Swedish Metal Detector Legislation: No Improvement In Sight

Despite loud (and in my opinion, well argued) opposition to the Swedish restrictions on metal detector use by honest amateurs, our authorities are sadly not coming round to anything resembling the Danish legislation that works so well.

My friend and fieldwork collaborator Tobias Bondeson is a skilled amateur detectorist who regularly publishes scholarly papers on his finds. He pointed me to the latest developments in Swedish officialdom on the topic, a 26 March proposition from the Ministry for Culture to Parliament: Kulturmiljöns mångfald, ”The Diversity of the Historic Environment”. Tobias sent me some insightful comments on 19 April on the bits about metal detectors. Here’s a summary.

  • The proposition’s definition of a metal detector, ”a device that can be used to detect underground metal objects electronically”, inadvertently also covers magnetometers and, to some extent, ground-penetrating radar gear. These latter can’t be used to find small things like coins and should carefully be excluded by the rules designed to keep crooks from picking up Iron Age coins.
  • The crucial distinction between ploughsoil (where everything is out of stratigraphic context) and untouched stratigraphy is still left out of the discussion despite decades of people pointing this out.
  • The suggested legislation introduces the intent to find antiquities into whether or not an applicant should be given a permit to use a metal detector. If you have that intent, then no permit. But a person’s intent can’t be observed. And there are no amateur metal detectorists who would not like to find antiquities. The important distinction is whether a given detectorist is honest and submits his finds to a museum according to the rules, or if he is a crook.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: we need a system similar to how we deal with hunting rifles. Anybody who can demonstrate the necessary knowledge of how to use this tool constructively and responsibly should be given a licence to do so. And if a person turns out not to measure up to our collective trust in them, then we revoke that licence.

In Sweden right now, it is easier to get a permit to use a device that is immediately lethal to a 600 kg bull elk at 200 m than to get a metal detector permit. And meanwhile, our cultural heritage is eroding bit by bit in the ploughsoil. The distribution maps of more categories of archaeological find and site than I care to count show Sweden as white space while Denmark is full of the stuff. We should foster a culture of responsible metal-detector associations and let the detectorists police themselves while contributing their time and expertise pro bono to archaeological research and enjoying their heritage.

Author: Martin R

Dr. Martin Rundkvist is a Swedish archaeologist, journal editor, skeptic, atheist, lefty liberal, bookworm, boardgamer, geocacher and father of two.

13 thoughts on “Swedish Metal Detector Legislation: No Improvement In Sight”

  1. Is it possible to obtain a local and time limited permit to send in the beeping hordes, e.g. for a piece of accessible and promising land with the landowner’s consent? If so, surely a controlled and concerted effort would yield interesting results that would get picked up by media who would, with some amount of prodding in the right direction, help to raise the profile of this question a bit.

    Perhaps one could persuade Danish detectorists to cross the water for a one-off occasion such as this.


  2. In Sweden right now, it is easier to get a permit to use a device that is immediately lethal to a 600 kg bull elk at 200 m than to get a metal detector permit.

    At least in Sweden you need a permit to use such a device. In much of the US, all you need do is purchase the device (in principle a background check is required, but this rule is easily circumvented) and ammunition for same. And many of the people who own such devices would freely use it on a stranger using a metal detector on or near their property (although in general in the US you only need the landowner’s permission).

    Note to North American readers: The creature Martin calls an elk (Swedish älg) is known on the west side of the Atlantic as a moose. There are animals called elk in North America, but they are a significantly smaller species.


  3. Anders, yes, in some counties that is possible. And the Danes to get invited across sometimes. They invariably find oodles of good stuff.

    Eric, hunting rifles are scary, but even scarier are the semi-automatic pistols and assault rifles that those people own.


  4. Martin R:- weapons are no more dangerous than any machine. It’s the idiot behind it that’s the danger


    1. It would be hard for one of the idiots you mention to kill any great number of people using a metal detector.

      That said, and off-topic, the US is a place with an insane level of gun ownership and gun violence seen from a Swedish perspective. I wish those poor bastards could get rid of that shit.


  5. weapons are no more dangerous than any machine. It’s the idiot behind it that’s the danger

    It’s the same deal with automobiles and the “nut behind the steering wheel”. Automobile accidents kill and injure people, too, and while mechanical failures sometimes happen, almost all accidents are caused by driver error. That is why we require people to demonstrate some minimal degree of competency before we allow them to operate automobiles on public streets. The operator of an automobile or a weapon must take care not to cross the thin line between normal use and causing death or injury to others. As Martin R points out, this is not true of metal detectors–I could use one as a blunt instrument, as I could any object of similar size and mass, but that is far outside their normal use.


  6. Ok, in response to the whole metal detectors are theives argument that I hear all over the internet. Lets say I go over to a friends house, and there is a ten dollar bill laying in the driveway. I proceed to pick up said ten dollar bill. Am I a, theif? No! That ten dollar bill was just as likely dropped by someone other then my friend, or blew in from somewhere else. Its the same principal, now tresspassing is a totally different issue


    1. To continue your reasoning, you should know that the ten dollar bill is public property in most Western countries. If you take it (that is, loot an archaeological site), you are stealing from the public.

      Trespassing is not a legal issue in Sweden. You can go pretty much anywhere outdoors as long as you don’t bother people near their homes, damage their crops or trouble their livestock.


  7. Thats realy cool Martin, its way different in the US. They are getting more strict here though too. In some states you cant even detect at a public beach


  8. our authorities are sadly not coming round to anything resembling the Danish legislation that works so well.

    Don’t let the Danes hear this, else they’ll feel as though they’re on top! 😀 Okay, stratigraphically they might well be on top, at any rate. Here’s hoping that this situation is ironed out.


  9. Just noticed that the proposition was passed already on June 13th and the new legislation will come into force on January 1st, 2014. Sadly, an already bad metal detecting legislation was actually made worse, at the cost of our cultural heritage 😦


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