Self-proclaimed relic hunter Jackie Jones has gone from a young girl searching the fields and streets of St. Andrews for treasures to a history and archaeology enthusiast. The Olympia resident is discovering Columbia’s past one bottle, button, fossil or relic at a time
By Caroline Cherry
May 02, 2018
Artifact hunting has become a lifestyle for Olympia resident Jackie Jones, whom you’ll often find searching for “honey holes” that hold small pieces of Columbia’s history.
Jones calls a plot of land 200 feet behind an Olympia playground her “bottle gangsta’s paradise.” To Jones, a self-proclaimed relic hunter, this is her treasure trove.
At her more than 100-year-old, two-bedroom bungalow she calls “an artifact itself,” her collections of bottles, marbles and fossils cover the yard and sit on display in cabinets around her dining room, living room and bedrooms.
Jones’ favorite artifact from her collection, a miniature creamer bottle, sits proudly atop one cabinet.
“I haven’t seen one since the ‘50s and I found one!” says Jones, who grew up scouring the St. Andrews area looking for arrowheads, pottery, money and similar things.
“I’ve loved exploring since I was a child. I was an only child, so the only thing I had to play in was the woods, and it just grew from there,” the retired teacher says.
Jones says she “really fell head over heels” for relic hunting while taking an archaeology class at the University of South Carolina. She decided to continue with her education degree but never lost the passion for unearthing pieces of the past.
“It’s like reading a book,” she says. “Every chapter or every layer you discover what these people used most.”
Because to Jones, who considers herself a history buff, it’s more than a marble or piece of broken bottle. It’s more than a plot of land. Jones sees history and the preservation of a time long gone.
Jones’ husband, Frank Jones, is the biggest supporter of her passion, standing guard as she wades through the Congaree River or digs through a “honey hole.”
But archaeologist Steven Smith, head of USC’s Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology, is concerned that treasure hunters too often prize the objects without giving them proper historical context.
“Archaeology is all about learning about the past,” Smith said. “Artifacts are part of that but we are interested in the location of the artifacts and what they might associate with the cultures and people that used those artifacts.”
But Jones, who has offered to donate her pieces to museums and researchers, is comfortable with her pursuit. “It’s not the treasure,” she says. “It’s the pleasure, it’s just the fun of finding a piece of history.”
Columbia Voice sat down with Jones to learn more about what motivates her to dig for Columbia’s past. This transcript has been edited for length and clarity. (Listen to the entire interview.)
What have you learned about history, especially Columbia’s, from this relic hunting?
Well they drank a lot of Cokes! A whole lotta Cokes and Tru-Ade soda and Dr Pepper, and apparently this was an era, uh, in the times of the ‘20s, ‘30s and all the way up to the ‘50s where people took a lot of bottled medicine, and they did not know any better, but some of this medicine was just nothing but alcohol, if you can read the labels. The labels say “good for your liver” or “good for your back” or “won’t let your hair fall out,” and it’s nothing but alcohol. …
What life lessons has this hobby taught you?
To get out more, to be healthy. To have an appreciation of the past, appreciation for the present, and certainly to look forward to advances in the future. …
And do you feel that you’re helping preserve history?
Absolutely! Whenever any of us amateur archaeologists go out, or relic hunters, or metal detectorists and we find something, we wanna share. Most of us wanna share, a lot of people wanna keep them to themselves, but I think that everybody should have an opportunity to see what’s out there and what’s been left in the ground and what’s been discovered.
Do you think this hobby is going to continue getting popular or do you feel people are losing interest?
That’s a good question. Um, I think if you live in a town like Columbia where there are a lot of older buildings, especially, the Capitol, which you can’t hunt by the way, but just the fact that there’s this river. I don’t think that it will decline. I think if people discover it, it would increase. And I think it’s going to be more interesting to people older, because the equipment is, is very expensive and you just have to practice with it and take your time. Now there is a metal detectorist who’s in his early 20s; his name is Michael Bennett and he’s on YouTube. He’s all over YouTube. If more people would watch Michael Bennett, more people would get out there and become detectorists and relic recoverists.
What do you think might be a treasure in 50 years?
An iPhone, sunglasses that look like the aviator sunglasses, belt buckles from this era, and certainly a lot of plastic.
And my last question, is there anything in life you wish you had done but haven’t yet?
Well I’ve been on one professional dig, I’d like to go on another professional dig, which we’re scheduled to go with SCIAA in May. I would like to find something that’s very noteworthy. Would I love to be on the cover of NatGeo, yeah. … Well I’m probably not.