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.
[More blog entries about metal detecting, archaeology, Sweden; metallsökare, arkeologi.]