LETTERS: A tarnish on metal detecting

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AS A MEANS of getting rich quick, metal detecting probably offers worse odds than the National Lottery, contrary to your report on its potential financial rewards ("Rust never sleeps when treasure hunters roam the land", Business, 17 September).

Although a tiny handful of detectorists have made a fortune through treasure trove discoveries, the majority of finds have minimal or no monetary value. Moreover, in England and Wales, finds do not belong to the finder but to the landowner. In Scotland, all finds of historical interest belong to the state.

The real value of finds is historical. Almost all that we know of prehistory comes through finds, and much of what we know of later periods too - about how and where our ancestors lived, and about their society, culture and trade. Yet your feature made no mention of the moral obligation on detectorists to report all finds to a local museum for recording and study.

A recent English Heritage/ Council for British Archaeology report, Metal Detecting and Archaeology in England, of which I was co-author, estimated that about 400,000 finds of historical interest are made each year by detectorists in England, yet of these only a minuscule proportion is reported. The unreported remainder represents a vast sum of lost historical knowledge.

So long as metal detecting is seen merely as an individualistic activity, undertaken in pursuit of personal wealth - with no reference to the wider national interest - this sorry state of affairs will continue.

Simon Denison

Editor, British Archaeology, London SW4