Two Views to Digging Up History – What Can We Learn, Appreciate and Change. 

Anyone who knows me knows I love metal detecting. I especially like to find history where people argue no history can be found. My process begins with researching. I start by looking at old aerials, as well as reading previous documentation from newspapers, historical diaries, and memoirs. I also look at old historical black-and-white photos and advertisements. I then line up where the photos were taken, walk to the spot to survey it, make sure it is legal and safe to metal detect it, and then come back with my detector to see what I can find.

For me, finding history and uncovering it is important because it could soon be paved over by land developers and forgotten, especially if it brings a tangible puzzle piece to understanding local history.

Questioning the Hobby of Metal Detecting and How Can It Be Improved.

Metal Detecting and Archeology

Recently, my enjoyment of metal detecting was questioned, in a good way, in a great discussion that sparked me to think deeper on the subject. For context, few people know that I also have a cousin who is a curator of a major European museum. We both caught up in Canada over the summer, and on an evening walk, my cousin explained that he and his colleagues believe that history should not be uncovered at all and should be left where it is, and it should only be uncovered if a land developer is going to destroy it. Further explaining that history shows the longer it is kept in the ground, the future development of better tools and methods will be for digging it out and preserving it, and documenting it. He also said that history shows items that were dug up in earlier years were ruined by poor methods. The longer one can wait for advancements in technology, the better historic items will be preserved when they are uncovered.

My cousin also pointed out that they have a real problem with nighthawking, which is illegal metal detecting. When they find a historical site to excavate and document in the evenings or weekends, it gets raided, and the history is lost by getting detected illegally, and the items dug up, being kept in private collections, or sold in the black market. Therefore, he feels the fewer people know, meaning the general public, the better it will be preserved.

He made some valid points, making me want to see both parties work together and see better partnerships in the future.

How Can the Meticulous Worlds of Archaeology and the Enthusiastic Realm of Metal Detecting Effectively Coexist and Collaborate?

Now, as cousins, the conversation was very civil. I respected his views and understood where they came from, and he respected that I get enjoyment from the hobby even if we don’t see eye to eye.

What I got from the conversation led me to question those of us detectorists who are detecting legally. Can we use better tools and procedures to preserve historic items when we discover them?

I bet almost all of us detectorists can admit that we have nicked a relic find or an old coin with a shovel or pick by going too fast, excited to uncover the find. When that happens, we don’t like what we did. As detectorists, maybe we could learn how to dig up finds with less damage from the archaeology community by taking their knowledge and incorporating it more into detecting practices. 

Let us take this further and brainstorm. How can metal detector manufacturers and tool makers create better tools and educate detectorists on how to dig up items with less damage using their tools? Tool makers could consult with the archaeology community and get a better understanding of their tools, to advance tools in the metal detecting world.

We can take it even further by learning how detectorists can better document the historic finds that we dig up potentially by using more detailed log books and better phone and internet apps to log finds.

Another thing we can learn is how to transport finds and get them home with less damage. It would be useful to know the right holder, carriers, or pouches that are the most reliable. 

It would also be useful to understand the best methods for displaying finds to help preserve them from further oxidation damage. Recently, for my own displays, I did a lot of research on how museums secure historical items for display, specifically shadow boxes, and I felt there was limited documentation. It would be great if there was more information available. 

Museums and archeologists mentor and work with detectorists, teaching us better methods to dig and document. We, as detectorists, love learning from each other and love to preserve history. It would be great if local museums, universities, and historians did evening or weekend classes teaching us better methods to use. Metal detecting clubs could bring in experts, not detectorists, but archeologists and museum curators, as speakers. 

Museum Lab Archeology

If we look at the subcategories of archeologists, there is so much to learn if archaeologists are open to working with us. A few of the subcategories that would be useful are:

  • Archeologists who focus on taphonomy can teach detectorists how organic matter decays and degrades over time. This could help detectorists locate finds as organic matter decays and soils shift. 
  • Archaeologists who focus on protohistory can give us better methods of how to find places and lesser-known settlements to detect where civilizations once resided that have limited documentation. 
  • Archaeologists who focus on ethnoarchaeology can give us an understanding of the finds we discover, from what they are and how they were used and discarded, as well as giving us a better understanding of the places we detect.
  • Maritime or underwater archaeologists could help underwater detectorists and beach detectorists understand how to identify finds and which shipwreck they came from.


I hope one day, the archaeology community will see relic metal detectorists as an asset versus a hindrance. 

Archeologists and Metal Detecting Old Ruins

We both share a passion for learning about history, so we have common ground. I hope archeologists can see relic detectorists as a second set of eyes. For example, detectorists have found historic locations that archeologists didn’t know existed. It is also valuable when detectorists display historical finds. It brings awareness to history and lets the community value the past as much as the future. I don’t think there are enough archaeologists getting pumped out of universities or enough grants given to fund archeological expeditions to uncover and document everything historical that is out there. However, there are a lot of relic detectorists who enjoy finding history. It would be cool as archaeologists to see the asset detectorists could be and utilize those who are serious in the hobby and also work together to guide detectorists to better practices along the way.

As the founder of Focus Speed, I also have a duty to try hard to bridge this gap. I personally will try to collaborate with museum curators and write a series of articles teaching better find retrieval methods, find documenting methods, as well as find preserving and displaying methods. 

Conclusion – Bridging Archaeology and Metal Detecting: A Partnership in Preservation

The divide between archaeologists and metal detectorists has historically been broad, with little synergy. There definitely is potential for a synergistic relationship. With further knowledge from the archeology community, we, as detectorists, can challenge ourselves to do better find retrievals, document our finds with more detail, and preserve history better. I also feel that metal detecting tools and accessory companies can try to innovate better tools for find retrieval. We could also use better items to transport finds, display them, as well as documenting them. I would like to see more archeologists and museums warm up and be open to working with more detectorists. This can start with archaeologists teaming up with detectorists to help improve the practices we do for retrieving finds and teaching us better methodologies for documenting what we find. By leveraging the strengths of both groups and fostering open dialogue and mutual respect, we can collectively champion the preservation and understanding of our shared history.

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