When someone uncovers a precious artifact from the earth, it brings metal detectors to the scene as necessary devices for discovering what our past was. Alex Hunt from the Council for British Archaeology helps us explain this better in the write up below.

metal detectors in the field

Treasures in the field

People that use metal detectors are called metal detectorists. They work singly, in twos or groups. They are supposed to sweep across fields and listen closely to the signal coming from the machine with their eyes fixed on the ground at all costs. They move the machine, on hearing the signal; they pause. They carefully move away from the soil and then examine what the detector has found.

Are there any fruits to this strenuous exercise?

Yes, there are. They may find a relic of a Massey Ferguson. Usually, it is a corroded nail, and some other times, it might be something far interesting, for example, an antiquity that is in great shape. It could even be a fragment of a Roman brooch, a lead token, a George III halfpenny. It can be anything.

However, on some rare occurrences, these detectors could help an archeologist discover something of significant value. There were two sets of gold jewellery from the late Iron Age found in 2000 by a one Kevan Halls. He reported them to the local Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) Finds Liaison Officer.

It was one of those surprising finds by the help of a metal detector in that decade. Besides that, Mr. Hall reported the discovery very fast and meticulously recorded the place where he had found it. That meant that it was possible to carry out a follow-up archeological excavation. However, the archeologists did not find any distinguishable artifacts or remains in the earth. That suggested that probably the jewellery got thrown in a shallow pit, maybe for offering purposes.

Another significant discovery by the help of a metal detector was a Ringlemere Cup. It was a ceremonial cup made of gold; about 4 ½” high. This cup got moulded from a whole gold lump by Bronze artisans. It got found on a Ringlemere farmland in Kent in 2001 by detectorist Cliff Bradshaw. After his surprising discovery, he got in touch with the Canterbury Archaeological Trust and the local Portable Antiquities Scheme Finds Liaison Officer whom he told about the discovery. The Trust then excavated the land with funds given by the English heritage. Their findings confirmed that the site was a round burrow, and the cup could have been a representation of grave goods coming from a central burial.

Conflicting interests

A survey was conducted in 1995 in England on metal detecting by the British Archaeology. The study brought out some ugly facts regarding the impact of using metal detectors in archeological work. It showed that while hundreds of thousands of artifacts were discovered by detectorists annually, only a small fraction of them were reaching the museums.

Besides that, detectorists had raided excavations of ¾ of the archeological field units. In the year 1988 up until 1995, about 188 illegal metal detector users damaged scheduled ancient monuments. Ancient monuments are archeological sites important to the state and are protected by law, and there is a need for special permission before digging or using metal detectors in those locations.

Such loots or unreported finds appall responsible detectorists and archeologists because vital information and sites are lost.