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.