How To Metal Detect Legally In Sweden In 2021

Swedish metal detector regulations are uniquely restrictive. They have never been good from the perspective of knowledge advancement, artefact rescue or public participation in cultural heritage. And in recent years they have become worse. But with this blog entry I don’t aim to tell you what I think of the current rules or why. I’m just summing up what the rules are. Thanks to Olle Södergren and Ny Björn Gustafsson for insightful comments and corrections on a draft of this entry!

The first thing to understand is that the Swedish system makes it effectively impossible to metal detect on a whim while vacationing (unless you’re a nighthawk). Long waits are always part of the process.

I’ll explain the pertinent laws, then I’ll give some instructions.

  • Metal detecting is illegal in Sweden without a permit from the County Archaeologist, Länsantikvarien. Metal detecting is never legal for amateurs on the islands of Gotland and Öland in the Baltic.
  • Sweden has no trespassing laws: as long as you don’t interfere with crops or livestock, or bother someone at home, you can go wherever you want.
  • When members of the public find an object older than 1850 on or next to a registered site, it is public property and must be handed in to the County Archaeologist, regardless of what material it is made of.
  • When members of the public find objects older than 1850 somewhere else, they (not the landowner) have ownership of them except in the following cases, where finders are obliged to offer the finds to the State before possibly gaining ownership:
    • Objects that consist at least in part of gold, silver or copper / bronze / brass.
    • Objects irrespective of material that are found together in some kind of cluster.
  • This means that if you find a single iron object somewhere distant from registered sites, it is legal to keep it, but you are concealing potentially valuable archaeological data. If you find a flint chip and a potsherd together in one spot, then you are obliged to offer them to the State. And if the State decides to keep any of your finds, you are entitled to remuneration.
  • The find spot of an archaeological object becomes a known archaeological site the moment you show your finds to an archaeologist. This means that if you find something really interesting and follow the rules, chances are you will not get continued permission to metal detect in that spot, as most County Archaeologists do not let detectorists anywhere near known archaeological sites.
  • Private individuals can receive a permit to metal-detect a certain spot for a certain time, provided there is no known archaeology there and the person expresses no interest in archaeology.

With all this in mind, to enjoy metal detecting legally and constructively in Sweden as a private individual, follow these steps.

  1. Identify a likely field/beach/park far from the nearest registered ancient monument (runic Rs on the map, also check the on-line register).
  2. Check with the landowner & tenant that it wouldn’t cause them trouble to have you walking and digging little pits on the land in such and such a season.
  3. Screenshot a map and circle the area you want to metal detect with drawing software. A field or two is realistic: a parish is not.
  4. Fill out an on-line application form on Länsstyrelsen’s web site (i.e. the County Council). Append the map. Emphasise that you already have the landowner’s & tenant’s permission and you will show any pre-1850 finds to the County Archaeologist. Do not mention archaeology. The permit is typically good for one year.
  5. Pay a 870 kronor fee for them to process your application (€85, £72, $100). This does not guarantee that you will get a permit.
  6. Wait two weeks and then start nagging the County Archaeologist politely by phone.
  7. When metal detecting, bring your permit, a GPS navigator and zipper baggies. Bag all finds that you believe are pre-1850. Write coordinates in the SWEREF 99 TM grid on the bags.
  8. If you find something you believe is pre-1850, e-mail pictures of the object and its GPS coordinates to the County Archaeologist as soon as possible.

The above procedure is designed to keep private individuals away from archaeological finds as far as possible. There is however a way for a person to take part in targeted archaeological fieldwork in their spare time. This is by joining the Swedish Metal Detector Association and waiting for one of the collaborative efforts they organise with a few friendly organisations, notably Örebro County Museum. I work part-time at this museum, and organising big detector investigations is one of my tasks.

Now, what have I forgotten? And is anything unclear? Tell me!

This is an updated version of an entry from 2009.

Dating the Aska Mead-hall

When the 49-metre mead-hall on the Aska platform mound was torn down, people lifted the large useful stones out of the postholes and then backfilled them with the floor layer that had accumulated over the building’s lifetime. Last summer we collected samples of these fills and Jens Heimdahl identified carbonised grain in them.

On 12 January I received radiocarbon dates for four of these grains from prof. Krąpiec’s lab in Kraków. The dates are quite widely dispersed and demonstrate that there was a lot of old refuse in the floor layer by the time it was shovelled into the postholes. Thus the grain represents a long use period, perhaps the entire use period of the building. It’s not one brief grain-charring event.

If you want a short use-period for the hall (i.e. if you compress it as tightly as these four two-sigma date spans permit), then it was built in 650 and torn down in 880. If instead you want a long use-period (i.e. you inflate the use period as widely as possible within the date spans), then it was built in 590 and torn down in 990.

But we don’t have to rely on the carbonised grain alone. A 1980s trial trench through the platform secured articulated horse bones on the ground surface under the platform that gave a radiocarbon date in 660–880. These 220 years are quite a wide span, reflective of 1980s radiocarbon technology. But it’s enough to show that 590 is too early for the construction of the platform mound.

I sent a new sample from these horse bones to Kraków for analysis with today’s tech, and received the result on 15 January. That horse died between AD 670 and 770, which pushes the earliest possible date for the building project forward only a decade compared to what the 1980s analysis indicated. And one of the carbonised grains from the use-period of the building is likely to date from before 650.

A start date for the construction project around 660 is not surprising, given the building’s layout and the objects we found in the postholes. The new end date for the hall’s use-life after 880 is unexpected, however. The only finds we made that could point to any activity after 790 are a pair of whale-bone gaming pieces. I expect that as we empty more postholes this summer we will start to find more clearly datable Early Viking Period material. A few dirham coins would be most welcome, in fact quite expected given the radiocarbon dates and the elite context.

August Pieces Of My Mind #1

Front: Klåstad-Klosterstad church site with 11th century wooden church. Grove in middle distance: 1920 burial at Aska, the richest Viking Period grave in Östergötland. Rear: Aska village, Vendel Period platform mound, gold foil figures.
  • Looks like the Falun Gongers camping on Wikipedia are finally going to get the same treatment as the Scientologists got!
  • Woke at 05:15, head revving up with thoughts of feature lists, soil samples and level measurements. We’re backfilling the trench on Wednesday and Thursday.
  • Fieldwork nearing its end. Highly informative publishable results. Big presentation to the villagers in 45 minutes. Sunny evening. A calm sense of accomplishment.
  • Feeling victorious and pleasantly tired after hours of returfing and a swim in Lake Vättern in front of Vadstena Castle.
  • Affability means potential for turning into a monkey in German.
  • I’m reading Ursula LeGuin’s last novel, Lavinia (2008). It’s a kind of historical fantasy, set in a version of Early Iron Age Italy where the Aeneid is a true story. The book’s nature as a commentary on Vergil’s epic is emphasised by him appearing as a shade from the future to speak with the main character. Though LeGuin was 79 when it appeared, the writing is still strong.
  • Saw a bunch of bats hunting in the pine woods last night at sunset. ❤

Gold Foil Figures and Backfilling: Week Four at Aska

The embrace of the ancestors. Photo Björn Falkevik.

We found the first gold foil figures, guldgubbar, on Monday of week 3. Eventually we ended up with 23 of them, though a few may be parts of the same foil. There are only seven known sites with more recovered foil figures than Aska. To avoid unwanted attention during fieldwork, I released this information only after we had begun closing the trench.

Such gold foil figures are the size of a fingernail, made of thin embossed gold sheet, and depict people in sumptuous clothes. All the ones from Aska that I could easily classify belong to the type with a man and a woman embracing. Possibly the divine ancestors of the petty-royal lineage. These miniature works of art are typical of the Vendel Period elite’s mead-halls, c. AD 540-790. Functionally speaking, at several sites they have been found associated with the postholes of the main audience chamber’s roof-supports and the king’s high seat. Perhaps these posts were tarred, and people stuck the foil figures onto them.

Other finds of the week are two whale-bone gaming pieces, reinforcing our impression that the floor layer that we sought in vain has actually been used to back-fill the roof-support postholes and wall foundation trenches.

I’m no longer convinced that the building has more than one phase. That extra line of postholes may just be from the high seat.

We did the last bit of digging Wednesday and then closed the trench. First we dropped modern coins in the deeper sub-trenches, then geotextile, then back with the stone piles, the earth dumps and finally the turf stacks. I hadn’t allocated enough time for this work, forgetting that we had three times the acreage to cover compared to my previous digs at Medieval castles. So we weren’t done until Friday afternoon.

I’ve blogged quite a lot about gold foil figures before.

Sofia and Cheyenne in the roof-support posthole. Photo Ivan Odebratt.

Hearth Eats Students And Turns Into Posthole

Bronto posthole, not bronto hearth

Today Emma Karlsson of the Östergötland County Museum brought a much wished-for RTK-GPS to site and instantly solved the biggest conundrums on our dig. We have Andreas Viberg’s detailed geophys plan of the building we’re investigating. But we have not had an exact GPS device to tell us where we are on that plan when wandering around site.

In our trench we have expected to find three really big sunken features: a hearth in the middle and two roof-support postholes. But we have found only one feature there. Size, shape and surface fill were right for a hearth. Starting from this assumption we have dug around fruitlessly for the postholes. But as Ola Lindgren and his friends went down into our single huge feature, it looked less and less like a hearth. No charcoal. Too deep. WAY to deep. Hey, where are Sofia and Ivan who work on that feature?! Oh, they are no longer visible above ground when they dig.

Enter Emma and her GPS skills. The enormous feature that swallowed the students is one of the roof-supporting postholes. Its original fill of large boulders has been removed, and replaced with something that (as Ola suggests) looks like 20 sqm of trashed floor pavement with sundry dropped objects. The other posthole is sitting three meters away under some innocent-looking soil that we thought were the top of the platform mound. And the hearth is only half inside our trench.

And another thing. The floor pavement they raked into the posthole after tearing the mead-hall down contains nothing that has to date from after the end of the Vendel Period in the 790s. Intensive metal detecting by skilled detectorists across our 200 sqm trench has not turned up a single one of the Islamic silver coins that flood Scandinavia from the 790s onward. Was the Aska mead-hall on its platform mound torn down before the start of the Viking Period? Where then did the royal inhabitants of the village’s extremely rich 800s and 900s graves live? And what were their ideas about the platform mound?

Lesson learned: I am never digging a site with geophys data again without an exact GPS device to tell me where I am on the GPS plot.

Third Week of 2020 Excavations at Aska in Hagebyhöga

A piece of a decorative mount from a Vendel shield, c. AD 700. Embossed bronze foil with Style II animal art has been tinned and folded around the iron mount. Most of the foil is now missing.

At the beginning of this week there was no topsoil left in the trench, and so we left the 19th century behind and moved down into sunken features belonging to the mead-hall itself. Some highlights.

  • There is very little evidence for any activity in the trench between the year when the hall was torn down (maybe around AD 1000?) and the start of intensive coin dropping in 1805.
  • There is no rich or distinct floor layer in the trench. The topsoil and some partial post-destruction stone pavements sit directly on the fabric of the platform where the stones in the sunken features poke through.
  • We knew from the geophys that the hall has double walls. Cutting across the northern wall however, we found not two, but four foundation ditches with closely spaced postholes on their bottoms. This means that the hall has two phases built on the same spot, and that we only saw one of them in the geophys. The innermost wall line has yielded a large and rather crudely made iron key.
  • The great hearth pit has been backfilled with a layer of clean stones, no soot, a lot of air pockets. In this covering layer was a piece of a decorative shield mount from about AD 700 and an iron pendant with a close parallel in a seeress’ wand from the 10th century, plus flint flakes from fire making. I’m not sure at the moment if this is also where the slate spindle whorl was found.
  • Though the roof-supporting postholes are clearly visible in the geophys, we have failed to find them in the trench. They seem to be backfilled with material identical to the platform into which they are dug, and any large stones in them must be deeply buried.
  • A 1980s radiocarbon date places the construction of the platform in the interval 660–880 cal AD. Rich burials found nearby in 1885 and 1920 suggested that the platform would belong in the later part of this interval, around AD 800. This has proved incorrect: we have made some finds that place the use of the hall firmly in the 600s or 700s. More about these a week from now.

Second Week of 2020 Excavations at Aska in Hagebyhöga

Aska lodbild v 2
The lawn-covered surfaces and our trench is where the mead-hall stood. Drone photo Cheyenne Olander.

The second of four weeks on the Aska platform mound went well too. Highlights:

  • We’ve deturfed a total of 200 sqm and removed the topsoil.
  • Thanks to some extra volunteers, I had 19 people working with me one day, a personal record.
  • We’ve made some 1st millennium artefact finds, but they are quite humble so far: a few potsherds and belt knives only.
  • The top 30 cm are quite disturbed, with occasional modern objects found below the level at which the hall’s postholes and wall lines appeared. These disturbances include at least one waste pit full of pig jaws.
  • We have a point from a 13/1400s crossbow bolt and a 1559-60 coin of Gustavus I. They date from long after the hall was torn down, but are interesting anyway.

aska 2020 hela saktet-103 lores
Aerial view from the NE. Drone photo Cheyenne Olander.

July Pieces Of My Mind #2

20200721_082832lores

  • History tells us that there used to be a midsummer celebration with a maypole on the Aska hall platform. Two days of screening and metal-detecting has turned up many low-denomination copper coins, all from the period 1805 to 1909.
  • I love the sound of trowelling in the morning. It sounds like… victory.
  • This is my eighth excavation with students. 1997, Barshalder, Early Roman Period. 2005, Skamby, Pre-Roman & Viking Periods. 2008, Sättuna, Mesolithic & Vendel Periods. 2014, Stensö & Landsjö Castles, High Middle Ages. 2015, Stensö & Landsjö Castles, High Middle Ages. 2016, Birgittas udde & Skällvik Castle, Mesolithic & High Middle Ages. 2017, Ytterby, Vendel & Viking Periods. 2020, Aska, Vendel & Viking Periods.
  • Second journal paper this year finished and submitted, ka-ching!
  • Learning basic QGIS is complicated by two facts. 1. The basic manoeuvres are hidden in a jungle of advanced functionality. 2. The whole thing is glitchy, so you can never be sure if it’s your own fault or QGIS’s when something doesn’t work.
  • Hey everyone who calls a student on the PhD programme “a PhD”. What do you call someone with a PhD degree?
  • Cousin E’s plastic boxes for Magic cards now serve as find collectors on my excavation.
  • Two seasoned field archaeologists with decades of experience, including myself, have failed to check the gauge of the screens and brought some useless 2 mm ones to our site, creating bottlenecks.

First Week of 2020 Excavations at Aska in Hagebyhöga

Aska 3 lores
Friday afternoon, trench across the hall seen from above looking west. The stone layer marks the indoors. To the right are two visible postholes from the widely spaced buttress posts, Trelleborg style. Drone photo by Cheyenne Olander.

The platform mound at Aska in Hagebyhöga is a 3 metres high raised foundation for an almost 50 metres long mead-hall. Think King Hrodgar’s hall Heorot. Think King Théoden’s hall Meduseld (= mead-hall = Sw. mjöd-sal).

Ragnhild Fernholm and Carin Claréus test trenched the mound in 1985-86 and found an articulated rear leg of a horse under it, with a radiocarbon date most probably in the AD 700s. Andreas Viberg and I surveyed the top platform with ground-penetrating radar in 2013, and Andreas swiftly mapped every posthole in the structure. In the past week my crew of 15 hard-working people, mostly students from my old department at U Stockholm, has opened a 100 sqm trench across the central room in the mead-hall. Here are some highlights.

  • There is no thick stratigraphy on top of the hall foundation. The uppermost packing stones of the postholes are only 10-25 cm below the turf.
  • Everything we have found in the topsoil may date from after AD 1800. The only exception is a single 1630s fyrk coin. The many pre-WW1 coins tally well with information given by old people in the 1980s, that there had once been annual mid-summer celebrations on the mound.
  • After the hall was torn down, a layer of smallish stones was laid down over its indoors. Feel free to interpret this in a symbolic and/or practical way.
  • Thanks to the simple stratigraphy, we will be able to open up the full 200 sqm that our permit allows.
  • I look forward to sectioning and soil-sampling the central hearth, a few of the great roof-bearing postholes and the wall trenches.
  • It is liberating not to have to excavate every sunken feature like you do on a highway dig where the site will be bulldozed when you’re done.
  • I love geophys, skilled metal detectorists and drone photography!

Hans Hildebrand Tries to Obliterate the Migration Period in Svealand

hbrand
Schematic map to illustrate Hildebrand’s factually incorrect argument

Working on a paper about Roman Period snake-head rings in Scandinavia, I read a short 1873 paper by Hans Hildebrand on the chronology of these objects. His model of the rings’ development is still broadly accepted. But the enormous growth of the known material and better typological methods have turned his brief contribution into a historical footnote rather than something we still engage with.

Still, reading the paper I came across a passage that seemed so odd to me that I couldn’t quite understand what Hildebrand meant on a quick read. His reasoning follows lines that we have abandoned completely. So I’ll try to make sense of it here. This is about the absolute dating of the rings.

First Hildebrand notes that though most rings are not from datable find combinations, their general design and decoration place them in the Early Iron Age. This, we now know, is from c. 530 BC to AD 540 if we count the Migration Period with the EIA, as Hildebrand does. Then he points to the Thorsberg war booty sacrifice, which contains late snake-head rings, Roman coins from 60-194 AD and objects datable to the 4th century AD. He sums up by placing the snake-head rings in the interval AD 100-300. Today we place them in phases C1b and C2, which we date to AD 210-320. (Hildebrand couldn’t know that the Roman coins in Thorsberg belong to a much earlier deposition event in the sacred lake than the rings.) Well done, Hans Hildebrand. But now comes the odd bit (and I translate, and insert paragraph breaks).

Another approximate dating is possible. The snake-head rings occur … from Scania and up north to Uppland and Medelpad. As several have been found in Uppland, we must say that the type was indigenous north of Lake Mälaren as well. But now we find, when looking at all the products of Sweden’s Early Iron Age, that not all of this period has been shared by the country south of the border woods and the country around Lake Mälaren.

Towards the end of the Early Iron Age people in this country (as in Norway and Denmark) made … gold bracteates [pendants], but these are missing from Svealand [the land north of the border woods]. The bracteates were rooted in fine craft products of the Constantinian era [AD 306-363]. The changed taste that contact with them created in the North limited itself to Götaland and did not appear in Svealand, which thus appears to have left the Early Iron Age culture behind at this time. As the invasion of the Huns in the late 4th century severed the contact between the Classical world and the North, the acquaintance with the Constantinian taste must have appeared in the North about 350-375. After this time, then, the Early Iron Age was not shared between Svealand and Götaland, but the sharing seems to have continued all the way up to the aforementioned period, as a copy of a Constantinian medallion has been found in Uppland. The snake-head rings must thus belong to the earlier part of the Iron Age, the time before AD 400. This chronological calculation thus matches fairly well with the previous one and thereby gains strength.

Before I look at the argument, note that several factual errors collapse it. There are in fact gold bracteate pendants in Svealand. True, they are inspired by Constantinian-era medallions, but by old medallions: the bracteates actually start about AD 450, over a century later. They are in any case an insufficient proxy if you want to determine if there is final EIA settlement of the South Scandinavian kind in a region. And the North never did lose contact with the Mediterranean. But accepting all this, what is Hildebrand’s argument? It boils down to this.

“Svealand has no final EIA. The LIA starts much earlier in Svealand than in Götaland. But Svealand does have snake-head rings. So the snake-head rings do not belong to the final LIA.” In modern terms: the absence of known gold bracteates from Svealand means that in that region, the Vendel Period followed immediately upon the Late Roman Period and began around AD 400 there.

It wasn’t a good argument even in 1873. Hildebrand did well to base his dating of the snake-head rings on the Thorsberg find combination, and to relegate this convoluted and poorly founded argument to a supporting paragraph.


Hildebrand, Hans. 1873. Ormhufvudringarne från jernåldern. Kungliga Vitterhets, Historie och Antikvitets-Akademiens Månadsblad 14-15, February–March 1873. Stockholm.