Between the 29th and 30th of September, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has discussed the issue of metal detecting and its effect on cultural and historical heritage. During this debate, a number of arguments have been raised by the Committee to show that metal detecting has a generally negative impact on the protection of heritage. It was argued that many detectorists fail to obey the laws and regulations in their respective countries, either due to malice or ignorance, as a result of which the archaeological context is often lost. Certain metal detector sellers have also been criticised for using advertising methods which arguably encourage illegal activities, such as looking for artefacts at registered heritage sites. Some members of the Committee seem to believe that the rising popularity of metal detectors and their relatively cheap price are only going to increase the likelihood and impact of unlawful behaviour.
We are disappointed with some of the claims made by the Committee, as the document outlining their arguments seems to suggest that most metal detectorists are plunderers, even though a very large proportion does report its finds to the legitimate authorities. This is a form of discrimination which is not compatible with the EU Recommendation 921 (1981).
It is also important to note that many metal detectorists that do declare their discoveries are often wrongly prosecuted by the justice system, especially when a complaint is made by a lobby of defenders of archaeology. But those who complain about metal detecting tend to forget that a simple ‘thank you’ can sometimes be an adequate reward for the person who discovered a treasure, so there is no need to ‘bring them to justice’. Prosecuting metal detectorists is completely counter-productive, as it forces many people to ‘hide’ their finds from the authorities in fear of getting punished for simply trying to contribute towards the discovery and protection of their own heritage. Because of the decreased number of reported finds, many scientists, politicians and members of the public falsely believe that all detectorists are criminals. As a result of this misconception, numerous decisions made by some national authorities have had a negative impact on the world of archaeology and detectorism.
We have contacted UNESCO back in October to explain our point of view and possibly work together, but we are still waiting for their a response. The list of their suggestions can be found at https://goo.gl/hxLAAh