Metal objects found by Joe Gilli from Fishkill, N.Y, that...

Metal objects found by Joe Gilli from Fishkill, N.Y, that he found with a metal detector in Water Mill Friday morning. Gilli and a group of others interested in metal detecting were taking part in a fundraiser by the Southampton Historical Museum to raise money to restore the Sayre Barn. (November 5, 2010) Credit: Gordon M. Grant

BARRY SMALL, a Dix Hills metal-detecting enthusiast, was looking for places where he might find artifacts dating to Colonial times. Tom Edmonds, executive director of the Southampton Historical Museum, is seeking new ways to raise almost $200,000 to restore a deteriorating 1739 barn.

The intersection of their needs resulted in an unusual collaboration that on Friday brought a dozen men dressed like hunters swinging metal detectors back and forth to the muddy fields of Hank Kraszewski's 60-acre wheat farm in Water Mill.

The gathering represented the field debut of the Artifact Detecting Team, an organization of metal-detecting enthusiasts founded by Small and a few friends, with the assistance of Edmonds, after Small read about the plight of the Sayre Barn in January.

By the end of the weekend, the group had dug up 32 coins dating as far back as 1750, more than 100 Colonial buttons, buckles, a copper ring and two Civil War musket minié balls.

The detecting buffs pay a fee to hunt on farms in Long Island's South Fork where the museum has arranged access. The fees go to the barn restoration project. The arrangement brings together groups usually seen as adversaries: the museum-archaelogy community and the metal-detecting enthusiasts they often view as pillagers.

The museum records all items the searchers find but does not keep them.

"It's finders-keepers except for American Indian artifacts," which will be donated to the Shinnecock Nation if any are found, Small said. The museum photographs all finds but doesn't detail exactly where items are found because the fields are cultivated and not considered historical or archaeological sites, Edmonds and Small said. The farm owners are donating the use of their land for the fundraising effort.

"What's so great about this project is that we're attracting new sources of income from outside of Southampton" and beyond traditional museum supporters, said Edmonds, who acknowledged that some landowners and archaeologists may not be comfortable with metal detectorists collecting Colonial and Civil War-era artifacts.

"By and large, the position of the professional archaeological community is that unless something is facing immediate threat of destruction or it's a legitimate research endeavor, the materials are best left in the ground," said David Bernstein, director of the Institute for Long Island Archaeology at Stony Brook University, who is not involved in the Southampton museum's efforts.

Small, who hopes to make similar arrangements with other museums, estimates his group can raise $10,000 to $20,000 a year for the Sayre Barn project.

"We're desperate," said Edmonds, whose museum has raised only $47,000 of $326,000 needed to restore the barn where British soldiers quartered their horses during the American Revolution. Much of the barn's deterioration happened because it was not placed on a foundation when it was moved to the museum grounds from its original site two blocks away in 1953. "It's been soaking up moisture from the ground for 60 years and imploding," Edmonds said.

The first weekend of metal detecting raised $1,500 for the museum, Small said. "Everybody found something good."

Joe Gilli, a construction worker who came from Dutchess County and found a penny from the 1840s and metal buttons, said "I love American history and if this is going to help preserve some of it for future people to see, that's great."

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