Ethical Metal Detecting
Is this an oxymoron?
Can metal detecting be an ethical activity? Let’ s consider the issues that are clearly unethical in and of themselves:
1. Damage to property. Normally not a big issue, as most of today’s detectorists do a fairly good job of keeping plugs to a minimum. Still, poachers and ‘noobs’ frequently cause problems for experienced hobbyists due to lazy digging practices.
2. Misunderstanding of MD by property owners. Smooth talking detectorists easily bamboozle land owners into letting them detect. Watching the History channel shows that some people can actually be bullied into allowing access to their land.
3. Robbing future generations of artefacts. This s one of the key issues. I have actually seen many website (look at youtube) that brag that detectorists are ‘preserving relics and artifacts’. Really? In their collections are at pawn shops/eBay? We all know, deep inside, that be denuding a property of artifacts, we are stealing from future generations.
4. Human nature. Let’s face it – deep down inside, we are all wannabe treasure hunters. This accounts for poaching, and the mantra of ‘if I do the work to find it, I deserve the reward’. That is treasure hunting. The UK has the right idea. If an artifact is of low value, then fine. If valuable, it belongs to the country (with the detectorist getting some reward).
So how do I reconcile the fact that I participate in this hobby – in other words, am I not a hypocrite?
Perhaps, yes. I am, but this is why I do it:
1. I am a history nut. I usually search areas only to confirm the locations of homesteads, and only with the explicit and full understanding of the land owner what I am doing.
2. I do not hunt areas that I feel could be of archaeological interest. Being in Canada, this is pretty easy, as there really is very little archaeological interest in the history of areas I frequent.
3, I do not hunt for bling. I have no expectation of finding hoards, gold, silver – but if I do, I will let the land owner know, because, really – it is their property (I don’t care if I worked to find it).
4. I hunt relics from aircraft crash locations in order to memorialize the deaths of the aircrew. I do not keep any artefacts – they either go to the local museum, or get returned to the location and hidden. Believe it or not, crash site artefacts are routinely sold on eBay. Ghoulish!
5. I do not hunt with poachers – and I will not hunt with anyone who has admitted to poaching in the past.
6. I notify official historical organizations if anything of archaeological interest is located.
This is a perplexing hobby. I really enjoy the hunt, and will hoot and holler like an idiot when I find an old, beat up, large penny. So, with a bit of hypocrisy, I will continue to hunt, but refuse to lower my personal fairness and ethical standard for a few extra bucks. Besides, finding relics (hopefully something wanted by museums) would be reward enough.