In October, I wrote about a ruling of the European Commission against Sweden’s restrictions on metal-detector use. The angle, kind of irrelevantly one may think, was that our rules counteract the free mobility of goods, which is of course a central concern of the EU.
On 30 November Sweden’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs replied to the European Commission. The gist of the reply is that “We think protection of the cultural heritage, which is also central concern of the EU, should trump the free mobility of goods in this case”.
Up until §27 there is little new here. But then we get this (and I translate):
“§28. […] However, Cabinet believes that there may be reason to question whether the current general ban on metal-detector use is entirely appropriate, and is therefore prepared to re-evaluate the extent and design of the ban.
§29. For this reason, Cabinet intends to task the National Heritage Board with swiftly investigating alternative rules. These should primarily be directed towards the prohibition of metal-detector use on and next to archaeological sites and to prohibit any search for archaeological objects. In particularly exposed regions, such as Öland and Gotland, a general ban should [still] be considered. Other solutions should also be taken under consideration, from the point of departure that the general ban shall be modified and the Swedish rules be harmonised with EU law. The National Heritage Board shall present its task in the spring of 2011, after which its suggestions will be referred to the interested parties.
§30. Then a lagrådsremiss with suggestions for revised legislation shall be produced and delivered to the Lagrådet, after which a Bill will be drafted and handed to Parliament for resolution. Cabinet’s intention is that it shall be made possible to enact the new legislation early in 2012.
This is good news and quite astonishing! But I see trouble in the words “prohibit any search for archaeological objects”, which is in all likelihood intended to mean “prohibit any search for metalwork older than AD 1900″. That’s ridiculous.
You never know what you’re going to find, and indeed, the main value to society at large of amateur metal detectorists is when they do find and salvage otherwise unknown archaeology. Also, it would remain legal (and commendable) to field-walk for ancient flint and pottery and report such finds to the authorities. Why should it then be illegal to want to find ancient metalwork? And how do you police the issue? Must the County Archaeologist waterboard all metal detectorists and ask them if they really don’t want to find any older objects?
Everybody wants to find something old and interesting! We need to enable responsible Swedish detectorists to do so for the common good of Swedish archaeology, and encourage a culture of skilled hobbyists that condemns looting. Our legislation already demands of anyone who finds ancient copper alloy or precious metals, regardless of how they make the finds, that they report to the authorities.
Thanks again to Tobias Bondesson, detectorist and contributor to Fornvännen and Aard, for the tip-off.