Metal Detector Rally

Last Saturday I attended a rare event: a Swedish metal detector rally. At their worst, in some countries these are like pick-your-own strawberry plantations: pay to loot. But Swedish heritage law is uniquely restrictive around metal detectors, and Swedish daylight detectorists oppose looting, so this rally was an event where any archaeologist could feel at home. It was organised by the Swedish Metal Detector Association (SMF; founded in 2012) in collaboration with the Östergötland County Archaeologist's office. The latter has issued me many a research fieldwork permit involving volunteer amateur detectorists since 2003. SMF had booked me and my colleague Håkan Svensson to give talks to the rally. Mine largely consisted of a typology of professional archaeologists: what the various kinds do, how we think, what values we share, what our attitudes to the metal detector hobby are.

The rally was held at Skårsjö farm near the town of Valdemarsvik, a facility that usually houses parties for organised hunting. Because of a bad cold I was only there for eight hours and didn't do any detecting of my own. But I had a very good time and met a lot of really friendly people. Here are some impressions.

  • There were about 50 participants, all but three of them men, average age about 40.
  • Only one participant knew an archaeologist personally – I opened my talk by asking this.
  • They are really keen to learn about finds.
  • They are extremely passionate about their hobby. I heard several say over dinner that they couldn't wait to get out in the damp drizzly fields again until sundown.
  • I examined all the several hundred finds made from Thursday to Saturday dinner. All (except several boxes and buckets of obviously recent junk) carried GPS coordinates.
  • Apart from the dominant junk, the finds were overwhelmingly 18/19th century buttons and copper coins of low denominations.
  • Only five finds definitely dated from before 1520: a Late Mesolithic trindyxa axe (found by eye on the surface), a Late Medieval decorative mount depicting a knight's helmet, a Middle Viking Period four-ribbed ring, a casting cone (metalworking debris) and a frost nail for a horse's hoof.
  • In accordance with Swedish law, every find datable before 1850 will be offered to the State to possibly be taken into a public collection in exchange for a finder's fee.
  • The organisers were in continuous phone contact with the County Archaeologist's office, apprising them of new finds.

I was pleased and impressed by everything I saw. Congratulations to SMF and the Östergötland County Archaeologist's office for this forward-looking, constructive, culture-building event!

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Happy to read your review.

By Robbin Ask (not verified) on 17 May 2016 #permalink

Thanx for your speach at the rally Martin!

By Magnus Österblad (not verified) on 17 May 2016 #permalink

Thank you for this article, Martin! It helps to expand my understanding of detectorist culture and interactions with archaeology, on top of your clear answers to my questions a couple of months ago.

By Michael Kelsey (not verified) on 18 May 2016 #permalink

Around the same time... Finnish amateur detectorists find a Viking silver hoard, and report it to relevant authorities. They actually found the place from lidar images and decided to go and see what was there. And there is still much more to find in the ground.…
(Sorry about linking to a quirky Google translation, but I couldn't find an English news story.)

By Lassi Hippeläinen (not verified) on 18 May 2016 #permalink

And here you find the report:

Sammanställning av metallsökarträffen i
Skårsjö, Tryserum, Östergötland.
12-15 maj 2016

I samband med föreningens årsstämma genomfördes en fyra dagar lång metallsökarträff. Evenemanget hölls vid Skårsjö gård i Valdemarsviks kommun där föreningens medlemmar fick möjlighet att umgås och utöva sin hobby tillsammans med likasinnade. Temat för årets träff var utbildning, vilket avspeglades i att föreningen bjöd in arkeologerna Martin Rundkvist och Håkan Svensson att hålla i varsitt föredrag.…