Viking hoard highlights the value of responsible metal detectoring

Viking, Silverdale horde
When I used to work as an archaeologist, I heard a lot of bad-mouthing about metal detectorists. These guys scan the ground for coins and other metal objects. Most of the time they only find a few old pennies. It’s when they discover something of historic value that some archaeologists get grumpy. Many archaeologists don’t trust metal detectorists, saying they disturb ancient sites and pocket their findings.

This week’s discovery of a Viking hoard of silver in England shows how responsible metal detectorists, far from being nosy snoopers into the sacred soil of archaeology, can actually help us learn more about the past.

The hoard, found near the appropriately named village of Silverdale, Lancashire, includes silver brooches, coins, arm-rings, and ingots. There are 201 pieces in all, weighing more than two pounds, and they were buried around 900 AD. While artistic value of the jewelry is priceless, it’s one of the coins that tells us something really significant. It’s of a type never before seen and bears the inscription AIRDECONUT which may represent the Scandinavian name Harthacnut. There’s a famous Viking king by that name, but he lived a century later and his coins look different, so this appears to be a previously unknown Viking king.

Interestingly, the other side reads DNS (Dominus) REX, with the letters arranged in the form of a cross. This was a period when Vikings were beginning to abandoned the old gods like Thor and Odin and turn to Christianity. Also in the horde was a fake silver coin made from copper with a thin silver wash, and Islamic coins from the Middle East.

This isn’t the first time a metal detectorist has found evidence for an unknown ruler. Back in 2004, a man using a metal detector uncovered a Roman silver coin in Oxfordshire dating to 271 AD and bearing the face of Emperor Domitianus II. This military officer had been garrisoned in Britain and took advantage of the chaotic political situation to proclaim himself emperor. He minted some coins to celebrate the occasion but his rule only lasted at most for a few weeks. The coin was part of a hoard of about 5,000 coins. This coin is now on display at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford.

In both cases, the lucky guys did the right (and legal) thing–they reported their finds to the proper authorities. Laws governing such finds differ from country to country, but it’s always important to report anything you find that may be of historical significance. You never know, you might have discovered a new king.

Photo courtesy Portable Antiquities Scheme.

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Galley Gossip: Four year-old kid discusses airport security & TSA pat downs


The following video was created for parents traveling with small kids who might be a little nervous about subjecting their children to the new TSA procedures. Regardless of how you may feel about the new enhanced security measures, there’s no need for children to be scared. My son will explain to them what a pat down is and even share a few tips. But first a few things the TSA would like you to know about going through airport security with children…

  • TSA will screen everyone, regardless of age, including babies.
  • NEVER leave babies in an infant carrier while it goes through the X-ray.
  • All children must be removed from strollers and slings when passing through the machine.
  • All children’s items must go through the X-ray; diaper bags, toys, strollers, slings, etc.
  • If any of your items do not fit through the X-ray, a TSA officer will physically and visually inspect it.
  • If your child can walk through the metal detector unassisted, TSA recommends you and your child walk through separately.
  • Do not pass your baby to a TSA officer to hold as you walk through the X-ray machine.
  • If you choose to carry a child through and the alarm sounds, TSA will check both of you.
  • Medication, baby formula, food and breast milk, and juice are allowed in reasonable quantities exceeding 3.4 ounces, and are not required to be in a zip-top bag. Declare these items for inspection at the checkpoint.
  • Children under 12 who require extra screening will be subjected to a “modified” pat down. It’s less intrusive than what an adult might receive.
  • Click the link for information regarding children travelers with special needs or medical conditions.




Photo courtesy of Tatiana Mik

Ten tips to make your trip through the airport security checkpoint easier on everyone

Flying can be a stressful way to spend your day, especially if you only fly once or twice a year. Reports of terror attempts and airport evacuations don’t make things any better. Thankfully, if you follow some simple tips, your trip through the checkpoint can be really simple, allowing you more time to enjoy the dreadful airport food, or to waste your money at the airport duty free shop.

We’ve gathered ten tips that can make your checkpoint experience as stress-free as possible. Not just for you, but for the hundreds of others trying to make it to the other side of the checkpoint at the same time.

Read up on the rules

Are you an “amateur” traveler? Were you allowed to carry box cutters and knives the last time you took a flight? Then chances are you are not up to date on the latest airport security rules. It is nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, a prepared traveler is a rare breed, so consider yourself lucky that you are showing an interest in it.

The best starting point (other than this article) is of course the TSA web site. Their “what to know before you go” has the nitty-gritty on airport security, prohibited items and of course their own tips on getting through security as efficiently as possible.

Frisk *yourself*

Before you even think about stepping into the security line, frisk yourself. Really – run your hands up and down all your pockets, front and back. Remove anything metallic, and you’ll reduce the risk of missing that loose change or pocket knife.

Don’t just assume the metal detector will find it for you.

Find the right line

Many airports have introduced separate TSA lanes for the different kind of traveler. The black or diamond lane is for the experienced traveler. These lanes won’t have as many staff members assisting you. The casual traveler lane may have someone helping point out the bins, and the family/medical liquid lane is where you’ll get the most help. Especially if you are traveling with kids, you’ll want to pick the green lane. Sadly, not all airports have adopted this system.

The lanes are not a contest – don’t worry if you need to go to the casual traveler lane, because picking the right lane will make life easier on you, and your fellow passengers.

Liquids liquids liquids

I don’t think I can remember the last time I passed through the checkpoint without seeing some poor sole being pulled aside because he or she forgot to remove liquids from their bag. I mean, how on earth can there still be people left that don’t know about the liquid rules?

It really isn’t that hard – the only liquids you are allowed to carry, have to be inside a one quart bag, each bottle has to be under 3 ounces, and you are only allowed one bag per passenger. Your “baggie” must be taken out of your bag and placed on the x-ray machine or in a bin on its own.

There are obviously exceptions for baby milk and medication, but you will need to declare them at the checkpoint.

Don’t step in line till you are ready

Don’t be one of those travelers that walks into the airport, gets in line at the checkpoint and then starts getting ready for the screening. Unless you are in a terrible hurry to catch a plane, the area before the checkpoint line is the best place to prepare yourself.

Relax, take a deep breath, and start emptying your pockets. Don’t wait till you reach the x-ray machine to remove your wallet, the safest place for it right now is inside your bag. Don’t forget to put your ID and boarding pass in your shirt or pants pocket, because the screener will want to see them.

Invest in a checkpoint Friendly laptop bag

If you regularly pass through the checkpoint with a laptop, do yourself a favor and invest in a checkpoint friendly laptop bag. These bags are specially designed to fold open, allowing the x-ray machine a clear unobstructed view of your computer. They cost about 25% more than a normal laptop bag.

The advantage of a TSA friendly laptop bag is obvious – you don’t need to take your laptop out of its bag, greatly reducing the risk of damage. It also shaves about 30 seconds off your trip through the checkpoint. A good place to find a large assortment of checkpoint friendly bags is Mobile Edge. This company makes stylish bags for men and women, with bags starting at just $49.95.

Pack wisely

When you pack your bag, think carefully how it’ll look on the x-ray machine. Try not to stuff too many cords together, try and spread your gadgets around a bit, and always check your bag for items that don’t belong there. Two metal tubes with wires sticking out of them may be nothing more than two laptop batteries and some cords, but to a screener, it may look like something worth some extra attention.

(Image from The Register)

Never assume it won’t beep

Just because that oversized “Texas” belt buckle didn’t set off the metal detector last week, doesn’t mean it won’t beep today.

If you have something large and metallic, do us all a favor, and take it off. One of my number one checkpoint pet peeves is people at the metal detector that act amazed when all their metallic objects make the machine beep.

Seriously, these machines are designed to DETECT METAL. So anything larger than a wedding ring is going to make it beep. And for your information – the TSA will not let you just waltz on through once you point it out. They will make you remove it, put it back through the x-ray machine, and have you attempt to walk through the detector again. And in most cases, they’ll make you do this while I am waiting for you to stop beeping.

Count before and after

Put as much as possible in your bags. Too often, I’ll see people put a bag, shoes, a laptop, their toiletries, their phone, wallet, keys and watch on the belt. Don’t do it! Not only do you run the risk of damaging your items, you also run the risk of something being stolen or “otherwise misplaced”.

Put all your items in a zippered jacket pocket or bag. The ideal screening involves nothing more than your bag, jacket, shoes and your clear toiletries bag.

It sounds dumb – but count before and after. If you put four items on the belt, be sure to remove four items at the other end. Travel is stressful, and it isn’t too hard to forget your phone or laptop at the checkpoint. By the time you realize you are missing something, it may be too late.

Move away as soon as you can

Did you make it past the checkpoint without setting off any alarm bells? Gather your crap and walk away. Almost every checkpoint has a nice sitting area at the other side, which is the perfect spot to put your belt back on, remove your important items from your bag, and tie your shoes.

Standing around at the end of the x-ray machine doing all of this is only going to slow things down for everyone else. TSA agents like to keep the area as empty as possible, and if too many people are holding things up, you’ll delay the entire line.

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Life Nomadic: How Airport Metal Detectors Work


I’m a bit fanatical about shaving. Most of my possessions are pared down to the bare minimum, but my shaving stuff is the one big exception. I use a Merkur travel safety razor with Merkur platinum coated blades, a Dovo silver tip shaving brush, and Truefitt and Hill shaving cream.

Excessive, I know.

The blades that the razor uses are standard “safety razor” blades. They’re thin pieces of metal with a blade on each side. That sounds like something that the TSA would possibly prohibit, but in fact they don’t. They mention them specifically in their rules.

They prohibit “Razor-Type Blades – such as box cutters, utility knives, razor blades not in a cartridge, but excluding safety razors.”

Clearly, safety razors are permitted. This is consistent with my experience, too. I’m almost invariably selected for further screening. TSA agents see my razor blades and move on.

And somehow I’ve managed to resist any temptation to hijack a plane with them so far.

In New York a few weeks ago, things were different. The TSA agent didn’t like my razor blades. I insisted that the TSA rules permitted the blades. Things got escalated to the supervisor, an icy woman named Gohel.

“I specifically checked the TSA site and saw that these are allowed. Can we please look over the rules together?”

Gohel told me in clear language that the blades would not be allowed on the plane, and that, no, I could not look at the TSA rules with her. No amount of friendly yet firm pleading would change her mind.

The blades were taken.

I anticipated that this might happen, so I came up with a way to pass small metal objects through the metal detector. I doubt any serious weapon could possibly make it through, but it’s great insurance for those worried that poorly trained TSA agents will confiscate items you’re legally permitted to carry on.
Metal detectors work on a simple principle. One of the walls of the arch you walk through sends pulses of radio waves to the other wall which bounces them back. Their return is timed, and if they come back too soon then they’ve hit metal.

However, they don’t pick up every bit of metal. If they did, then people with metal fillings, metal rivets on their jeans, and metal rings would be unnecessarily detained. The sensitivity is always turned down a little bit.

Because the radio pulses are coming from side to side, if a metal item is aimed so that its thinnest profile is facing the walls of the arches, it is less likely to be detected. I keep a spare blade in my wallet, and it has never set off a metal detector.

There’s no way to know exactly how much metal can pass through a metal detector undetected. I’m sure that the higher ups at the TSA have metal detectors calibrated to catch anything big enough to pose a serious threat.

I have successfully passed safety razor blades as well as small pairs of scissors with no problem. The TSA rules clearly allow scissors under 4″, but agents sometimes have problems with those as well.

Trying to get anything seriously dangerous past the metal detectors would be a very bad idea. I’ve been randomly patted down before, and I wouldn’t want to be caught with something that isn’t clearly allowed by the TSA.

But if you’re sick of being subject to poorly trained TSA agents’ whims and opinions, consider keeping your razors and scissors away from them and their metal detectors.

Say cheese! Tulsa airport starts screening with full body scanners

It was only a matter of time – the first airport in the nation has switched to full body scanners as a replacement for the usual metal detector at the checkpoint.

The scanners use electromagnetic waves to create an image of you – sans clothes. The image is viewed by a TSA agent in a nearby room, which should at least mean you don’t hear their chuckles as you pass through the scanner.

A TSA screener who operates the machine reported that the images “are not pornographic at all”, and that she merely sees them as “a thing that could have something on it”.

But make no mistake – the 3D images will show all your parts to the screener, right down to the size of your breasts and genitals.

The trial aims to determine whether the full body scanners can be a true replacement for metal detectors, and whether the use of the scanners increases, or decreases efficiency at the checkpoint.

During the first day of operation, only 2 out of 1039 passengers declined to use the scanner. Of course, this could simply be because the general public is not fully aware what these new machines are, and just what the images reveal.

Personally I don’t really care what they see, I’m in favor of anything that will help me get from one end of the checkpoint to the next as fast as possible. If this technology is what it takes, then I’m all for it.

After Tulsa, the next airports scheduled to receive the new scanning technology are San Francisco, Miami, Los Angeles, Salt Lake City and Albuquerque.

(Via: USA Today)


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