Between Rescue and Research: An Evaluation after 30 Years of Liberal Metal Detecting in Archaeological Research and Heritage Practice in Denmark

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Since the early 1980s, metal detector surveying conducted by amateur archaeologists has significantly contributed to archaeological research and heritage practice in Denmark. Here, metal detecting has always been legal, and official stakeholders pursue a liberal model, focusing on cooperation and inclusion rather than confrontation and crimination.
Like no other surveying method since the invention of the shovel, the metal detector has contributed to enormously increasing the amount of data and sites from metal-rich periods. Virtually all the spectacular and ground-breaking discoveries of the past decades are owed to metal detectors in the hands of amateur archaeologists. And it is these finds and sites which today constitute one of the very foci of archaeological research.
The present article provides an overview of the current status of liberal metal detector archaeology in Denmark 30 years after its inception, and attempts to identify the reasons why this popular hobby never developed into the problem it has become in other parts of the world. The article concludes that the success of the liberal model in Denmark should be seen as the result of a very complex interplay of legislative, historical, cultural and social factors. On this basis it is discussed whether the Danish experience can be used as a source of inspiration in the necessary progression towards a new legal agenda for responsible metal detector archaeology.
Original languageEnglish
JournalEuropean Journal of Archaeology
Issue number4
Pages (from-to)704-725
Number of pages21
Publication statusPublished - 2013

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