The recent discovery of hundreds of gold and silver items from an Anglo-Saxon treasure hoard in Staffordshire has renewed interest in metal detecting throughout Great Britain.
It also could lead to more medieval finds and an opportunity for historians and archaeologists to learn new insights about medieval life, ranging from the circulation of money and goods to the development of weapons.
Usable metal detectors were not invented until just before the Second World War, and they soon found much use by the Allied Forces to search for buried mines. After the war, the tens of thousands of surplus metal detectors found there way into the hands of hobbyists who started searching the countryside for old coins and metal goods. In the last fifty years, the technology behind metal detectors have gradually improved, as has the expertise of the people using them.
This has led to hundreds of finds throughout Great Britain as well as in Europe. Here are some of the discoveries that we have reported on:
Scholars have also been making use of the findings. For example, the book Markets in Early Medieval Europe: Trading and Productive Sites, 650-850, edited by Tim Pestell and Katharina Ulmschneider focused on trade and economics in the early middle ages, with most of its articles on Anglo-Saxon England. Moreover, the book Metal Detecting and Archaeology, edited by Peter Stone and Suzie Thomas, charts the relationship between archaeologists and metal detectors, which can range from cooperative to at odds with each other.
Alastair Hacket, a member of the Scottish Detectors’ Club, said they had seen a rise in interest following the Staffordshire find. He added, “We’re certainly not in it for the money! None of us are millionaires. People think treasure will turn up, but it’s extremely rare. Typically on a club outing we’ll find broken pieces of jewellery, a few coins and junk such as rusty nails.
“There’s a slight risk that people reading about the Saxon hoard might think they can buy a detector and rush out and make a fortune. There will always be some people who will use it in an illegal way. We’re trying to ensure people behave responsibly. A lot of people think it’s ‘finders, keepers’ but that’s not the case.”
As well as metal detecting clubs, those interested in this activity also could participate in tours or special local events, including archaeological digs.
Here are some videos offering tips on using metal detectors: