The tense truce between detectorists and archaeologists

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There’s been reason for cheer in metal detecting circles, with the news this month that 2016 saw a record number of finds reported to the Portable Antiquities Scheme. This announcement has spawned numerous congratulatory reports – including in the Guardian – detailing the wonderful things found, the back-stories of the lucky finders, and the sometimes extraordinary sums of money their finds have fetched. The rise in finds is attributed to improved detector technology and an increase in the number of people taking up the hobby, encouraged by recent spectacular finds and the popularity of the BBC’s Detectorists series.

Within the archaeological community the response has not been quite so cheerful. Several archaeologists have complained to me about the Guardian appearing to promote metal detecting as a harmless leisure pursuit, and online there’s been a distinct rumble of archaeological discontent. So why are some archaeologists upset about the swelling ranks of detectorists and the flood of important finds they’re turning up? The explanation lies in the uneasy relationship between archaeology and metal detecting which stretches back over the last 50 years.

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