Responsible metal detecting can be used to reveal finds that would otherwise be missed, especially when there is a lot of spoil created through machining. L – P : Archaeology felt that it would be a perfect amalgamation of encouraging community involvement and creating a useful opportunity to retrieve the types of artefact that are often missed by the naked eye, if we could involve metal detectorists with the Prescot Street excavation. Thanks to advice from Kate Sutton, Finds Liaison Officer for London, based at the Museum of London, we approached the Society of Thames Mudlarks for help and advice. John Dunford, the Society’s Chairman, was only too pleased to assist, and for the past week, we have been working with volunteers from the Society, who have been coming to metal detect the spoil from Zone 2, with some interesting results. Over the next few weeks, they will be working with us, and I will post an interview with John about the background of the Society of Thames Mudlarks, and how metal detecting works on site next week.

Any archaeological excavation is at risk of an unexpected visit by illicit metal detectorists who aim to loot the site, and a small minority of detectorists are involved in the antiquities black market. It should be heavily emphasised that these rotten apples shouldn’t spoil the barrel. In many clubs and societies, detecting is a serious ‘archaeological’ pursuit and many detectorists are deeply knowledgeable about artefacts and small finds, as well as landscape use through time. Traditionally, and oft misguidedly, metal detectorists have been anathema to archaeologists. Archaeologists have maintained a difficult relationship with hobbyists for decades, although the barometer of opinion within the archaeological community has swung towards cooperation with those metal detectorists prepared to report their finds. The benefits of the use of skilled and experienced metal detectorists in the practice of archaeology are understood and appreciated by a growing number within the profession.

Metal detectorists have contributed a vast amount of information to the archaeological record since the piloting of the Portable Antiquities Scheme in 1997. Participation in the Portable Antiquities Scheme by metal detectorists and other members of the public who make random archaeological finds is completely voluntary, and has no legal mandate. Its work is based on goodwill and outreach, and the desire of the majority of metal detectorists to contribute to the body of knowledge about this country’s past. The Scheme encourages responsible behaviour amongst the metal detecting community and heavily advocates regular systematic reporting of finds to the local Finds Liaison Officer (FLO). The work of the Portable Antiquities Scheme is really positive, and appears to have growing success – Since the 1st January 2008, the Portable Antiquities Scheme website reports that it has recorded 24312 objects so far this year, and this number is constantly added to, with new finds reported each week.