Towards an Archaeology of Picnics (Unwillingly)


Spent the day metal-detecting a lovely high-profile site in Uppland for a colleague. It’s turf-covered and a popular haunt of campers and picnic parties. My next detector is definitely going to be one that can differentiate between aluminium and precious metals. I hate aluminium. I took up 111 objects and almost all of them were made of that accursed metal: mainly pull tabs, bottle tops and crumbly nasty wads of foil, but also a tent peg and sundry other things. The oldest find was a 1934 coin. I was a little touched to find a 1980s scout badge, just like the ones I used to wear. And even though I found nothing of archaeological interest, I enjoyed seeing the site and doing the work.

A funny detail: Gustavus VI Adolphus was an archaeologist and took part in a trial dig at this site in his youth. Then he was king of Sweden from 1950 to 1973. And I found a coin struck with his image in his old age on site…

Also check out my wife’s new magazine feature on Chinese people in Sweden!


12 thoughts on “Towards an Archaeology of Picnics (Unwillingly)

  1. Glad you had a good time, even though you found nothing significant. Looks like a very pretty place to spend a day.

    After I packed up my camping gear on Sunday I spent about 45 minutes cleaning our campsite (~5000 square feet). Picked up bottle tops, cigarette butts, wax, foil, plastic and other junk. Wasn’t that much, since several others had already cleaned ahead of me. We always leave our sites cleaner than we found them. Campsite owners are usually eager to have us return.


  2. Yeah, me and my wife & kids collect trash for disposal all the time in our area and when walking in the woods. Plastic wrappers in the woods is really more of an aesthetic problem than an environmental one, but I can’t understand why so many people don’t care about littering. I guess I’m just stuck in my middle-class Swedish sub-culture.


  3. Plastic wrappers in the woods is really more of an aesthetic problem than an environmental one…

    Are you sure on that? Speaking only in generalities, much of the stuff doesn’t degrade quickly, and can be swallowed by or entrap various critters. Plastic bags and similar are a major disaster when blown into the ocean, where they are easily confused for food.


  4. Tell your wife I enjoyed her article on the Chinese immigrant community in Sweden. Google’s translation service just keeps getting better. The immigrant experience in Sweden doesn’t sound all that much different from that in the U.S. The first generations are the ambitious ones. Now, Chinese-Americans joke about the lack of drive in ABC, American born Chinese.


  5. Blf, as far as I can tell, most of the litter just sits there until it gets covered by turf or moss. Sure, it probably kills a few individuals of various non-endangered species, but the food remains inside the packaging is also an ecological resource.

    Anyway, I think it looks bad so I try to clean up.


  6. Sorry, none of today’s metal detectors can reliably distinguish between aluminum and gold. The price for not digging pulltabs is forfeiting any gold finds. Bring 20 detectorists to that site and remove the surface junk so you can get to the deeper good stuff. Oh, sorry, there aren’t 20 detectorists in Sweden…


  7. Depends on the size. Cancelling out aluminum, you will probably lose small hammered silvers but still find most other silver finds.


  8. Tim’s White detector seems to have this mode where he can scan an aluminium suspect and classify it without digging it out. It doesn’t cancel aluminium, but it apparently lets him identify it. I don’t know how accurate it is, but he does find silver with the machine as well.


  9. Usually it is not a problem to discern between silver and aluminum. However, since aluminum, as well as silver, comes in many shapes and sizes, its difficult to generalize. For example, a folded up pulltab will give a much better response than a small ball of foil. Likewise, a silver 10 öre will give a much better response than a dirham fragment.

    When searching a city park or a beach it makes sense to not dig aluminum, if you want to keep your sanity, but when detecting on farmland and pasture I dig all positive signals as well as a good share of the iffy ones. With practice you become better at interpreting what your detector is telling you, but if you ignore the aluminum signals you will lose good finds.


  10. It is scary to hear how different the same object sounds to my C-scope detector at different distances and depending on the object’s orientation toward the disc. It’s not just a question of the strength of the signal, but also of the tone, and the tone is my only way of determining the material the thing is made of!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s