Skip to content
BY-NC-ND 3.0 license Open Access Published by De Gruyter Open Access October 14, 2016

The Future of Studying Hobbyist Metal Detecting in Europe: A Call for a Transnational Approach

  • Suzie Thomas
From the journal Open Archaeology


Much research on hobbyist metal detecting has either focused on the archaeological impact only, conflated hobbyism with criminal activity (namely looting and illicit trade), or generalized the motivations and drivers for metal detectorists. Studies to date have targeted specific countries and regions, with only limited reference to metal detecting activities elsewhere. This has meant that the transnational aspects of metal detecting – such as the international trade of metal-detected objects, and transnational movement of metal detectorists themselves (for example through touristic activities) – has mostly been overlooked or merely speculated upon. Much debate has revolved around assumptions, stymied by perceived ethical barriers and accepted attitudes which limit deeper engagement with the metal detecting community. Approaching the study of hobbyist metal detecting at a trans-European level would encourage greater understanding of the scale of hobbyist metal detecting and the world views, activities and contact and trade networks of metal detectorists. This may challenge traditionally-held perspectives concerning what should be valued as cultural heritage and who is entitled to make use of it. In this paper I set out our current state of knowledge, and propose directions for future research.


Altschul, J. (2015). From the President. The SAA Archaeological Record 15(2), 3-4. Publications/thesaaarchrec/March2015.pdf (accessed 9 February 2016).Search in Google Scholar

Becker, E. (2009).The Legislative Position of Metal Detector Use at South African Archaeological Sites. In S. Thomas & P. Stone (Eds.), Metal Detecting and Archaeology, 25-31. Woodbridge: The Boydell Press.Search in Google Scholar

Bland, R. (2005). A pragmatic approach to the problem of portable antiquities: the experience of England and Wales. Antiquity 79(304), 440-447.10.1017/S0003598X00114218Search in Google Scholar

Bland, R. (2009). The development and future of the Treasure Act and the Portable Antiquities Scheme. In S. Thomas & P. Stone (Eds.), Metal Detecting and Archaeology, 63-85.Woodbridge: The Boydell Press.Search in Google Scholar

Brockman, A. (2014). New “Nazi War Diggers” allegations. out-with-a-bang/ (accessed 8 February 2016).Search in Google Scholar

Brodie, N. (2015). Syria and its Regional Neighbors: A Case of Cultural Property Protection Policy Failure? International Journal of Cultural Property 22(2-3), 317-335.10.1017/S0940739115000144Search in Google Scholar

Campbell, S. (2013). Metal detecting, collecting and portable antiquities: Scottish and British perspectives. Internet Archaeology 33. doi: in Google Scholar

Cornelison, J. & Smith, G. (2009). Archaeology, Metal Detecting, and the Development of Battlefield Archaeology in the United States. In S. Thomas & P. Stone (Eds.), Metal Detecting and Archaeology, 33-50.Woodbridge: The Boydell Press.Search in Google Scholar

Darvill, T. & Fulton, A. (1998). The Monuments at Risk Survey of England 1995, Bournemouth, London: School of Conservation Sciences, Bournemouth University and English Heritage.Search in Google Scholar

Deckers, P. (2012a). “Productive” Sites in the Polders? “Griffin brooches” and Other Early Medieval Metalwork from the Belgian Coastal Plain. Medieval and Modern Matters 3(1), 21-43.10.1484/J.MMM.5.102018Search in Google Scholar

Deckers, P. (2012b). EverbeekRoman Silver Hoard. (accessed 29 February 2016).Search in Google Scholar

Dobat, A. (2013). Between Rescue and Research: An Evaluation after 30 Years of Liberal Metal Detecting in Archaeological Research and Heritage Practice in Denmark. European Journal of Archaeology 16(4), 704-25.10.1179/1461957113Y.0000000041Search in Google Scholar

Dobat, A, & Jensen, A. (2016). “Professional Amateurs”. Metal Detecting and Metal Detectorists in Denmark. Open Archaeology 2(1), 70-84. doi: 10.1515/opar-2016-000510.1515/opar-2016-0005Search in Google Scholar

Dunnell, R. & Simek, J. (1995). Artifact size and plowzone processes. Journal of Field Archaeology 22(3), 305-319. Ferguson, N. (2013). Biting the bullet: the role of hobbyist metal detecting within battlefield archaeology. Internet Archaeology 33. doi: 10.11141/ia.33.310.11141/ia.33.3Search in Google Scholar

Fowler, P. (2007). Not archaeology and the media. In T. Clack & M. Brittain (Eds.), Archaeology and the Media, 89-107. Walnut Creek: Left Coast.Search in Google Scholar

Hardy, S. (2014). Virtues Impracticable and Extremely Difficult: The Human Rights of Subsistence Diggers. In A. González- Ruibal & G. Moshenska (Eds.), Ethics and the Archaeology of Violence, 229-239. New York: Springer.Search in Google Scholar

Hardy, S. (2015). Is looting-to-order “just a myth”? Open-source analysis of theft-to-order of cultural property. Cogent Social Sciences 1(1), doi: 10.1080/23311886.2015.108711010.1080/23311886.2015.1087110Search in Google Scholar

Hart, S. & Chilton, E. (2015). Digging and destruction: artifact collecting as meaningful social practice. International Journal of Heritage Studies 21(4), 318-35.10.1080/13527258.2014.934267Search in Google Scholar

Herva, V.-P., Seitsonen, O., Koskinen-Koivisto, E. & Thomas, S. (2016). “I have better stuff at home”: Alternative archaeologies and private collecting of World War II artefacts in Finnish Lapland. World Archaeology 42(2).10.1080/00438243.2016.1184586Search in Google Scholar

Hollowell, J. (2006). Moral arguments on subsistence digging. In C. Scarre & G. Scarre (Eds.), The Ethics of Archaeology: Philosophical Perspectives on Archaeological Practice, 69-93. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.10.1017/CBO9780511817656.005Search in Google Scholar

Karl, R. (2011). On the highway to hell: Thoughts on the unintended consequences for portable antiquities of § 11 (1) Austrian Denkmalschutzgesetz. The Historic Environment 2(2), 111-133.10.1179/175675011X13122044136479Search in Google Scholar

Kobyliński, Z. & Szpanowski, P. (2009). Metal detector users and archaeology in Poland: The current state of affairs. In S. Thomas & P. Stone (Eds.), Metal Detecting and Archaeology, 13-24.Woodbridge: The Boydell Press.Search in Google Scholar

Koskinen-Koivisto, E. & Thomas, S. (2016) (in press). Lapland’s Dark Heritage: Responses to the legacy of World War II. In H. Silverman, E. Waterton & S. Watson (Eds.), Heritage in action: making the past in the present. New York: Springer.10.1007/978-3-319-42870-3_9Search in Google Scholar

Lewis, M. (Ed.). (2013). The Portable Antiquities Scheme Annual Report 2013, London: Department of Britain, Europe and Prehistory, British Museum.Search in Google Scholar

Lewis, M. (2016). A Detectorist’s Utopia? Archaeology and Metal-Detecting in England and Wales. Open Archaeology 2(1).10.1515/opar-2016-0009Search in Google Scholar

Mackenzie, S. & Davis, T. (2014). Temple looting in Cambodia: Anatomy of a statue trafficking network. British Journal of Criminology 54(5), 722-740.10.1093/bjc/azu038Search in Google Scholar

Matsuda, D. (2005). Subsistence Diggers. In K. Fitz Gibbon (Ed.), Who Owns the Past? Cultural Policy, Cultural Property, and the Law, 225-265. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.Search in Google Scholar

Moreau, T. & Aldeman, D. (2011). Graffiti Hurts and the eradication of alternative landscape expression. Geographical Review 101(1), 106-124.10.1111/j.1931-0846.2011.00075.xSearch in Google Scholar

Moshenska, G. (2010). Portable Antiquities, Pragmatism and the “Precious Things”. Papers from the Institute of Archaeology 20, 24-27.Search in Google Scholar

Palmer, N. (1981). Treasure Trove and the protection of antiquities. The Modern Law Review 44(2), 178-187.10.1111/j.1468-2230.1981.tb02745.xSearch in Google Scholar

Pitblado, B. (2014). An argument for ethical, proactive, archaeologist-artifact collector collaboration. American Antiquity 79(3), 385-400.10.7183/0002-7316.79.3.385Search in Google Scholar

Polk, K. (2014). The Global Trade in Illicit Antiquities: Some New Directions? In L. Grove & S. Thomas (Eds.), Heritage Crime: Progress, Prospects and Prevention, 206-223. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.10.1057/9781137357519_12Search in Google Scholar

Portable Antiquities Scheme. (n.d.). Code of Practice for Responsible Metal Detecting. guides/codeofpractice (accessed 19 July 2016).Search in Google Scholar

Rasmussen, J.M. (2014a). Securing cultural heritage objects and fencing stolen goods? A case study on museums and metal detecting in Norway. Norwegian Archaeological Review 47(1), 83-107.10.1080/00293652.2014.899616Search in Google Scholar

Rasmussen, J.M. (2014b). Reply to Comments from Suzie Thomas, Martin Mesicek, Raimund Karl, Mads Ravn, Maria Lingström. Norwegian Archaeological Review 47(2), 212-217.10.1080/00293652.2014.957236Search in Google Scholar

Redmayne, T. & Woodward, K. (2013). The Metal Detecting Forum - an online community. Resource, education and co-operation. Internet Archaeology 33 (accessed 29 February 2016).10.11141/ia.33.6Search in Google Scholar

Reeves, M. (2015). Sleeping with the “Enemy”: Metal Detecting Hobbyists and Archaeologists. Advances in Archaeological Practice 3(3), 263-274.10.7183/2326-3768.3.3.263Search in Google Scholar

Renfrew, C. (2000). Loot, legitimacy and ownership: The ethical crisis in archaeology, London: Duckworth.Search in Google Scholar

Robbins, K. (2014). Portable Antiquities Scheme: A Guide for Researchers, London: British Museum. documents/guideforresearchers.pdf (accessed 20 August 2016).Search in Google Scholar

Smith, L. & Waterton, E. (2012). Constrained by commonsense: The authorized heritage discourse in contemporary debates. In R. Skeates, C. McDavid & J. Carman (Eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Public Archaeology, 153-171. Oxford: Oxford University Press.10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199237821.013.0009Search in Google Scholar

Stebbins, R. (1996). Volunteering: A serious leisure perspective. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly 25(2), 211-224.10.1177/0899764096252005Search in Google Scholar

Stine, L.F. & Shumate, D. (2015). Metal detecting: An effective tool for archeological research and community engagement. North American Archaeologist 35(4), 289-323.10.1177/0197693115588870Search in Google Scholar

Taylor, B. (1995). Amateurs, professionals and the knowledge of archaeology. The British Journal of Sociology 46(3), 499-508.10.2307/591853Search in Google Scholar

Temińo, I.R. & Valdés, A.R. (2015). Fighting against the archaeological looting and the illicit trade of antiquities in Spain. International Journal of Cultural Property 22(1), 111-130.10.1017/S094073911500003XSearch in Google Scholar

Thomas, S. (2012a). How STOP Started: Early Approaches to the Metal Detecting Community by Archaeologists and Others. In G. Moshenska & S. Dhanjal (Eds.), Community Archaeology: Themes, Methods and Practices, 42-57. Oxford and Oakville: Oxbow Books.10.2307/j.ctvh1dn3q.10Search in Google Scholar

Thomas, S. (2012b). Searching for answers: A survey of metal-detector users in the UK. International Journal of Heritage Studies 18(1), 49-64.10.1080/13527258.2011.590817Search in Google Scholar

Thomas, S. (2015a). Collaborate, Condemn or Ignore? Responding to Non-Archaeological Approaches to Archaeological Heritage. European Journal of Archaeology 18(2), 312-335.10.1179/1461957114Y.0000000076Search in Google Scholar

Thomas, S. (2015b). Multiple-role actors in the movement of cultural property: Metal-detector users. In S. Musteață & Ș. Caliniuc (Eds.), Current Trends in Archaeological Heritage Preservation: National and International Perspective (British Archaeological Reports S2741), 117-124. Oxford: Archaeopress.Search in Google Scholar

Tsirogiannis, C. (2015). Mapping the supply: usual suspects and identified antiquities in ‘reputable’ auction houses in 2013. Cuadernos de Prehistoria y Arqueología 25, 105-142.Search in Google Scholar

Wilson, J. (2012). The Cave Who Never Was: Outsider Archaeology and Failed Collaboration in the USA. Public Archaeology 11(2), 73-95.10.1179/1465518712Z.0000000007Search in Google Scholar

Winkley, F. (2016). The Phenomenology of Metal Detecting: Insights from a Unique Type of Landscape Experience. Papers from the Institute of Archaeology 25(2). Art. 13. (accessed 29 February 2016).Search in Google Scholar

Worrell, S. (2010). The Crosby Garrett Helmet. Papers from the Institute of Archaeology 20.30-32. http://www.pia-journal. (accessed 29 February 2016).Search in Google Scholar

Worrell, S., Egan, G., Naylor, J., Leahy, K. & Lewis, M. (Eds.). (2010). A Decade of Discovery: Proceedings of the Portable Antiquities Scheme Conference 2007(BAR British Series 520). Oxford: Archaeopress. Search in Google Scholar

Received: 2016-3-1
Accepted: 2016-8-30
Published Online: 2016-10-14

© 2016 Suzie Thomas

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 3.0 License.

Downloaded on 3.12.2023 from
Scroll to top button