Sunday 2 January 2011


Over on my secondary metal detectorist nonsense ghetto blog, a metal detector user from Denmark steps in to confirm what no British metal detectorist would say about metal detecting practice. The latter would prefer that the public were kept in the dark of course. I think this is one of the problems with the use of the rather general cover-all term "metal detectorists" as though anyone using a metal detector was doing the same thing and had the same attitudes.

Anyhow, this Jakob asks:
After reading your blog for some time I'm curious how you consider the metal detecting practice in European countries outside the UK.

I myself metal detect in Denmark where both the legal basis for and the practise of metal detecting differs from the UK. Do you see any flaws in the way metal detecting is done in Denmark? Besides of course the occasional idiotic/illegal behavior we sadly sometimes see here too.

As far as I know (and I've tried to study it) no Danish archaeologist has been critical of the practise here in the last 25 year so I would honestly be a bit surprised if they all got it wrong for all those years.
Well, first of all by no means do many British archaeologists (openly) criticise the practices of UK metal detectorists - I'll discuss that in a post after (above) this in a moment.

Jakob asks how I consider the "metal detecting practice in European countries outside the UK". That is rather a wide area with a wide range of "practices" and problems, but Jakob asks about Denmark. This is quite timely as there is a parallel series of posts on another blog concerning the visit of PAS top-brass to Denmark in the middle of December 2010, the aim of which was "to meet with museum staff, undertake research on archaeological finds found by the Danish public, and meet with Danish metal-detector users". (Background and Postscript). How do I see Danefae? I think it's a great idea. I am not sure I could honestly answer whether or not I "see any flaws in the way metal detecting is done in Denmark". I have never been artefact hunting in Denmark and cannot recall having met any Danish artefact hunters, so most of what I know is from the literature.

The restrictions on artefact hunting including with metal detectors is about the same as in other countries, so it is totally forbidden to use a metal detector on designated historical and archaeological sites. If there are no designated archaeological sites there, metal detecting is allowed on private land with the permission of the landowner, and of course coin shooting on public beaches. As in other countries too, there are restrictions also on metal detector use on certain public land and in forestry areas, but that is up to local authorities to decide and you have to seek permission for individual areas, which is reportedly not often given. I've seen an estimate on MD forums that metal detecting is not allowed on approximately 50% of the public land.

What Jakob is referring to however is the ownership of finds made with a metal detector, which is where things get interesting. This is related to Britain's old Treasure Trove laws and has the same origin. The principle is that finds of gold and silver in the earth, to which nobody can claim property, belong to the king (today the state). This rule is a consequence of the general royal rule, that “what belongs to nobody, belongs to the king”. Those who consider such laws to be "Communist" should note that in Denmark it was a a public notice of 1752 that states: “Whosoever shall find old coins and the like, which because of age and special character be considered of some rarity, he shall send the same to Our exchequer, for which according to its worth he shall receive full payment from Our privy purse... And anyone who dares conceal that which is found shall be subject to rightful punishment”.

In practice, any modern artefacts found in the soil and coins which were minted after the coin reform in the 19th century can be retained by the finder. Otherwise all artefacts must be delivered to the National Museum (nowadays the local museum acts as a go-between as in Scotland). The finder is awarded a cash sum for the find, the value of which is determined by the National Museum, but it is almost always below the market value, since the object is already the property of the state and cannot in any case be legally sold. In most cases when items are declared danfae, they are retained for the national collections and it is very rare that the finder is allowed to keep his find.

The current basis of the danefae is the Act on Museums of June 6, 1984, Art. 27:
Objects of the past, including coins found in Denmark, of which no one can prove to be the rightful owner, shall be treasure trove (Danefæ) if made of valuable material or being of a special cultural heritage value.
- 2. Treasure trove shall belong to the state. Any person who finds treasure trove, and any person who gains possession of treasure trove, shall immediately deliver it to the State Antiquary.
- 3. The State Antiquary shall pay a reward to the finder. The amount shall be fixed on the basis of the value of the material and rarity of the find and also of the care with which the finder has safeguarded the find.
- 4. If treasure trove is found in connection with archaeological investigations headed by a state or state-subsidised institution or otherwise financed, wholly or in part, by public funds, no treasure trove reward shall be paid to the finder. In special cases, however, the State Antiquary may pay a reward to the owner or user of the area where the investigation takes place.
- 5. Treasure trove shall be included in the collections of the National Museum and the State Antiquary may deposit it in other state or state-subsidised museums at their request.

[Article 37 states that persons not respecting these rules will be fined or condemned up to one year of imprisonment].

Jens Christian Moesgaard ('The law and Practice Concerning Coin Finds in Denmark' from which the above is taken) says:
Generally speaking, the Danefæ rules are accepted and the importance of recording finds is widely recognized. This is the result of a long tradition of collaboration between the general public and museums, which goes back deep in the nineteenth century and is continued today and seen as paramount for the functioning of the system. In this way, we probably get one of the best rates of recording coin finds in Europe.
Michael Lewis visiting Denmark on behalf of the PAS notes the long tradition of amateur archaeology in Denmark, "and a general belief that archaeological finds should be in museums (for all to enjoy and study) rather than private collections". He notes that it is possible for museums to acquire all finds they want because unlike Britain, the state provides the rewards which are not set at the full market value and museums don’t have to bid for funding. He does point out that
"if many more people were to take up metal-detecting in Denmark it is not clear whether this ability to acquire ‘at will’ could be sustained - it was certainly the view of the detectorists that I met that fewer finds would be claimed [by the state as] Danefae in the future".
He contrasts this with the situation in England and Wales where there is a much greater number of finds made by a larger number of artefact hunters with the
finder’s demands for a ‘fair-price’ for finds acquired by museums [...] most people in Denmark seemed less favourable disposed towards the English system, believing finders to be greedy and rewards too high, though to some extent that reflects press coverage of big Treasure finds" [...] It is the general feeling of people in Denmark (especially detectorists) that detectorists in England are only ‘in it’ for the money [...]

Lewis also met metal detectorists in Denmark and notes
I was most impressed by their obvious enthusiasum to advance archaeological knowledge, and they clearly had a dim view of those who detect for financial gain; indeed, one person expressed frustration that the local museum didn’t think that some of his finds were Danefae, which of course would mean he would lose them…[...] it seems pretty fairly ingrained in the Danish consciousness that history is important, finds should be reported and the best place for them is in public collections.

Jakob admits that this does not stop all illegal activity ("we sadly sometimes see of course the occasional idiotic/illegal behavior here too") and Moesgard (above) admits that the rate of reporting is to some extent dependent on local museum outreach.

Nevertheless, it seems that the system here is superior to that in Britain, metal detectorists are out there doing what they do not in order to collect what they find, but share what they find. The British collector selfishly accumulates, the Danish one makes available. The detectorist in Denmark gets his kicks out of "detecting" metal and not taking it - the difference between "metal detecting' and "artefact hunting" perhaps? The British collector is not required to report all of what he finds, and not all do, the Danish searcher is and the Danes claim a very high reporting rate. Collectors claim that only a market-value size reward will seure high reporting and handover rates, the Danish experience is that this need not be the case, it is a matter of social responsibility and not cash earnt. Furthermore the Danish detector users look askance at their mercenary and selfish British counterparts. In Denmark, everybody understands that archaeological objects, even so-called "minor artefacts" belong in public collections where they can serve as a resource for research and study. Everybody understands why the care of such objects is and should be vested in the state. It is notable that all this is done through the network of local museums (getting the public involved in the museums) without the need to set up a costly separate Scheme running in isolation from other archaeological bodies.

Jakob asks if I see any "flaws" in such a system, I expect there are, but as far as I can see the situation in Denmark is a vast improvement on that in England and Wales, so heavily lauded by collectors as the "ideal system" (of course that is because it allows vast numbers of collectables to enter the antiquity market, instead of going to public collections).

UPDATE 10/1/11
Jakob commented on the other blog, but I'll append the added detail here for reference:

The cut-off date for coins in general is 1536. It used to be 1650 but that changed some years ago - 2004 I think, but I can't remember for sure. Hoards (2 coins or more found together), gold coins and large silver coins (rule of thumb: more than 9 grams) after 1536 are also danefæ.

As far as I understand the reason for the change was an increase in the number of finds that lead to considerations about what really had to be declared danefæ. And that the general cut-off date for danefæ was 1536 (except for finds made of gold or silver), the traditional end-year of medieval times in Denmark, so the coin-date seemed a bit odd.

A graph of the coin finds in later years can be found here: (might need to enlarge the graph). The ligth blue column is the number of coins the royal coin collection have received each year. The development in danefæ in general can be seen on , slide 36. The graph shows the number of danefæ-locations with the detector-locations marked in purple.

At times it has been troublesome for the National Museum to keep up with the increasing number of finds but in recent years it has been better. Seems that people rarely now have to wait for several years to hear if what they found was actually Danefæ.
I must say the 1536 date (so a few years into the reign of Christian III is an interesting date to have the end of "Medieval". The peter-vang-petersen slideshow is interesting in itself (Danish archaeological photography is often wonderful to behold). The graph of reporting figures (slide 36) showing the growth of metal detecting finds is especially so, it is interesting to compare it with the PAS one for the same period where such statistics for the early period are missing.


Jakob said...

Just a minor comment: 1536 is usually considered as the end-year of the medieval period in Denmark because it was the year of the reformation and so mark major political and cultural changes. Of course only coins can be dated so precisly so sometimes ca. 1550 is used to mark the end of medieval times.

Jakob said...

I just realised something I should had been aware of earlier: The graph by Peter Vang Petersen most likely "only" covers pre-historic finds (before ca. 1050 since we were a bit late to enter the Middle Ages). The slide-show is from an annual seminary for museum people from all over Denmark in november 2010.

Links to other slide-shows from that event can be found on . Lisbeth Imer covered the medieval finds and Michael Märcher the royal coin collection but only Peter made such a detailed graph.

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