If We Don’t Dig It, Who Will?

I have always wondered why it is that the archaeological community hates us so much. We are, for the most part, honest, hard working people,  who just want to enjoy a pastime. We look for coins, relics and jewelry. A few may be fortunate enough to have the time and money to look for  long lost caches and buried shipwrecks, but they are few and far between.

Their pretense or apparent motive is that we “destroy” history, but strangely enough they don’t care about us finding coins or relics.  At least that is  what I was told when I brought up the idea that perhaps they were jealous of what we were finding. My dear friend and archaeologist of note,   Paul Barford, who hides out (and I really mean “hides out”) in Warsaw, Poland, responded as follows  (you have to get through the grandiose, self ingratiating, inflated, description of who he is first).


The end of a July 29, 2012 post….

Finally I really find highly amusing [having worked on, among others, sites from the Middle Palaeolithic, a couple of thousand year old hillforts  and urban sites in Poland and Norway, Roman villas and forts in England, Anglo-Saxon villages, Late Iron Age saltworks, and more recently digging in  Luxor Egypt not to mention in my career working through boxes and boxes of finds writing them up for publication] to have a Texas metal detectorist  suggesting that my critique of the conservation aspects of current policies on artefact hunting and collecting is due to “jealousy”. Of what?  Finding Barber dimes, wheaties and corroded Confederate buckles and uniform buttons?  He really has to be joking”.


So, if coins and relics are okay, just what the hell is it we do that ticks he and the rest of the archaeological community off?  My question  is and probably always will be, “if we don’t dig it, who will?”  Is it better to let that item corrode, rot and decay in the ground? Should we let it  stay there until a bulldozer destroys it while constructing the new shopping center parking lot? Is it better for it to remain bured forever,  or is it a matter of waiting until an archaeologist is given a grant to “dissect” that particular piece of land, and if so, how long  might that take?

confusedI completely get the local community banning detectors in the park because of holes left by a careless hunter (albeit at the expense of the caring  hobbyist), but the idea that we are destroying history because we found a relic from the Civil or Revolutionary War is absurd. These items are found  on private property, with the permission of the owner, and are almost always incidental drops or losses.  The chances of finding any meaningful, heretofore unknown sites,  skirmishes, or caches are almost non-existent, and I feel certain that if one were discovered it would be reported by the finder.

Are there detectorists who abuse our code of conduct, the law, etc…? Of course. The same can be said for the archaeologial community. I simply  find it baffling that a group of people are so hell bent on taking away the enjoyment of a few hobbyists in order to preserve something that has not  been found or unearthed yet.  If we had followed this line of thought, the Staffordshire hoard would still be in the ground instead of a museum!

So let me repeat. If we don’t dig it, who will?



I’ve heard about all the various restrictions facing the detectorist in Florida, but I was checking out the  Florida Public Archaeology Network and found this paragraph under number 12, “Can I Metal Detecting in Florida”….

“As for metal detecting in the water, all lands that are below the mean high water line are considered state sovereignty submerged lands and, while  it is not against the law to possess a metal detector in the water, it IS against the law to disturb the bottom sediments. So, if something is detected,  it would be illegal to dig for it”.

All I can say is amazing!….?



Once again some late breaking news from across the pond, via the Malamute Saloon. You can find out more by clicking on the Malamute Saloon link above and scrolling down to today’s date.



Wanted to share this one with you…sorry I do not remember who sent it to me. My apologies. Just a nice story, and some good PR for the pastime….

Mini Cache Found



Filed under Metal Detecting

37 responses to “If We Don’t Dig It, Who Will?

  1. Phil

    Let’s look at Barford for a minute…the “barf” part is right. What a windbag he is. So full of himself it made me feel like “barf”ing. What a piece of crap his writing is!!

  2. bill from lachine

    So true…..my hunting involves almost strickly urban green spaces, disturbed soil, fill, etc….pretty much anything of any age is already out of context in the archeological sense……so as far as I’m concerned it’s nothing more than sour grapes….probably a bunch of wannabe detectorists that don’t want to get their hands dirty……as our good friend John Howland would probably say…..the can all go and stuff it….lol.

    Regards + HH


  3. I think it’s all about ego and greed.

    • You are probably right Diva, but I still think there’s some envy when they read about an “amateur” detectorist finding a very valuable and historic find. After all, that is what they are “paid” to do….

      • Envy, greed, ego…whatever it is that is driving this “them against us” attitude is ridiculous.

        Both groups share a passion for history, and uncovering and preserving the past.

        For us it’s a hobby, for them it’s a career. It seems they don’t take us very seriously, and we think they take themselves too seriously.

        How about a truce? They leave us alone, and we’ll leave them alone. Or a compromise? We’ll report any significant finds or sites if they stop bashing us as the destroyers. Wishful thinking, I know.

        It’s unfortunate, but it doesn’t seem like this debate will be resolved any time soon.

      • No, I don’t think so either…. Sad state of affairs.

  4. John H

    Barford’s statement surely raises TWO questions when he writes:-

    Finally I really find highly amusing [having worked on, among others, sites from the Middle Palaeolithic, a couple of thousand year old hillforts and urban sites in Poland and Norway, Roman villas and forts in England, Anglo-Saxon villages, Late Iron Age saltworks, and more recently digging in Luxor Egypt not to mention in my career working through boxes and boxes of finds writing them up for publication] to have a Texas metal detectorist suggesting that my critique of the conservation aspects of current policies on artefact hunting and collecting is due to “jealousy”..,

    1. Presumably, if he’d NOT worked in the places he claims, he would have found ‘the Texas metal detectorist’s critique’ a serious comment motivated by serious concern rather than “jealousy”?

    2. He’s an undoubted archaeological talent, even though a self-professed one, so what on earth is this man doing in Poland or sifting through boxes of finds like a work experience ‘yoof’?

    I hope that when he’s writing up for publication those boxes and boxes of finds, he’s able to rise above the kind of ‘factual evidence’ for which the Artefact Erosion Counter has become such a laughing stock.

  5. Robbie

    Most of all US history has been recorded from the vikings to present day, and for archaeologists to check every square inch of the country is ridiculous–they simplly don’t have the funds or manpower. They should have enough land areas set aside that are confirmed areas without saying any particular spot of ground could or could not be an archaeological site and ask for all land to be off limits to metal detectorists. As for that hoard in the UK– it would still be buried because the archaeologists had checked areas and didn’t find much of anything..they got mad because a detectorist located some good stuff after the archies missed it.

    • As was peviously posted here on SS they wish to relegate us to beach hunting and “token” hunting (as in rallys), and yes they do indeed want to claim every square inch of land for themselves. Absolutely unacceptable as far as I am concerned. Thanks for replying Robbie….

  6. This is a great thread, my first post, hope it isn’t too bad…

    I was close to becoming an archaeologist, but ended up changing career paths, and now an air traffic controller that also metal detects. Probably exact opposite directions.

    As I’m sure has been said here hundreds of times, they don’t understand what we do. For the most part, we as detectorists, just love finding old lost stuff… Can’t even explain what it is, but something drives us to hunt/forage, maybe? I’m not quite sure.

    I think the majority of us would report a major historical site/find that they never would have realized was there. These places are obviously hard to find or else they would have already been found.

    It took me 12 years from the first time I wanted to metal detect to actually buy a metal detector. I once rented a one for a week and had a horrible time with it. It sucked and I didn’t know how to use it.

    Where I live in Newfoundland Canada there are well known places where archaeological digs of major historical significnce (at least as far as North America is concerned) were semi-started, and just left. The archaeologists dug big pits and then left! I mean big and dangerous pits. I can’t even call them holes because these things would be bone breaking if you were to fall into one.

    I assume it was due to funding. Maybe a lack of finds where a detector would help? Why dig huge test pits and just leave them in the middle of a town? Shouldn’t they refill that hole after 12 years? Or are they/archaeologists still trying to save context? I do not have a pic right now, not even sure if I could add a pic here. But I will take one this summer that will really blow every metal detectorists/archaeologists mind of the damage the archies actually leave.

    Dick, as far as the question that is the topic of this thread, I have no idea, lol. If the Archie’s know about it, then we are not allowed to dig. If we find it and tell them, we are not allowed to dig, but they probably can’t either due to funding. Even if they get funding, based on my experience, it is not unlimited funding and they WILL LEAVE a huge “pit” within home run hitting distance of a baseball field, an exact example that I could prove any day, if forced to drive out of the way 200km.

    Archaeologists obviously play an integral role in preserving and recording the past, but between not enough government funding, or maybe them volunteering their own time, sites have and will be wasted.

    In my opinion, the UK has adopted the first common sense law ever relating to metal detecting. Thousands of people wandering around for free looking for treasure. If you locate ‘treasure’ you are supposed to make it known to the government. If they want it they will offer a price, if they don’t it is yours/landowner. It is so simple and based upon common sense that most will announce what they have found…items that archaeologists never could have found just based upon land size.

    Compare North America to the UK in area and the answer is simple. Let us detect and give us a reason to show what we find. Maybe Krazy but just my rant tonight!


    • Cerebus, thank you….great post.

      Of course you are right that we should have a “common sense” program in place here in North America, but I feel certain the archaeological community would fight something like that tooth and nail. To lend credance to what we do would be to say we are useful, and they would never admit to that.

      Thanks again for taking the time to rant. You can do it anytime, and hope you will continue to chime in when the spirit moves you.

    • Now that’s the best “rant” I’ve heard in a long time!!

  7. Lisa

    I begin by divulging my dirty secret. I am an archaeologist. That being said, I also have respect for, and envy, the expertise of metal dectorists and believe that most are upstanding respectable people who enjoy a hobby that overlaps into the discipline of historical recovery. As we all know, archaeology, as well as metal detecting, is a destructive process. Once we dig it up we can never put it back. It is for this reason that strict guidelines are in place on the protocol of excavations. Should dectoring be banned because of this? I think not! Rather I feel the solution lies more in the “training” of detectorist to eliminate the rebuttal archeologists fall back on, “Destroying Context”.
    When I speak of “training” I am speaking in the sense of contextual documentation and such. Believe it or not, Archaeologists have learned something in their schooling. This bristles me when I am accused of knowing nothing more than someone who has not been schooled in a field, any field. I am in no way saying that I know more than a dectorist when it comes to certain aspects of the field. I know many dectorists that put my history knowledge to shame! (And I am a history minor.) And how to work a metal detector? I have no clue. However, after 7 years of schooling, and numerous excavations, I do expect respect in my knowledge of excavation and documentation techniques and contextual identification. It is in this area that I feel we could help each other. Both sides must open our eyes and minds to the others abilities in order for the marriage to be a success.
    Think about it. If the Archaeologist community could join forces with the detectoring community instead of fighting against each other, more history could be uncovered and shared with the American people. And isn’t this the ultimate goal? Or at least it should be. There is little of paradise left unpaved and one can only imagine what lies beneath all those parking lots. The Archaeologist community is severely strapped for resources, finances, and time. We will never outrun the bulldozers. However, if we joined forces there is just that much more ground that could be uncovered.
    I admit that yes, I am a little envious of metal detectors. I envy your expertise with the detector, your freedom to dig without restrictions (on private land of course), your knowledge of American history, and your tenacity to fight for what you believe in being “right”. However, I am also taken aback when I am slammed for thinking I am better trained in excavations and when I abide by the rules set forth in the archaeology community. Do I think some of these “rules” should be re-visited? I do! However I also expect respect when it comes to my knowledge and what I have learned, not only from academia, but from experience, just as I will also reciprocate that respect to your knowledge and experience. It is a give and take and both sides must give and take keeping in mind that without respect for each other neither side will get anywhere.

    • For the record I met Lisa via Butch Holcome, publisher of the American Digger magazine, and asked her to comment to this post…..

      Lisa, thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts here. I appreciate it very much.

      One sentence in your response stands out….”Think about it. If the Archaeologist community could join forces with the detectoring community instead of fighting against each other, more history could be uncovered and shared with the American people”.

      I think you will find that the detecting folks are more than willing to do this, and in fact they tend to fall all over themselves to make it happen. It’s been my experience, unfortunately, that the other side is not all that willing to do the same.

      I have a feeling it will not happen in my lifetime……

      • Lisa

        Thank you, Dick. I think if we sat down and addressed the “issues” that the archaeology community use as a backdrop in their concerns (some are legitimate) and combine those with the issues coming from your side, (Again, some are legitimate) and have a respectful, open conversation in which each side really listens to the other, nothing but good could ensue. I am open for any suggestions and/or concerns as long as I am also “heard out” with my suggestions and concerns. It can, and does work, in many areas. And even if it doesn’t happen in our lifetime, we cannot give up on the goal for future generations. Rome wasn’t built in a day.

      • Lisa, when and where does that conversation begin, and with whom? Also I agree that Rome wasn’t built in a day, but I have been metal detecting now for 35 years, and nothing at all has changed between the two two groups. You will be always heard out here, and I respect your honesty & willingnes to share.

    • Lisa-

      First of all, there is nothing shameful in being an archaeologist. I don’t think it’s the profession that is being ranted about here, so much as the attitude we receive from the archaeological community.

      A headline reading “Detectorist finds local historic site” would do more for both sides of the debate than one reading “Detectorist’s destroying historic sites”, because the media interviewed a bitter archaeologist.

      It’s the feeling that our rights to enjoy our hobby are slowly being taken away from us by people who do not understand what it is that detectorist’s are really doing.

      Most folks who detect are just out at the beaches & parks looking for lost jewelry or in the woods looking for old coins. The holes dug to recover most of these items are very shallow.

      Of course, there are a few morons who have given us a bad name by their destructful methods, and lack of respect; however, thankfully they are a very small minority.

      Most of what we find is from the recent past. If I happened upon an area I thought might have archaeological value, and I didn’t think I would be labeled as a “destroyer” for finding the site, I would gladly report it. But when a detectorist finds and reports something significant, it seems the archaeologists and the media jump all over them and make them out to look like grave robbers and criminals. That leaves a raw taste in the detecting community.

      I don’t think it’s a lack of respect for the archaeologist training that is driving this debate. We respect the archaeologists who respect us.

      I would be thrilled to participate in any type of training course the archaeological community would provide or endorse. If we were asked to help train the archaeologists in how to use a metal detector, or if asked for our expertise to help in an excavation, imagine the good will that type of program could promote.

      I like your open attitude and suggestions. I wish there were more like you.

  8. Hallebloodyjulah Lisa!
    At last – sound sense! However Lisa, like it or not there will be some in your fraternity sticking pins in dolls with your name on!

    You’re on the ‘hit list’ (alongside me!) simply because in the eyes of the vocal few within your profession you are seen as legitimising the metal detecting hobby as a valuable historical tool. Maybe, just maybe, your comments might encourage a others to strap a four foot length of 4″x2″ wood to thier spines and stand-up to be counted.

    Metal detecting is not archaeology, but is about the recovery of metallic items casually lost over the years. It is the only method of locationg old fairs, markets, gatherings, battles and minor skirmishes. Rather than being in direct conflict, it can if the hand of friendship is extended, compliment archeology to a great extent and vice versa. Many detectorists are experts in thier own right possessed of specialist knowledgeable.

    In the thirty years that I’ve been fighting for this hobby I have met some really great arkies and enjoyed more than a few beers in thier company – still do! I’ve also met some who are complete shits and this latter group tends to hold sway. I suspect you know thier names too.

    I wish you well and hope you havn’t blotted your copybook.
    John H

  9. bill from lachine

    Thanks for your valuable insight and candid views on the subject they are refreshing versus a lot of what happens between our two communities.

    I’ll give you a real life experience that one of my fellow detectorists encountered…..he specializes in native artifiacts both fur trade era and pre contact and knows his stuff.

    Awhile back he came across a native midden….it’s a fire pit for want of another term.

    Since it was quite extensive he bagged the earth some 20 garbage bags of it and carted it home in his car…..as a winter project….he sifted all the contents.

    Needless to say he had loads of beads and various other metal and non metal items which he cleaned, sorted, cataloged and brought in to the local archeologist we the location found, etc…..

    The response was he was threatened that the archie was going to report him to the police…..now this was on private land with permission and not a designated site….

    Given experiences such as this one and it’s not a one off situation either as I’m aware of similar situations which have happened.

    So you can understand our show me attitude has some foundation.

    Sorry for the rant…..just wanted to let you see some of the logic for our distrust as a community.

    Best wishes

    Regards + HH


  10. Lisa

    @Dick…I am not sure on the who sits down and where. I am more a play in the dirt gal than an organizer. That being said I am always open to involvement when given the opportunity. And given ideas I can throw myself all in like a crazy person. Throw out some ideas…

    @detectingdiva… I am really very proud to call myself an archaeologist, most of the time. Although I have been called a lot worse. I have heard from a few that actually slam my profession like its a dirty word, just as you have undoubtedly heard the same. If you think about it, we are kind of in the same boat in that respect, except archaeologists have the proverbial upper hand. if I were on the other side that would be frustrating as hell! Thoughts? I love that you are open to the “training”. I think this would be an excellent step forward. Like I said, eliminate the “problem”, so to speak and there is no gripe, right? Thoughts again?

    @Ahhh, John. The Voodoo Dolls don’t scare me! (Although maybe they should) I do realize I may ostracize myself in many circles. However, does not anyone who makes a stand against the mainstream? I understand fully the ‘risk” I am taking. However I also want to be honest in saying that there are certain lines I cannot cross simply because I need a job and have a HUGE student debt to pay off. And there are some legitimate concerns in the arch community that I do agree with. Plus, I will never be of any help if I completely shut my self off from my community. Does that make sense?

    @Bill…That is a completely unacceptable response from the archaeologist! This is exactly where education should have been suggested. Instead of “flipping out” the arch should have asked how he did the excavation and offered any expertise into the proper methods (if they were not done properly) of documentation of context, soil documentation, levels, etc. Even if it was all done incorrectly, educating on the proper way for future digs, in my opinion, would have allowed a bond to grow with each helping the other. Agree? And maybe the person did everything correctly, at which point the arch should have offered his thanks and still formed that bond. @ Everyone…I really do understand your frustration. I have been in situations where I have felt like I am trying to do the right thing but keep getting pushed back. In a way I am in that situation right now with trying to be the voice of reason for detectorists. I want to thank everyone for your kind words! Any suggestions you have, feel free to voice them! I will listen as long as you also listen to my suggestions. We don’t always have to agree with each other, but we must always listen. Thank you!!

    • Thanks Lisa for taking the time to address those three responses…

      As for John…he’s always been into voodoo dolls, ladies scotch and beer, not necessarily in that order. Watch out for him.

  11. bill from lachine

    Thanks for your response. To the best of my knowledge my friend did it by the book as he has studied archeology and proper documentation methods, etc….

    Something to mull over if you and some of your like minded colleagues were to put together a crash course of the proper methodology to follow I’m certain there’d be no lack of takers on our side of the fence…..food for thought.

    Just for the record most detectorists who post here are fairly well connected so it wouldn’t take long to spread the word if some headway were made in that direction.

    Regards + HH


  12. Mike Smith

    Bravo Lisa! I knew there were a few (maybe more than a few) good eggs in the archaeology community. In my 27 years of metal detecting I have known a handful of archaeologists that, for the majority of sites we hunt, have no problems with most detectionists. As in ALL professions, there are rotten eggs that have attitude/mental problems and that is just a fact of life.

    I, for one, would be glad to take a course if that would allow me better access to sites, and not be grouped with a very small percentage of detectionists that archaeologists label as gave robbers/theives, but not everyone that owns a detector would be willing to spend a day or two (or up to a week) to accomplish this.

    I once met an archaeologist in NY that utilizes the knowledge and manpower of local detectionists in some of his projects, and that is the way it should be. I also know that the US Forest Service has a program to use volunteer detectionists in some of their digs. So it can work if the right people on both sides come together.

  13. Lisa

    @Bill…I am actually working on putting something together on training. I have a few friends who have already done this with great success. Any suggestions you would like to throw my way, feel free.
    @Mike..I agree on the not everyone wanting to do this, however, maybe it is something people would jump on board with after proven success? The Forestry Divisions program is called “Passport In Time”. I don’t know a whole lot about it except that it is very popular. Here is a link if anyone is interested. http://www.passportintime.com/

  14. John H

    Hi Lisa:
    Yep, you make eminent sense and I undertsand the direction from whence you come. Perhaps when the ‘opposition’ realises what metal detecting is all about (see my previous comment) relations will improve.
    Oh, by the way, if you want to earn good money to pay off your student debt, get yourself a metal detector, dark clothing, and come out with me. Not scared of the dark are you?
    John H

  15. Lisa

    John…Maybe we need to gather some metal detectorists and go on a dig….show the community how valuable you really are….And I don’t think its the dark I should fear.

  16. Hi Lisa;
    Now, there’s a dog that’ll hunt. Especially where either a long-lost footpath, skirmish site, or similar is suspected to exist. Finds of casual losses, properly plotted, will prove the case and the results should be written into local history.
    Herein I suspect, is where the true ‘opposition’ lies. Metal detecting on an in-progress excavation does nothing to prove the value of the hobby’s potential being (rightly) under archaeological direction. BUT, carried out under its own methodology away from such excavations, the results are astoundingly positive.
    I hope it goes well for you.

  17. Dee Sperling

    If we don’t search for it how many items would go unreturned to their rightful owners. I’m posting a link to a story about the return of a West Point Ring to a happy owner. This couple used to belong to our small club – Hood Canal Detectorists Club in Belfair, WA. https://sites.google.com/site/hoodcanaldetectoristsclub/home
    I’ve read several more stories of countless things this couple has found for grateful peopole. http://www.heraldtribune.com/article/20130315/COLUMNIST/130319734

    • Thanks Dee… You are absolutely correct. I saw that article, and will be posting it on the blog tomorrow.
      Thank you for taking the time to chime in. Hope you will do it more often.

      • It also just occurred to me that I did a long article on these folks for Western & Eastern a few years ago. I also featured them on the website. Will try and find that and repost here.

  18. Wayne

    I’ve been involved as a detectorist in a few Archaeology surveys. In my short lived experience, there are some in the Archaeology community that “tolerate” us and use us as needed, and a few that truly appreciate the expertise we bring at locating metallic artifacts. I’ve even read some good reports regarding Battlefield Archaeology and it’s use of metal detectors.

    Lisa, you bring a fresh view that I welcome. Hopefully more of your community will assist us in proper technique and allow us the opportunity to find sites that are currently hidden.

    • Thanks for the comments Wayne…appreciate it. Lisa is indeed a “welcome” addition to our ranks, and hopefully she will help us better understand their side. That will not be an easy task….

  19. Lisa

    Thank you, Wayne, for the kind words. Any little thing I can do to help, just ask.

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