Saturday, January 21, 2006

Easing Swedish metal detecting restrictions

I'm working on a discussion piece about metal detecting together with detectorists Svante Tibell and Håkan Wahlin. Sweden has very restrictive legislation on this subject. Detectorists only ever come near ploughed archaeological sites in Sweden as part of organised research projects, and this occurs very rarely.

We believe that there should be restrictions on metal detecting to keep night hawks from robbing the public of its cultural heritage. But we also feel that the current legislation is robbing the public of valuable opportunities to take part of the cultural heritage in a constructive way.

Here are three arguments for easing the Swedish restrictions on amateur metal detecting:

1. The public has a right to take part of its cultural heritage in a constructive way.

2. Swedish archaeological research is decades behind Danish archaeology in some fields of study because of these restrictions. Danish detectorists make an enormous ongoing contribution to research at their own expense.

3. Copper alloy objects in the surface layers of ploughed fields don't lie around unchanged waiting for the archaeologists. They deteriorate rapidly. Detectorists are not interfering with things scholars would eventually find. They are rescuing things that no-one would ever get to see otherwise.

We propose a metal detector license, comparable to a hunting license. To become licensed, you would need to pass a test regarding knowledge of the rules for detector use, documentation methods and what to do with finds. To keep the license, you would have use your metal detector responsibly and according to the rules.

We've just started writing and would be interested to hear other people's thoughts. Have we missed any weighty arguments for or against an easing of the Swedish restrictions on metal detecting?

Update 22 June '07: A comment from my colleague Paul Barford made made me realise that I should clarify something about the Swedish legal situation, which is very unlike the British one.

Swedish law has stipulated since the 17th century that if you find ancient precious metals then you must turn them over to the State for a reward no less than 1 1/8 of the metal value. For about a century, the same has also applied to copper alloy objects and other materials found more than one object at one spot. In current practice, you usually get far more than the metal value to compensate for the collector's value of coins etc. I certainly don't propose to get rid of this legislation.

I don't want to enable Swedish detectorists to own finds. I want to enable them to find more stuff to turn over to the State, as their Danish friends have done dutifully for decades. In other words, as an archaeologist I want more free labour and more data that would otherwise be beyond reach to me.

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Blogger Michael said...

Interesting thoughts. I'm in Norway (where most detecting appears to be allowed) but would like to do some hunting for Muonionalusta meteorites in northern Sweden with a metal detector. I have heard that it is not possible to get a permit for this work but then others ( say that you can get a permit. In fact, they appear to hunt there regularly. Could this be because it is not artifact hunting?

16 April, 2007 21:40  
Blogger Martin said...

What decides whether the County Archaeologist will give you a permit isn't what you're hunting for, it's what you're likely to find. In northern Sweden, where population density has always been low and the archaeological record is poor in metals, it should be easy to get a permit unless the C.A. is somehow prejudiced against metal detecting alltogether. Good luck!

17 April, 2007 07:12  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes it is possible to get permission for searching meteorites in Muonionalusta. But it is not as easy as one might wish or believe! I like hunting meteorites but also like to take a "hunt on the beach". I also believe metal detection restrictions should be eased in Sweden. At least beach hunting.


29 May, 2007 21:54  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So you want to ease restrictions on Swedish metal detecting and allow it to take place subject to licensing. Seems fine to me.

Here in UK some of us want to TIGHTEN restrictions on metal detecting and allow it to take place subject to licensing.

We seem to be both aiming for the same thing, yet coming from two extremes.

In our view you should beware of relaxing
the rules too far. The Swedish archaeological resource would be ill-served by creating the deeply damaging free-for-all that currently exists in UK - see here -

30 May, 2007 20:52  
Blogger Martin said...

The Portable Antiquities Scheme seems to be a good way to handle things, seeing as the volume of material is far too large for the museums to cope with it. Would the nighthawks be less destructive if the UK rules were tightened up?

You aren't arguing that non-nighthawks are the main problem? Remember, if they didn't find those objects, then nobody would.

30 May, 2007 21:05  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"You aren't arguing that non-nighthawks are the main problem?"

I'm arguing precisely that.
As do our other web pages.
Nighthawks, in our view, cause far less loss from the record than legal detectorists - the majority of whom tell no-one what they have found or where.

Bear in mind there are a million known archaeological sites in England alone that have zero protection (and English Heritage say a large proportion would qualify for scheduling) and legal detectorists target these and "work" them long term. Just today I have seen on a detectorists' website "I have had 120 Roman brooches from that one field". If, as is statistically probable, he doesn't tell PAS about them then the field will continue to be detected until no more are found.

Yes, legal unregulated detecting without an obligation to report finds IS the main problem in our view. Great idea the PAS but after ten years more than 4 out of 5 detectorists still entirely ignore it. We see regulation and a legal obligation to report finds as the right way forward.

30 May, 2007 22:25  
Blogger Martin said...

Sounds good to me.

30 May, 2007 22:28  
Anonymous Paul Barford said...

"But we also feel that the current legislation is robbing the public of valuable opportunities to take part of the cultural heritage in a constructive way"....

So if I understand you correctly by "take part of the cultural heritage" you are advocating encouraging people to make personal artefact collections as part of giving them "access to" the (their) past?

Would the removal of thousands of artefacts from the archaeologiocal sites of Iraq at the moment be "OK" if only the shovellers had a licence for owning a shovel and there was somebody by the side of the hole making a note of what they were "taking" so we could pretend it was being done in a "constructive way"? This is not a facetious remark, it is a serious question about what makes the exploitation of archaeological sites and assemblages for collectables for entertainment and sale any different in Great Britain (for example) and Iraq. Is it only OK (nay, even praiseworthy if you heed the British media) if "enlightened" western European white guys do it but called "looting" by all when the foreign brown guys do it? (Sadly, this is actually a view I have met expressed by certain US artefact collecting circles...).

Can you REALLY not think of other ways of giving Swedish people access to the (their) past than just encouraging them to make collections of metal bits and bobs like so many postage stamps, phone cards or costune dolls? Making a collection of Roman coins taken from archaeological sites is no more archaeology than collecting costume dolls is ethnography, so why pretend it is?

In Britain, as "anonymous" said, despite millions (literally) of pounds spent trying to get Britain's several thousand (probably ten thousand) to act responsibly and report finds, the majority dont. I dont know on what grounds (after looking carefully at the british experience) you could be sure that by liberalising detecting in Sweden the results would be any different.

Paul Barford

21 June, 2007 20:21  
Blogger Martin said...

You misunderstand me. Please see an addendum to the blog entry.

22 June, 2007 16:35  

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