Best Danefae of 2012

Most prosperous countries have legislation for what kinds of archaeological finds a citizen has to hand in to the authorities. In Denmark, still using a Medieval term, such finds are termed danefae, "property of the dead". And here is Danish TV4's list of the top-10 such finds of 2012. All but one of them have been handed in by detectorists, and two by Swedish detectorists operating in Denmark because of Sweden's restrictive rules!

It wouldn't really be worthwhile to make a top-10 like this for Sweden, as the pretty gold & silver metalwork they concentrate on in the program is usually found detectorists, and we don't allow the honest ones to go looking in Sweden. The reason that precious metals are so interesting to archaeologists isn't their market value, but their resistance to corrosion. Most of the beautiful craftsmanship of the past has disintegrated or become unrecognisable. But the precious metalwork endures unchanged.

Thanks to Morten Axboe and Tobias Bondesson for the tip-off.

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That would have been funny if it hadn't been true...

So is there any way of estimating how much gets nicked by nighthawks in Sweden?
And would the land-owner be cut in on the job? Halfers, maybe? After it hits the grey market for antiques *cough eBay cough former soviet bloc cough cough* .
How available is the gear, I mean would people kick off, and dob you in, just for strolling around the countryside with a detecting rig?
Would wearing a high-viz jacket with the name of some official department help to allay suspicion?

I know, questions, questions, always with the questions.
It's just that I'm puzzled by the authorities' rationale here.
I mean what the hell do they think is going to happen, if they merely enact Prohibition against it?

By dustbubble (not verified) on 20 Jan 2013 #permalink

The landowner is most likely hardly ever in on it as Sweden is sparsely populated and we don't have the kind of trespassing laws other countries have. No need to cut the farmer into the deal when you're robbing a field 800 m from his house during the night.

Metal detectors are very rarely seen and people would take note.

I put hi-viz vests on my team when we work in order to show that we're not afraid to let people see us.

The authorities don't care much about the issues, but certain archaeologists are very uncomfortable with the idea that the public can find stuff just like that. Used to be you'd have to excavate an entire cemetery before you found the number of interesting pieces that a detectorist can pick up in a day at the right site. There's a tradition in Sweden of archaeologists "owning" sites and finds.

Part of the story about Sweden and metal detectors is also about major problems with nighthawkers on Gotland and Öland as far as I understand.

Recently it turned out there also was an episod with a nighthawk on the danish island Bornholm back in 1986: (hope Google Translate can make sense of it to english speaking people). Strikingly that didn't lead to a call to ban metal detectors (as far as I know) and currently the focus for the museum is on getting the finds, not to punish the guy who did it.

That I personaly would like to see the idiot severly punished and make sure he never metal detects again is another issue. As far as I know the finds only came to light because he showed them off at a detecting forum. Stupid is as stupid does...

By Jakob Øhlenschlæger (not verified) on 20 Jan 2013 #permalink

We do have problems with nighthawks. But nobody really knows what would happen to the size of that problem if honest detectorists were given licenses. There are reasonable arguments borth ways. And completely unrelated to the looting problem, a system of licensing would give us some valuable things that we don't have today: lots of rescued finds for archaeological research, and increased public engagement with the cultural heritage.

This constant fear of looting..., a marginal problem compared to the major threats. The major threats to the artifacts are, in my opinion and in this order; agriculture, acidification, land development and the associated miserable contract archeology (with almost non-existent use of metal detectors) and finally - the nighthawks. Lets hunt down the nighthawks - but don't forget about the big threats!

By Håkan Svensson (not verified) on 21 Jan 2013 #permalink

I say we use the nighthawks we catch to deal with the shortage of qualified mine clearing personnel in Afghanistan!
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(OT) Ancient DNA reveals humans living 40,000 years ago in Beijing area related to present-day Asians, Native Americans
(A non-DNA clue is the presence of shamanistic belief systems all over the region, a cultural trait that has been conserved since before the migration to the Americas. Strange that parts of culture can prevail so long)

By Birger Johansson (not verified) on 22 Jan 2013 #permalink

I thought of you and your sensible attitudes on this question the other day, Martin, when discussing a dig that was being done a couple of years ago at a place called Cea, in northern Spain south of León. They were looking for a known market site of the tenth to fifteenth centuries, and put several trenches down but didn't meet with any luck, apparently. I asked whether metal detectors had revealed anything, but apparently they weren't used because licensing them in Spain, even for archaeologists, is basically impossible. They were trying to find a market site! I don't understand who thinks this attitude solves anything...

By Jonathan Jarrett (not verified) on 18 Mar 2013 #permalink

I read a story in Current Archaeology the other day about a big 70s dig in a Medieval Scottish town. They found one 12th century coin. Things look very different at detector-savvy digs.