Don’t Let Metal Detecting Rallies Impact Detectorist / Archaeologist Cooperation


This is a response to the thoughtful protest post by Craig Swain about DIV (Digging in Virginia) metal detecting rally at “Ransack a Historic Site”  – I’m focusing more on the rallies in general than illegally hunting beyond their defined borders.

I have long wondered about the impact of metal detecting rallies like DIV on perceptions of metal detectorists both with Archaeologists and the general public.   I’ve been invited by friends and politely declined each time and may never be invited again after penning this post.  As I watch social media, and see the DIV finds, smiling faces and good times scroll by my screen, I do feel a bit of jealousy, but I’ve just never felt I could participate in good conscious.   I would have trouble “looking my Archaeology friends in the eye” after being part of such a massive event where little, if any, provenance is captured and most finds go into private hands, never to be accessible by others again.  
Rallies, in many ways, an extreme example of what Archaeologists hate about the metal detecting hobby – destruction of contextual information en masse.  [see update below about Swedish rallies]

A detectorist and Archaeologist working side by side at Montpelier

Finding an acceptable approach to recording provenance is very difficult in a rally environment, but I do have ideas, some of which will become more realistic as technology improves.  Rallies are about the fast-paced thrill of finding items on historic land among your friends.

As a certified geek, I have high hopes that new field devices such as 2cm smartphone GPS   and simple, form-based site forms will facilitate better, more effortless amateur data collection.  I am constantly testing new ideas like this, but even at my “most efficient,” I still spend 30-50% of my time in the field gathering data while my metal detector sits idle.  Such data collection takes a real commitment from the detectorists to enjoy their hobby differently – to find their thrill in contributing to a bigger dataset beyond what’s in their “finds bag.”

Official DIV 2014 Photo by Rick Martin via Touch the Past blog.

One impulsive thought would be to pair each metal detectorist with someone in charge of recording provenance, sort of like our metal detecting sessions at Montpelier.  I’m afraid this would be considered intolerable at a rally.   Participants have paid fees, scraped together precious vacation days and driven miles for this much anticipated event, so asking them to spend 30-50% of their time filling in forms or waiting for analysis is probably not what they had in mind.  Pace matters at DIV since an impressive display of artifacts is a great source of personal pride at the end-of-event exhibits.

2016-03-22 11_09_29-Google Earth

Some of my data gathering (solo hunting) HandyGPS + Geotagged Images + ImageSetter results from Civil War Camp.  I spend over 1/3 of my time documenting everything.  A possible solution for Rallies?

I do have an idea that could work at Rallies – something like the HandyGPS  smartphone app allows simple geo-tagged photos to be automatically saved in a special folder that can easily be grabbed later.  When the participants connected to the phone network, the app could synchronize data from all participants into a gallery with geotagging.  A software like GeoSetter could process the images, extracting and using their location information to add them to a map, where an exportable file (KML?) could be shared with scholars.

Before the Event:

  • Participants install a Rally App, built for these types of events.

During the Event:

  • At the moment of finds, each find is photographed using the App.  The app asks “save to event?” where the searcher can decide if the photograph goes into their gallery or the event folder.
  • At the end of the day, when WIFI is available, the photos in the event folder are uploaded to a shared network drive with location information intact.
  • A notification is sent to each finder to describe each photograph lacking descriptions
  • A Google map is created where the finder’s name is associated with placemarks.

After the event:

  • A digital curator will clean up the data and remove irrelevant images
  • The collection of photographs are processed for their GeoTagging element
  • If some photographs are not described or tagged, new notifications are sent.  Finders have the ability to add on new images of an artifact “from home”
  • The resulting MAP and photo files are retained by local professional Archaeologists.  Each photograph is tagged with the finder’s name and contact informatino.

UPDATE:  Please see this post from ScienceBlogs by Martin Rundkvist in his Aardvarchaeology column.  A great refreshing read on how a rally was conducted in Sweden.  I had no idea it was so organized!!

Detectorists and Archaeologists

Ask detectorists to avoid such massive artifact removal events so that future archaeologists can properly excavate someday-maybe, and detectorists (correctly) refer to warehouses of boxed artifacts collecting dust in curation backlogs – never to be properly appreciated or accessed for any reason (until they’re eventually victim of a budget cut or accident.)

The question is …why not “save” the artifacts now by people who will appreciate them before they “rot in the ground?”  When would the finds they are recovering in the excavation in the future be available to the public in a professional-only scenario?  While I see a lot of cooperation happening on smaller, Archaeologist-lead projects – cooperation on rallies is likely impossible without some changes.

Archaeologists are sometimes bad about using extreme examples such as DIV as their primary examples of non-professional destruction by detectorists.   Referring to rallies as examples of “typical” detecting behavior is tempting and inaccurate.  I hope rallies do not poison the well for detecting rights and future cooperative projects with professionals.  We already see the potential of better training and more open-mindedness on collaborative projects and this is something I hope we can all rally around.


  1. Richard Williams March 21, 2016 /
    • Scott Clark March 21, 2016 /
  2. Richard Williams March 22, 2016 /
    • Scott Clark March 22, 2016 /
    • Scott Clark March 22, 2016 /
  3. Richard Williams March 22, 2016 /
  4. Thomas Schroeder March 22, 2016 /
  5. Thomas Schroeder March 22, 2016 /
    • Scott Clark March 22, 2016 /
    • Scott Clark March 22, 2016 /
      • Thomas Schroeder March 23, 2016 /
        • Scott Clark March 23, 2016 /
  6. Richard Williams March 24, 2016 /
  7. Richard Williams March 24, 2016 /
  8. Thomas Schroeder March 25, 2016 /
    • Scott Clark March 26, 2016 /
    • Richard G. Williams, Jr. March 26, 2016 /
  9. Thomas Schroeder March 30, 2016 /
  10. Richard Williams April 6, 2016 /