UK, the Jones family has discovered an array of historical artifacts, from Roman objects to medieval coins. Photo: Jason Jones
Keeping up with the Joneses
Jason doubts they will ever top their Viking discovery, but the family's passion for metal detecting shows no sign of dimming. Jason even has a popular YouTube channel, Norfolk Button Boy, where he films live digs and offers tips on the best techniques.
His wife Lisa also runs a channel, Norfolk Girl Detects, which features a video of their Viking discovery that you can watch here.
Though professional archeology excavations are obviously of immense importance, we should remember that amateur enthusiasts also significantly contribute to revealing the secrets of history. There are thought to be 20,000 metal detectorists in the UK, with the main hotspots for significant archeological finds including Norfolk,
Lincolnshire, and Hampshire. One report found that an incredible 96% of archeological and treasure finds in the UK are uncovered by metal detectorists.
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