When friends and clients ask the Metal Detectives to search for and dig up lost treasures, they generally describe what they are seeking: a wedding ring, coins, bracelets, old buttons and the like.
In late 2019, the detectives, aka Missy Malool and Bunny Williams of Bluffton, were invited by the Town of Bluffton and the Historic Bluffton Foundation to search the grounds of the Wright family property for historic metal artifacts. This was to be an exploratory venture.
The town has recently purchased the property and had plans to create a green space or park to be open to the public. They knew of Malool and Williams because the duo had long volunteered for the Historic Bluffton Foundation and their work was meticulous.
Then-Town Manager Marc Orlando wanted the women to be official, and gave them each a name tag and a bright yellow safety vest to wear as they worked.
Assisting in the effort was Kelly Graham, executive director of the Historic Bluffton Foundation. He had a request of the women.
“Kelly said, ‘I want you to find some bricks,’” said Malool. “I said, ‘Well, I’m not sure that will work. This is a metal detector, not a brick detector.”
Graham said Orlando had expressed “great interest” in finding the location of the Squire Pope house that once stood on the property. “When we spoke about digging and detecting, I told Missy that if pieces of metal artifacts lead to discovery of any old bricks, it would be great,” Graham said. “We believed that bricks would have been used for the piers that supported the foundation.”
As Malool and Williams walked the property, with Malool swinging the detector slowly near the ground, it pinged. With her shovel, Williams dug beneath the spot and soon found an 1888 nickel – and then the shovel hit a brick.
The women were quite excited. They immediately call Katie Epps, director of the Heyward House Museum and its resident archaeologist.
“My first reaction,” Epps said, “was to remind myself to not get too excited. A few bricks together could be just a rubble pile.”
She went to the property to join the women and check out their find. Epps said further investigation indicated that more work was needed to determine if it was “an architectural feature.”
So began an archaeological dig. It started in earnest in January 2020 and continued through March.
The Metal Detectives continued to help with the official dig, along with Epps and two other local archaeologists, Ian deNeeve and JaColeman Hutto. Graham and Nick Walton, who works for the Town of Bluffton, also joined the hunt as volunteers.
Not only did the group find more than 3,000 artifacts, Epps said, they also found what they were looking for.
“We found two separate structures. The initial pier we found was for a small ancillary structure which postdates the Squire Pope House,” Epps said. “We found four piers associated with the small structure. The other three piers we found are possibly from the Squire Pope House.”
The artifacts were washed, identified and cataloged through the summer and fall of 2020. The artifacts, which are the property of the Town, will be stored in the Caldwell Archives of the Historic Bluffton Foundation. Some might go on display at some point, Epps said.
The work of the Metal Detectives did not go unnoticed. They were honored with the Caldwell Award by the Historic Bluffton Foundation in December 2020.
“It was quite a journey,” said Williams. “It was a great opportunity and a joy go get to dig on a historic property.”
Malool agreed. “This was not about us,” she said. “This was all about saving some Bluffton history.”