The archaeological blogosphere has been filled with rather colorful denunciations of metal detecting in response to popular TV shows about the practice in both the US and the UK.
Though metal detecting has been widely popular since the 1970's, apparently some archaeologists still can't accept that reality or perhaps the fact that the devices make it easier for amateurs to encroach on their turf.
There is even some real question whether metal detecting really harms archaeology at all. In the UK at least, most metal detecting takes place on ploughed land, i.e., land where the archaeological context has already been disturbed. Second, though metal detectors are becoming more accurate, most metal detectorists still only excavate items found quite near the surface, i.e., an area that archaeologists would in any event likely dig through on their way to far "juicer" strata below.
The issue of metal detectors is also relevant to the State Department's process for imposing import restrictions on coins. Coins can typically only be found with metal detectors. This begs the question why we are imposing import restrictions on all coins of a given type coming here to the United States when it would be far more effective (and fair) to regulate metal detectors at the source. The CPIA is quite clear that self help measures like effective regulation of metal detectors should be tried first before import restrictions, but the State Department regularly reads this requirement out of the CPIA (as it does with most every other requirement).
What does effective regulation look like?
Look no further than Ireland, Scotland, Britain and Wales.
Ireland has banned the use of the metal detector, and critically it did so before the use of the metal detector took off in that country.
In contrast, Scotland has a common law system of treasure trove and Britain and Wales have statutory requirements of the Treasure Act along with the voluntary Portable Antiquities Scheme.
I much prefer these systems to that of Ireland as they encourage the discovery of coins that would otherwise never be found by archaeologists (who are limited in number and who are only interested in relatively few sites) their recordation into a database accessible to all (in Britain and Wales), and depending on the circumstances, their display in museums or their return to finders who can then sell them to collectors who will cherish them.
Yet, I must acknowledge that the Irish system is at least a coherent one.
And what does ineffective regulation look like?
Look no further than Cyprus and Bulgaria.
Each country has laws on the books that in theory at least limit the use of metal detectors, but in practice they are widely used, often right under the nose of the authorities.
In Cyprus, they even turn a blind eye to British tourists bringing them to the Island on holiday.
And to exacerbate the problem, both countries have few, if any incentives for metal detectorists to report their finds, or any coherent system to record them even if they were reported.
Yet, some archaeologists still hold up such countries as some sort of model.
And what of the United States? Here, our Constitution protects our liberty to exploit our own land, but you would not know that from the AIA's indictment of a popular show on Spike TV. I do think that historical artifacts should at least be recorded, but American archaeologists should work with American detectorists to create a system of voluntary recording, rather than making wild claims about their supposed "rights" to control what people do on their own land based upon their self-appointed status as stewards of the past.