The way the nation spends its time is changing. In the past, people would fill their weekends with trips to the beach, long walks in the park and attendance at religious services.
However, today, things might be changing. With the rapidly rising popularity of metal detecting, more people than ever before are searching for buried treasure hidden just beneath Britain’s topsoil. In recent years, people have found treasures valued at more than £500,000, drawing many thousands of other people to the pastime. Estimates suggest that there are now more than 20,000 metal detectorists in the UK, a substantial increase on previous years.
The Thrill Of The Chase
Metal detecting has always been something that hobbyists pursued in their spare time. They enjoyed the fact that they could find unusual or interesting objects under the surface, often with a rich history,
However, the recent spate of high-value finds is making the sport more interesting to the wider public. In fact, it’s become almost trendy to join up with a group of people and wander around a field looking for artefacts.
The number of significant discoveries isn’t small, either. According to statistics, detectorists found around one museum-worthy item every day, netting them thousands in payments.
Up until recently, the rules on finding objects with metal detectors were quite broad and offered good incentives for metal detectors. “Treasure” is defined by the government as anything made of gold or silver or more than 300 years old and of archaeological significance. Discoverers could expect to receive around 50 percent of the value of their haul, with the rest of it going to the landowner.
On many occasions, detectorists’ finds have not qualified as treasure, despite being old. For instance, metal detectorists found a haul of Roman artefacts dating back more than two millennia but, because they were made of copper, they were not counted as treasure and, as such, did not fall under the regular protections of state. Thus, the government is trying to change the law to protect more finds and prevent them from winding up in private hands.
Metal detecting, though, isn’t just about the thrill of the chase. Most detectorists don’t expect to find any treasure (in spite of the high odds). Instead, it’s more to do with companionship. Detectorists often form groups or clubs and enjoy their hobby as a shared activity.
In fact, the pandemic may be a major driver of this movement. The need for more social connection is leading many people to join groups and use them as a centre of the community.
We’re seeing this development in the growth of sites, such as Detectorlist. People are building online communities to share their ideas, build their skills and, hopefully, unearth more interesting and unique objects.
In many ways, the UK is at the center of the world for metal detecting. The nation has a long history stretching back thousands of years. It also has a varied history, with multiple groups vying for control of the island. It’s this disruptive and interesting past that makes it a prime candidate for buried treasures unlike anywhere else in the world.
So how much money can metal detectorists actually make over the course of a summer?
Well, first, if you’re going to get involved in the hobby, you’ll need to ask the permission of the landowner. In England, you’re not allowed to wander off footpaths unless the person who owns the land gives you permission.
Getting permission to do metal detecting, though, is actually much easier than you might think, especially if the landowner understands how hoard payments work. Many are willing to open up their land to detectorists because they want a shot at a possible 50 percent share of the sale value of any find.
The best way to get permission is to simply go knocking on doors and asking. Sometimes, you might find that a particular farmer’s fields are already the turf of another detectorist, and they’re unlikely to want the competition.
If you find something, don’t just pocket it. Instead, find out whether you’re allowed to sell it on the private market or you have to declare it. Generally, you have to tell a local coroner within 14 days of a significant find.
How much money you make over the course of a year, though, is very much a matter of luck. Some people go many years without any finds at all, while others can net themselves tens of thousands of pounds in a single afternoon.
As such, metal detecting is a “lumpy” profession. Sometimes, you’ll get a windfall, but most of the time, you won’t find anything of value at all.
The most lucrative finds are precious metals and artefacts of historical significance. Museums are often willing to pay thousands, even millions, of pounds for rare objects and collections. In Britain, some people have unearthed gold hoards worth up to £26 million. In many cases, metal detectorists receive undisclosed awards, allowing them to retire early.
Archaeologists Aren’t Happy
You would hope that more detectorists throughout the nation would make archaeologists happy. After all, now they have many more people on the ground, looking for potentially significant hauls.
However, that’s not been the case. Archaeologists are witnessing the increased popularity of the sport and they’re not happy. They worry that detectorists are extracting buried treasures and damaging them in the process. They also worry that some of them might be melting down their finds and then selling them on as gold bullion to avoid paying taxes or declaring them.
Every object, archaeologists say, has tremendous historical value. For that reason, it is acceptable to imprison people for keeping artefacts for themselves, they say.
Dealers, they worry, are also failing to check whether people are obtaining artefacts legitimately. Many purchase rare items, such as coins, without inquiring further into where they came from or how they came into their owners’ possession.
Many hope for an outright ban on metal detecting, but that’s unlikely to happen now, given its growing popularity.