European Commission Rules Against Swedish Metal-Detector Legislation


Good news for Swedish metal detectorists! And for us Iron Age scholars who want the finds, the sites and the free expert labour these amateurs are eager to provide us. And also for any small-finds nerd who would like to have a labour market (who? me?), communicating with the detectorists and classifying their finds.

The European Commission has ruled that the Swedish restrictions on metal-detector use contravenes EU rules for the free mobility of goods. If Sweden doesn’t take measures towards legislative reform within two months, the issue will be referred to the EU Court of Justice.

As I’ve argued in Fornvännen and Antiquity, I think metal-detector permits should be handled similarly to licences for hunting rifles. Apply for a licence, take a test to show that you know how to use the machine responsibly, then keep the licence as long as you don’t turn out to be a hazard to the interests of others. I’d be happy to volunteer one day for the group that drafts our new rules.

I want to be able to look my Danish colleagues in the eye when we talk about the 1st millennium AD! The finds are steadily turning into fine green dust out in the fields…

Update 14 October: Paul Barford does not agree. And he thinks I have a silly hat.

Via Fredrik Svanberg /

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37 thoughts on “European Commission Rules Against Swedish Metal-Detector Legislation

  1. -Since the local Swedish problem with metal detectors is looting of sites in Gotland and other places, maybe the detectors should be coupled with GPS (disabling the GPS should be an offense like removing a car´s license plate).


  2. It’s been an offence to loot archaeological sites in Sweden for over a century, regardless of the tools used. We don’t need to change the bits of the law that pertains to crooks. We need to enable non-crooks.


  3. Do you have anything like the Portable Antiquities Scheme in Sweden? from what I understand, engagement with that organisation over here in the UK has done a great job in getting the ‘good guys’ involved in research.

    Not a lot can be done about the nighthawks sadly but seems bizarre to restrict the use of metal detectors on that basis.


  4. We do not, as we have no detectorist hobby to speak of. But we probably will one day. The situation is different though, as in Sweden the finder is legally bound to offer his finds to the state for a consideration if:

    * It’s made at least partly of gold / silver / copper.

    * AND/OR there’s more than one thing in one spot.

    So if I find one iron sword, I have no obligations. But if I find two potsherds, I do.


  5. Yeah, that’s my main complaint with the current English rules: single copper-alloy objects have huge research potential yet are not “Treasure”.

    In Sweden though, in the unlikely case that someone finds a well-preserved iron helmet, we could see something similar happen.

    There was also the 1990s case of the silver hoard behind the dresser. The heirs of a deceased Scanian farmer found a Viking Period silver hoard in bags nailed to the back-side of his dresser. They claimed to have no idea how he had gotten his hands on it. And they pointed out to the court that the law says that if someone finds ancient silver in the ground, then they have to offer it to the state. Nothing about any bags behind dressers there! So in the end they got to keep the hoard. They were decent enough though to let numismatists document it properly.


  6. HI my name is Gary Brun and I live in Norway.
    I am one of the co-founders of which is a database for recording of finds.

    We would willingly share our code with Swedish archaeologists so they can start their own database if needed. Please see

    We also have people from Sweden using our database for publications. is an article we gave out on what metal detectorists do to add to the heritage.

    Kind regards



  7. We don’t need to change the bits of the law that pertains to crooks. We need to enable non-crooks.

    I’ve been using that argument to try and change the gun laws here. No luck. It’s apparently the tool that’s evil, not the user.


  8. That’s an apples and oranges comparison. It’s very hard to kill, injure or rob someone using a metal detector.

    Maybe if you unwind the antenna cord and try to garrotte them?


  9. Perhaps if you hold the coil against someone’s head long enough, the EMR….um…no, I guess not.

    My point (poorly made) was that it’s a bit unfair to prevent an activity just because someone else might abuse the priviledge.


  10. I believe that in both cases, guns and metal detectors, fairness is seen as a secondary concern after safety. But in the case of metal detectors, I believe that the safety for the cultural heritage that arguably results from nobody using a metal detector is not anywhere near comparable to the cultural heritage value gained through people using the devices constructively and responsibly.


  11. Agreed.

    Unfortunately, the “safety” factor is an illusion. The only people that will abide by the rules are the ones that would have behaved responsibly in the first place. Thieves, I’m fairly certain, will continue to merrily use both, regardless of what legislation is enacted.


  12. And for a moment I thought “And in this picture, the happy Mr. Rundkvist is retrieving his device from its hiding place. Detectoring freedom at last!”

    Silly me. The very worst place to hide a metal detector is where you might need one to find it.


  13. Excellent news Martin! 🙂

    While the beaches here in the south west have been giving me plenty to dig up and collect,the true passion of our hobby is searching for,finding and digging up ancient history.Hopefully any new changes won’t be too “Draconian” and we can start finding and filling museum cases with some of the history it’s been missing out on.

    I think another problem here is..i recall reading it somewhere,maybe part of “Allemansrätten”..that if you find something of value on someone elses land,then the item is regarded as yours..not theirs!
    I’ll have to try and find that part again,but can see problems getting permission from any landowner who knows about that rule.Doesn’t bother me,not in the hobby for any monetary enhancements and the 50/50 split rule like in the UK would be a good thing to have “upfront”.
    No 2 million pound Roman helmets here unfortunately,but i guess there’s a lot of valuable stuff buried..and not only in Götland.
    Someone’s going to have their work cut out initiating the new rules,which could also mean new jobs,which is always good. Time will tell i guess.


  14. True, the finds belong to the finder. Although he is in the aforementioned cases obliged to hand them in to the state, he gets a good reward if the state decides to keep his finds.


  15. Comparing metal detectors to guns is almost appropriate. In both cases the tool is not guilty of the crime.

    There is one essential difference, though. It’s not easy to build a gun, but building a metal detector is. Try Googling for “build metal detector”. Banning them is a fool’s errand.


  16. Lassi: There is, however, a bumper sticker that I see around…”If guns are banned, only criminals and machinists will have guns.” 😉 It’s easier than you might think.
    Enough about guns, though…it wasn’t my intention to sidetrack.

    Martin: I’m very curious….what is the coolest thing you’ve found with your detector (that you wish to tell us about)? I have an old one, but don’t use it much….history in my area is very “short”, and I tired of digging up pull tabs and parts of farm machinery.


  17. It’s not easy to build a gun

    where did you get that notion? it was doable with purely hand-powered tools in 15th century blacksmithies; the guns you can build with home-hobbyist metalshop tools today are little different from factory-made ones. the one major operation most hobbyists can’t easily do is rifling the barrel, and even that’s no concern if you’re willing to settle for a shotgun or very inaccurate smoothbore.

    interestingly, it’s actually easier to build a fully-automatic submachine gun than a semi-automatic pistol. single-shots are easiest of all, but not by all that much.


  18. Having read the Paul Barford piece, I frankly don’t care what he thinks.

    I do get the point that the benefit outweighs the risk, which is in any case materialising already in the absence of the benefit.

    But the point about legalising is that it then gives a regulatory authority a mechanism to control, licence and permit with conditions.

    Birger is on the point – install GPS on each detector and require fairly frequent submission of the records to the regulator. Disabling the GPS is an offence, and non-submission of records is an offence. There is no way to tamper with the GPS or falsify records without detection.

    It sounds like a lot of bureaucracy, but it’s not really once the system is set up, and it’s a lot better than having on-site regulatory supervision of every operation. It should help to allay government fears that when detectors are legalised, there will be armies of people out scouring the countryside and making off with large quantities of national treasure.

    It won’t stop the people who make their own detectors and operate surreptitiously, but they are already doing it, and I presume they work as individuals or very small groups, not big teams of enthusiasts.

    I have seen this system in operation for the environmental regulation of large scale marine dredging, and it works well.


  19. I forgot to mention that what you want the GPS to produce is a track plot, i.e. a continuous record of where the detector has been at all times, and then it also serves to identify the locations of finds.


  20. Detectors arn’t illegal here in Sweden mate.I have 3 top of the range ones.It’s only detecting “inland” that’s prohibited.I have permits to legally detect on a number of beaches,but it’s illegal to detect in my own gardens.
    Just thought i’d clear that up. 🙂


  21. Thanks stewart.

    Well, then, GPS track plot would effectively prevent you from finding your own lost car keys in your garden, or at least render you liable to prosecution if you did, whereas you could pick up everyone’s dropped loose change and watches at the beach with impunity 🙂

    I assume the logic is that due to rebound since the end of the last glaciation, there can’t be any archaeological artifacts at beach level.

    As well as permits for specific locations, do you need to have a licence for or register a detector, something like vehicle registration? If not, then it becomes difficult to implement my suggestion. I have tried to find that out for myself, but have been unable to.


  22. Thanks M. Then maybe my brilliant idea would be useless. That is not a novel discovery in relation to my brilliant ideas.

    Back to the drawing board.

    I continue, fruitlessly, to try to find ways that a civil engineer could be useful to archaeology.

    On the other hand, I have thought of ways that archaeology can be useful to civil engineers. So it’s not all just chocolate, there are a few potatoes in there too. Maybe some important potatoes.


  23. Take up metal detecting and send all your finds to Martin.You help archeology..problem solved! 🙂

    “I assume the logic is that due to rebound since the end of the last glaciation, there can’t be any archaeological artifacts at beach level.”

    No mate.The logic in them letting us detect the beaches is that to have a law stopping us digging things up on the beach would also mean stopping kids(and many adults)digging and making sandcastles and huge holes of no significance whatsoever too!


  24. stewart, thanks for the clarification.

    Alas, anything I might find in my country with a metal detector would be of no interest to Martin (except maybe some sizeable gold nuggets). My fellow indigenous countrymen used no metal prior to the arrival of my fellow countrymen of European ancestry.

    I am acutely aware of the idiocy and irrelevance of an Australian civil engineer trying to think of ways to be helpful to Scandinavian archaeologists – I think about the closest I can get is application of geophysical methods and instrumentation, but it’s still a bit of a long shot. I guess sometimes the Information Age makes us feel closer than we really are.


  25. What right have some of these self imposed academic regulators , that gives them some sort of its ok in their little clubs to search for artifacts but not the same for us, and they always use the same propaganda its our heritage thats being looted there has been more artifacts held back by archaeologists then metal detectorists !if you have permission on land you cannot be stealing what you yourself discovers


  26. Well, Siegfried, when I find something interesting with my metal detector, I tag it with GPS coordinates and hand it in for free to a public museum that keeps it available for study and display for decades or centuries.


  27. That looks like great news for you guys. I’ll have to dig around for an update to see how it went for you. I hope it’s in your favor. As far as I’m concerned, laws only stop the ethical law abiding citizens, not the crooks.


  28. Here in the US, most of the best relic finds have been hobbyist just out to have fun. Archaeologists will never get adequate funding or time to discover most of the cultural sites that are out there to be found. This is where the amateur and professional detectorists come into play. Most of these people interested in this hobby are history lovers vs. treasure hunters. We have worked with assisting Archaeologists in many instances to uncover and map relics on battlefields and other historic sites. Or recovering relics when historic sites are being lost forever to development.

    I encourage all interested in history to give it a try. Even just searching your own property might turn up a spectacular find that will bless you, your neighbors, your country…


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