Swedish Cabinet Opens Door to New Metal Detector Legislation

In October, I wrote about a ruling of the European Commission against Sweden’s restrictions on metal-detector use. The angle, kind of irrelevantly one may think, was that our rules counteract the free mobility of goods, which is of course a central concern of the EU.

On 30 November Sweden’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs replied to the European Commission. The gist of the reply is that “We think protection of the cultural heritage, which is also central concern of the EU, should trump the free mobility of goods in this case”.

Up until §27 there is little new here. But then we get this (and I translate):

“§28. […] However, Cabinet believes that there may be reason to question whether the current general ban on metal-detector use is entirely appropriate, and is therefore prepared to re-evaluate the extent and design of the ban.

§29. For this reason, Cabinet intends to task the National Heritage Board with swiftly investigating alternative rules. These should primarily be directed towards the prohibition of metal-detector use on and next to archaeological sites and to prohibit any search for archaeological objects. In particularly exposed regions, such as Öland and Gotland, a general ban should [still] be considered. Other solutions should also be taken under consideration, from the point of departure that the general ban shall be modified and the Swedish rules be harmonised with EU law. The National Heritage Board shall present its task in the spring of 2011, after which its suggestions will be referred to the interested parties.

§30. Then a lagrÃ¥dsremiss with suggestions for revised legislation shall be produced and delivered to the LagrÃ¥det, after which a Bill will be drafted and handed to Parliament for resolution. Cabinet’s intention is that it shall be made possible to enact the new legislation early in 2012.

This is good news and quite astonishing! But I see trouble in the words “prohibit any search for archaeological objects”, which is in all likelihood intended to mean “prohibit any search for metalwork older than AD 1900”. That’s ridiculous.

You never know what you’re going to find, and indeed, the main value to society at large of amateur metal detectorists is when they do find and salvage otherwise unknown archaeology. Also, it would remain legal (and commendable) to field-walk for ancient flint and pottery and report such finds to the authorities. Why should it then be illegal to want to find ancient metalwork? And how do you police the issue? Must the County Archaeologist waterboard all metal detectorists and ask them if they really don’t want to find any older objects?

Everybody wants to find something old and interesting! We need to enable responsible Swedish detectorists to do so for the common good of Swedish archaeology, and encourage a culture of skilled hobbyists that condemns looting. Our legislation already demands of anyone who finds ancient copper alloy or precious metals, regardless of how they make the finds, that they report to the authorities.

Thanks again to Tobias Bondesson, detectorist and contributor to Fornvännen and Aard, for the tip-off.

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8 thoughts on “Swedish Cabinet Opens Door to New Metal Detector Legislation

  1. Well said, Martin. Prohibiting searching for archeological artifacts in general would be entirely counterproductive for all the reasons you mention. The only difference between a field-walker and a metal detectorist is that one sees only what’s on the surface, while the other “sees” approximately another 20 centimeters down into the topsoil. While it would be fine for a field-walker to find a 101 year old silver coin lying on the surface, it would be illegal for a detectorist to find a similar coin under 1 cm of earth. Go figure…

    On another note, while the National Heritage Board is drafting proposals for new legislation, the types of finds that are required to be handed in should also be expanded. For example, artifacts made of lead and iron are not covered in the current legislation. This means that single finds of lead and iron are the property of the finder if they are not found in association with a prehistoric monument. Such finds could be papal bullae, pilgrim badges, spindle whorls, weapons, and other items of historical and archaeological interest. The same applies to non-metal artifacts made of stone, antler, bone, wood, amber, glass, pottery and so on. Even though they are non-metal, they can be of significant interest and they are frequently found by both metal detectorists and field-walkers. In short, the present legislation is hopelessly outdated and focused on precious and semi-precious metals, while not considering the significance of the artifact itself.

    The Swedish National Heritage Board needs to really do its homework and get its proposal right this time around. The best advice I can give is for them to liaise with the National Museum in Denmark, which has over 30 years’ experience of fruitful cooperation with metal detectorists.


  2. Hi Martin. This is interesting in light of a television show I saw last night. The show “Meteorite Men” (http://science.discovery.com/tv/meteorite-men/episodes/) had the two american hosts tramping through the bush in Muonionalusta, Sweden, searching for meteorites with a couple of giant (~2-3 square meter) metal detectors as well as two smaller hand-held units. They dug out about 5 iron meteorites weighing about 20 to 60 pounds each from depths of 2 – 3 feet. They estimated the value to be 20 to 40 thousand dollars and the implication was that they were going to sell them privately. All through the show the many false positives (meteorwrongs in their vernacular) were also dug up from more shallow depths (2-3 inches) and pitched back into the bush. Certainly a few of these looked like old iron implements, but there was certainly no archeologist there. Given strict metal detector laws in Sweden, it seems weird that these guys would have been able to enter the country with their gear. These guys are professional (and pretty successful) meteorite hunters, but I would think that a distinction between meteorites and archeological remains could not be made with their equipment. Did these guys get some kind of special permit that would distinguish meteorite collecting from searching for archeological objects?


  3. Muonionalusta is way north of the Polar Circle in an area that has never been densely populated. I don’t know what sort of deal the meteorite seekers have made with the County Archaeologist, but I’m pretty sure that official is aware of their activities.


  4. The process sparked by the EU’s freedom-of-trade reprimand trundles on. But the law has not been changed yet.


  5. Hello everyone!
    I’m metal detectorist and I’m gonna move from UK to Sweden next year. Could someone please explain me or send me a link how actually situation looks at the moment? Do I still need permission from County Archaeologist? I’m sure that my friend who is Swedish farm owner would let me walk with detector on his land but is that enough or it’s still breaking the law?


  6. The rules are still unchanged. It’s always good to have a cordial relationship with the landowner, but you do need the County Archaeologist’s permission.


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