As I’ve written before in a number of venues (e.g. Fornvännen and Antiquity), the current Swedish metal detector legislation needs to be changed. It is too restrictive in relation to honest amateur detectorists. It is keeping them from a) making valuable contributions to archaeological research, b) saving finds for scholarship that are slowly turning to a green verdigris powder in the country’s ploughsoil, c) engaging constructively with their cultural heritage. We are decades behind the Danes on this. Metal detectors should be dealt with like hunting rifles: if a citizen passes a knowledge test on how to report finds etc., give him a licence to use the detector on ploughsoil provided the land owner and tenant give their permission, and then revoke the licence if he misbehaves.
Everybody despises nighthawk looters. Heritage management should encourage a strict division between honest daylight detectorists who report their finds on the one hand, and nighthawks on the other hand. Honest amateur detectorist associations like the detectorist section within the Gothenburg Historical Society and Rygene Detektorklubb should receive encouragement from all sectors of professional archaeology. They cultivate social norms among detectorists and teach newcomers to the hobby how to behave. Colleagues, invite them on your fieldwork projects! I could not have written my 2011 book Mead-halls of the Eastern Geats without them.
Now, the Eriksson heritage commission (spoken of before) has made a number of suggestions on how Swedish metal detector legislation should change. This is because frustrated amateurs have complained to the EU about the Swedish rules being a trade obstacle, and the EU has reprimanded Sweden. (Just like when Al Capone was sent to jail for tax fraud instead of organised crime.) And, as I’ve said, change is needed. Sadly, not the kind of change the commission advocates. Here’s what they’re suggesting.
The Eriksson commission wants to make it easier to get a permit for a piece of land if you intend to use the metal detector to search for anything but objects older than 1750. No permits will be issued in cases where there is reason to believe that the detector will be used to locate objects older than 1750, such as when the area in question has known archaeological sites or there is reason to believe that such may be found.
This supports the rare detectorist who haunts beaches and parks searching for modern coins and wrist watches. It still treats the majority of detectorists, who are explicitly interested in archaeology, the ones who are of any use to society, as crooks. All detectorists are in it for the fun. But the guy who trawls beaches doesn’t perform any kind of public service or engage meaningfully with the cultural heritage. The people who discover, characterise and report archaeological sites do. In Denmark, that is.
If I understand the proposed legislation correctly, it would mean a drastic or complete curtailment of the slight opportunities the current rules give serious amateur archaeologists to use metal detectors on interesting land in Sweden. It would open beaches and parks to semi-casual metal detector use and thus remove the pesky EU trade obstacle. And it would in no way change the legal environment in which nighthawk looters currently operate.