I grew up in California and the only old stuff on the West Coast we ever looked for was bottles and gold. There’s a lot more to look for as you head East. Some of it is formal as reported in this newspaper article about the grave of Col Joseph Bridges at St Luke’s Church ( http://www.historicstlukes.org/ ) near Smithfield: http://www.dailypress.com/news/local/virginia/dp-va–colonialbones0130jan30,0,5731774.story
A short video about the same topic is at the same dailypress.com site. A link posted here will not load the video…
Much, though, is informal, such as fossils along the James River shorelines, and varying concentrations of civil war relics. The fossils are easily found and in great supply in more places than this one river and most are unspectacular. The civil war relics require more work, use of a metal detector, some digging and oftentimes permission from a property owner. Once found they, too, are mostly unspectacular, always corroded, and often of indecipherable origin. I prefer the fossils. They’re easier.
Some of the informal stuff is troublesome, such as the remains of a 400 year-old English colonist with thigh-length leather boots that began to surface as the riverbank of some private property eroded. He was removed and taken to a suitable burial site. You’d never find anything like that in California.
More of a problem is a group of folks devoted to mapping lost grave sites in the county who show up at your front door asking to probe your front door for a half dozen purported graves. They tried to get a bill passed in state legislature that would punish property owners who refuse to assist in such grave mapping. The bill died a quick death.
At what point does honoring graves pass from the revered phase where markers, fences, artificial flowers, cemetery signs and respect are required, to the historic phase where we dig ’em up, store them in crates in museum basements or laid out for all to see? The revered phase requires sensitivity. The historic phase lets you build houses on top of the bones or dig up church floors to retrieve them. We decided we didn’t want our front yard probed, to stay in the dark about what lurks out there. We don’t bother them and expect them to do the same. That doesn’t apply to four million year old Chesapecten Jeffersonius mussels ( http://www.dailypress.com/extras/solutions/sol092303.htm).
At least we aren’t troubled by Roman artifacts cropping up in farm fields in Europe: “Oh, crap. Busted another tractor part on some damned chariot wheel!”