Interview with Treasure Hunter and Amateur Archeologist Greg Shipley

Greg Shipley

With over twenty years in this hobby, I have met some fascinating and wonderful detectorists along the way. There are so many people at all levels of knowledge of the hobby that I have a great respect for but the list of ones I look up to is small. I feel my knowledge of metal detecting is up there with most. Not much I have not metal detected for nor is there much on my list I haven’t found. I can research with the best of them and I’m good at getting permission like so many of you out there.

Greg Shipley stands out amongst us though and someone I look up to. His knowledge of artifacts is absolutely incredible. While many of us are researching sites that are easily found with a little research, he’s going to extreme lengths to find sites that have little to no information written down about them in the history books.

Below is an interview with Greg Shipley. If you want to see more of Greg’s finds and learn more follow him on facebook.

You obviously have a love for history. When and how did it start?

1. As far back as I can remember in my childhood memories, I’ve always been interested in history and finding “long lost things”. In the very late 1950s, I can remember seeing a black and white movie “Boy on a Dolphin” that my parents took me with them to see. The basis of that movie was that a girl diving off her father’s boat in the Mediterranean found this huge bronze statue on the seabed and that had a lasting effect on me in two ways… (A) I was obsessed with Sofia Loren, as a youth, and (B) I became captivated by the thought of discovering lost treasures. LOL I couldn’t have been more that 4 or 5 years old but from then on, I was always watching or looking at anything that had to do with ancient Romans, Greeks, Egyptians, or Vikings. 

In the Spring of 1961, when I was 6 years old, I found a broken arrowhead in a field on my family’s farm in Champaign Co, Ohio. That first prehistoric relic find was what triggered everything that has occurred for me since that time. I knew there weren’t any of those ancient European cultures in Ohio, but those prehistoric people, and what they’d left behind for me to recover, became MY Romans, Greeks, Egyptians, & Vikings! So, my first broken arrowhead is why anyone has even heard of Greg Shipley.

How many years have you been searching for artifacts and metal detecting?

As far as metal detecting, I didn’t become serious about that until the beginning of the 1990s, after I’d been surface hunting and excavating prehistoric sites for 30 years. Somewhere around the late 1960s, my parents bought me a Treasure Hawk detector for a Christmas present but, other than detecting around the 1834 house I grew up in, I let it sit in my closet – which is one place a metal detector will never find you any artifacts! I still have that detector up on a display shelf. As no-till farming of the early ’90s began to take over, my friend WB and I decided to see about locating the cluster of three late 1700s Shawnee Indian villages that were mentioned in Allan Eckert’s fantastic “The Frontiersman” book. Those villages (Moluntha’s Town, Wapatomica and McKee’s Town) were right around where I grew up. Coming from a farm family and my mom being the Jr-high history teacher for all the children of those property owner families, we obtained easy access to those suspected sites. As soon as we started detecting the farm field we suspected part of McKee’s Town site would be located in, we started finding musket balls and one of our first signals we dug was the blade of a broken brass pipe-tomahawk… I was hooked!

Can you tell us about some of the metal detectors and equipment you have used and your favorites

I had a White’s D6000 but immediately purchased a White’s Spectrum XLT, in 1994, and that was what I used on our historic Indian and early cabin sites, with great success. We purchased a White’s 808 (we call it our Deep Seeker) and that has located some really amazing larger sized objects that have been in deep features, which were several feet below the surface. What I like about the 808 is that you can have all sorts of small metal items in the plow zone and the 808 will ignore them, as it only locks onto large objects or masses of objects that are deep below the debris scatter that is above those big items. In the past decade, I’ve been using a White’s V3i, which I love how it can get small items that are 10″ and 12″ down at the bottom of the plow zone + my XP Deus WS5, which is the berries, when it comes to sorting out good targets in dense nail concentration areas on early cabin and house sites. One thing I’ll always say is that there are plenty of great machines made by all the detector manufacturers. The key to having them find you great relics is to learn everything about your detector, experiment with what settings work best for your soil conditions and become keen at understanding what it is telling you – the longer you use your detector, the more proficient you become with what it can do.

You’ve had the opportunity to metal detect some amazing places. Can you give the readers any tips for gaining permission.

Gaining permissions is an adventure “unto itself”, for certain. I do try to read the individual’s type and mood when I make my first contacts with folks I know nothing about other than they are the owner of a piece of property I’m interested in investigating. Prior to stopping in, I do have a sense for what are they like? If a property is extremely well kept and the family is known for their businesslike manner, I’ll go to see them “cleaned up” (nice casual dress). If the property is a little less cared for, in appearance, and the owners are more of a “hard working” type, I make my pitch wearing jeans, sweatshirt, and a farm logo ball cap. I make sure to greet them by their name (you gotta research and know their name before you go there) – “Hello Mr Westfall? Mrs Humes?” If you greet them by name, in a courteous fashion, you are in a position to provide who you are and they may pay more attention to you and your request. Once they are speaking with you, if willing to, I explain what I think might be on their property and what my interest is. You can gauge if they have interests in history, if they hunt their own lands for relics, etc, and make your pitch. Sometimes, the answers to my requests are “no”. If that’s the case, I thank them for their time and go search out another permission opportunity. Also, I keep tabs on those “no” properties, whenever they end up selling to new owners, so I can make another attempt with the new owners. (this has resulted in my getting onto some sites, years later) I know this won’t be for many detectorists, but I do return large portions of recovered artifacts back to the owners on several important sites I’ve obtained hunting rights for. I’ve found lots of great things for nearly 60 years now, and if I can get on Anthony Wayne period fort sites and 18th century Indian villages to detect, excavate and recover amazing quantities of rare artifacts… I’m willing to give more than a fair share to the owners. Otherwise, I’d not be having all the amazing fun that their permissions afford me. That’s where it boils down to do you want access to great spots others can’t get a toehold on or do you want to drive past those spots and never know what’s there?

Can you tell us about a few of your favorite artifacts you’ve found over the years?

Favorite finds of mine start with prehistoric hardstone bannerstones (6 total) that I’ve dug, whole Mississippian pots and flint spades, from outings without a detector in tow. Detecting wise, 18th century Indian trade silver, brass kettles, flintlock gun parts, Venetian glass trade beads (from trash pits and hut floors my detecting has located) are always favorite recovery items. I’ve recovered  British  regimental buttons from the American Revolution, Wayne’s Legion frog-legged eagle buttons, Varieties of War of 1812 insignia buttons and associated military materials. As for coins, my earliest coin is a 1656 Spanish gold cob Escudo, that I recovered on a central Ohio Indian site. I recovered all the normal LCs, Indian Heads, Half Dimes, Trimes, Bust Dimes, etc, but dug a cache of 11 silver coins from the McKee’s Town village site, with 1769~1786 dates, also (1/2, 1, 2, 4, 8 Spanish Reales coins & one British 2 Pence). I’ve still never found an American minted gold coin or a US silver dollar. Ha! The rarest non coin object I’ve recovered is a 5″ length 4,000 year old copper adze of the Old Copper Culture, which had been traded down from the Wisconsin/Upper Michigan region during prehistoric times. I found that copper artifact, in 2017, on a Mad River valley site where I’d hunted arrowheads and stone tools since I was 10 years old.

Would you share with us your favorite story related to the hobby?

 I guess my favorite story is the day, in 2014, when I was detecting a mid-1700s Indian village site in central Ohio for the first time. I was using my V3i and it gave be a decent, though not strong, signal that bounced from 20~80vdi readings – I dug down 19″ below the surface and discovered an intact mid-18th century English flintlock “screw barrel” pistol was what my detector had locked onto. Talk about something you never expected to find. It took a couple hours to excavate and several days to preserve, as all the brass gun parts had allowed a good 85% of the English walnut stock to survive and that took much work to get treated and preserved, once I got it back home. Amazingly, after making this once in my lifetime recovery, I found my 1656 gold cob coin less than two hours later, on the same site. That was one good outing!

What advice would you give someone new to the hobby?

As for advice or suggestions to new detectorists, who are just getting started in this hobby, just be aware that you won’t likely go out and dig a tin box of silver dollars, or a $20 double eagle gold coin, right off the bat. Do your research on what type of detecting you are interested in and identify where spots that fit your area of interest are located. Next, Get Permissions, for where you want to look, and be certain to understand any rules or ordnances for hunting local parks, school grounds, etc. Also, be aware that you can’t detect on federal or state properties – you could go to jail! Get involved with any local detectorist clubs or amateur archaeological organizations, as you’ll have opportunities to learn from seasoned detectorists and get some pointers on your new hobby. Next, don’t be discouraged by not finding great treasures the first times you go out, as it will take time and effort to learn what your machine is telling you. Your detector won’t be of any value to you if you don’t take it out and go hunting either, so stay at it. When you are out, dig, dig, dig your signals – learn by recovering what your detector says is there. Last thing… fill in all of the holes you dig and take the junk items out of the field when you leave and find a trash can to dispose of them in (gas stops are great places to deposit unwanted junk in readily available customer trash cans)

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