A friendly Englishman who recently settled in southern Sweden wrote me to ask how a law-abiding metal detectorist should go about getting a permit to pursue their hobby in this country.
The first thing to understand is that the Swedish system makes it effectively impossible to metal detect on a whim while vacationing (unless you’re a nighthawk). Paperwork, overburdened county officials and long waits are always part of the process. A sustained metal detector hobby is only really possible if you stick to one or two län counties and establish a good relationship with the County Archaeologist and County Museum.
I’ll explain the pertinent laws, then I’ll give some instructions.
- Metal detecting is illegal in Sweden without a permit from the County Archaeologist, Länsantikvarien. Metal detecting is never legal for amateurs on the islands of Gotland and Öland in the Baltic.
- Sweden has no trespassing laws: as long as you don’t interfere with crops or livestock, or bother someone at home, you can go wherever you want.
- When a member of the public makes an archaeological find, he (not the landowner) has ownership of it except in the following cases, where he is obliged to offer the find to the State before possibly gaining ownership:
- Objects that consist at least in part of gold, silver or copper / bronze / brass.
- Objects that are found together in some kind of cluster.
- This means that if you find a single iron object, it is not illegal to keep it, but you are concealing potentially valuable archaeological data. If you find a flint chip and a potsherd together in one spot, then you are obliged to offer them to the State. And if the State decides to keep any of your finds, you are entitled to remuneration.
- The find spot of an archaeological object becomes a known archaeological site the moment you show your finds to the museum staff. This means that if you find something really interesting in a field and follow the rules, chances are you will not get continued permission to metal detect in that field, as most County Archaeologists do not let detectorists anywhere near known archaeological sites.
With all this in mind, to enjoy metal detecting legally and constructively in Sweden, follow these steps.
- Identify a likely field/beach/park far from the nearest registered ancient monument (runic Rs on the map, also check the on-line register).
- Check with the landowner & tenant that it wouldn’t cause them trouble to have you walking and digging little pits on the land in such and such a season.
- Print out or photocopy a map and circle the area you want to metal detect with a marking pen. A field or two is realistic: a parish is not.
- Write an application letter to Länsantikvarien at Länsstyrelsen (i.e. the County Archaeologist at your County Council) where you specify the time frame (weeks or months are realistic, years are not) and emphasise that you will get the landowner’s & tenant’s permission and you will show your finds to your County Museum. Append the map.
- Wait two weeks and then start nagging the County Archaeologist politely by phone.
- When metal detecting, bring your permit and a GPS navigator. Bag all finds except those of which you’re absolutely positive that they are of post-WW2 date. (Hint: all aluminium is post-WW2.) Write coordinates in the Swedish National grid on the bags.
- Once a month or so, make an appointment with an archaeologist at the County Museum to look through your recent finds.
- Everything will be much easier if you get to know people: join the local historical society and offer the County Museum your services as a volunteer (or, if you’re lucky, paid subcontractor) on its excavations.
Now, what have I forgotten? And is anything unclear? Tell me!