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Policy for private metal detecting

This document contains an overview of the museum’s policy. The key issues are:

  • The museum wishes to support research which can provide more data of the benefits and challenges of private metal detecting.
  • The museum is concerned about the damage that metal detecting may inflict on ancient monuments and archaeological sites. Therefore, we strongly advise against metal detecting outside cultivated areas.
  • The museum regards the procurement of portable archaeological finds from cultivated soils through metal detecting as beneficial in securing objects which are exposed to damage.
  • The museum strongly recommends that metal detectorists follow the national guidelines of the Directorate for Cultural Heritage and our guide to best practice for private metal detecting [lenke].

During the last few years, private metal detecting has increased significantly. The number of metal finds retrieved and handed in to the care of the Museum of Cultural History has tripled in the last five years.

The Cultural Heritage Act contains no rules or guidelines concerning metal detecting, but in effect metal detecting can lead to the unlawful disturbance of archaeological sites and monuments and violate the State’s ownership of portable archaeological objects. One of the museum’s main assignments is to ensure the preservation and protection of portable archaeological objects in its geographical area of responsibility. This includes finds registration, cataloguing, conservation of objects, retention and accessibility of portable antiquities – including artefacts acquired through metal detecting, in order to ensure the best care and preservation of the object.

As a research and cultural institution, the Museum of Cultural History is obligated to manage and develop the archaeological collections as the nation’s archive and collective memory while providing the best foundation for research as an inexhaustible source of knowledge (e.g. White paper no. 15 (2007-2008): Tingenes tale – Universitetsmuseene). The museum acts as an advisor in heritage management issues, and aims at setting the agenda for public involvement with archaeology and heritage politics. The museum aims at being an arena for a wide democratic public engagement and wishes to uphold respectful recognition in relation to the public.

The Museum of Cultural History considers private metal detecting to hold protective, disseminative and research-related benefits. However, it also imposes certain challenges to the overall cultural management – see table.

Benefits

Challenges

  1. A vast acquisition in objects of scientific value is acquired  through metal detecting

E. Metal detecting can lead to illicit harm and damage of protected heritage sites and monuments 

  1. Previously unknown heritage sites can be discovered through metal detecting

F. Portable antiquities can be subjected to national and international illegal trade and collectorship

  1. Metal detecting ensures the safe recovery of archaeological artefacts from cultivated soil 

G. Information on provenance may be lost

  1. Metal detecting engages and creates an awareness of heritage management as well as history and archaeology

H. The high increase of finds acquired through metal detecting strains the overall resources of heritage management

Some of these issues are well known, while others we know less about. The research-related benefits are however substantial (issues A-B). An extensive and accelerating decomposition of archaeological objects in cultivated soils is well documented in other countries and it is safe to assume that this is applicable to the situation in Norway (issue C). Regarding the other issues, we know less. The illicit damage of protected sites and monuments (issue E) has been documented in individual cases, but representative data is absent. The same applies to the issues D, F and G. In order to obtain and improve an awareness of these issues, the Museum of Cultural History wishes to support further research and attain additional knowledge about the effects and implications of the potential impairment of protected sites and monuments, as well as the extent of damage caused by metal detecting of potential archaeological sites beneath the cultivation horizon.

The large number of objects acquired through metal detecting poses challenges in resource management at the museum (issue H). While archaeological excavations are mainly funded by developers and include the financial funds for ensuring the conservation and cataloguing of the finds, there is no such funding for objects acquired through metal detecting. The situation thus demands a reallocation of the museum’s resources. By today’s procedures, both management and conservation require substantial resources. However, the Museum of Cultural History is reviewing its procedures to make them more efficient in managing artefacts acquired through metal detecting. The museum also works strategically to ensure that the museum’s basic finances adapts to the high influx of finds from metal detecting. We will also work to ensure that the research potential of finds from metal detecting are exploited and that current research governs the acquisition.

Because of the danger in the potential infringement of protected sites and monuments, we strongly discourage metal detecting outside cultivated land and in outfields (mountain regions, woodlands etc.) Since the destruction of metal objects in cultivated soils is well documented, the museum regards the securement of finds in this context through metal detecting as beneficial.

As private metal detecting is a legal activity in Norway, the museum strives to promote the best practices for private metal detecting, which can be found in our guide to best practice for private metal detecting. The museum will improve and adjust these provisions in accord with current, acquired knowledge. In the effort to promote the best practice, the Museum of Cultural History will adopt an accommodating and advisory role towards the detectorists and their organizations. However, if there is reason to believe that the Cultural Heritage Act has been violated, the museum will, in collaboration with other administrative organs, collect the necessary documentation to ensure that the perpetrators are prosecuted.

The museum recommends that the administrative counties and research projects cooperate with the organized metal detecting environs in accord with our guide to best practice for private metal detecting, but also encourages the involved parties to establish a dialogue with the museum prior to metal detecting campaigns. Preferably, we also see that necessary funding for conservation is secured prior to launching such campaigns.

With the new guidelines, the Directorate for Cultural Heritage has created a national framework for private metal detecting, which we recommend that regional authorities as well as detectorists follow. It is illegal to use a metal detector within protected areas. Permission may be granted when applying in accordance With the Cultural Heritage Act, Chapter 3, § 8, first subparagraph. Such applications are to be submitted to the county administration.

Published May 15, 2018 10:47 AM - Last modified Nov. 18, 2020 9:39 AM