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!