A Second Open letter to:
The Archaeology Forum
Dear Sirs,

Artefact Hunting using “deep” metal detectors

A year ago we wrote to you  expressing concern that the new Minelab GPX 5000 was able to detect small targets 17- 22 inches down, far below most disturbed plough soils. Since then the original product tester, Neil Jones, has commented on the Heritage Journal:I can now get 24 inches on the same small coins as i know the machine inside out and a lot lot deeper on the larger finds

It was said there was no reason for concern because the price of £4,500 would mean very few would be sold. However, you should know that another machine, the Blisstool LTC64 V3 has just been launched amidst claims that it too can detect small objects at  24” but with a price of only £558. It seems to us that this machine and others that may follow herald an imminent deterioration in the situation since most detectorists will be able to afford them and, given the hobby-wide obsession with depth, will do so. This leaves the Code of Practice request to “work” only within the depth of ploughing looking completely unrealistic as a strategy for protecting undisturbed archaeology. As a well-known, highly responsible detectorist has commented on the Journal:

“As far as the technological developments of detectors on the whole, they’re heading for a bloody nightmare as far as I can see. The current top-end machines are more than capable of detecting finds beneath the plough-pan and the vast majority of detectorist would not walk away from a good signal that deep….”

For many years the official stance has been to tell the public the man in the ploughed field with the metal detector isn’t doing much harm as the soil has been “disturbed”. That has been a controversial claim to say the least given the statistical probability that he won’t be reporting what he is finding. But if he is now holding one of the new ultra-deep machines the claim is simply untenable and it is not right to give landowners the impression that the man will probably resist digging into the archaeological layers despite getting frequent signals from them. In truth he probably won’t – and in our view the official line should not imply to the public that he will. We should be glad to hear if you have any thoughts on this issue. Is seems to us that not reacting while the situation worsens incrementally sale by sale is not a course that should be taken.

Yours faithfully

Heritage Action


Update 2nd April 2012
Readers may be puzzled by how few mentions of the Blisstool LTC64 V3 there are on detectorists’ forums considering how powerful it seems to be and how depth is such an obsession amongst detectorists. We were equally puzzled by the fact there seemed to be a lot fewer mentions of it after our article was published than before – for instance, where had the Detecting Wales thread titled “Blisstool LTC64 V3 The Worlds Deepest Detector?” gone to?

Mystery solved by this little forum exchange on Detecting Wales last week:
DavyR: “I can’t seem to find some of the Blisstool posts
Rjm:  “They have been taken off by the site administrator. I’ll PM you with the details you want.”

Taken off by the site administrator. Who, strangely, has left this posting untouched  – a review of the Blisstool recently posted that is astonishingly withering about how useless it is! (Now also removed!)

It would be hard to imagine a more resounding confirmation that the new generation of ultra deep detectors is a significant threat to undisturbed archaeology and that PAS’s Oh-so-conservation-minded partners know it is. But will it be heeded? After all, who are listened to and back-slapped, some ordinary members of the public who are concerned about conserving heritage or PAS’s “partners” that dig it up for themselves? PAS has spent millions of taxpayers funds on sending Finds Liaison Officers to befriend and praise detectorists at their digs or club meetings but not a penny on attending any of Heritage Action’s Megameets!

Update 1 May 2012
American detectorist Dick Stout of “Stout Standards” obviously hasn’t signed up to the Blisstool silence of his British counterparts. In his piece “How much is enough” he has voiced fears that “depth” has gone too far – “Depth has always been the most important feature, but now I wonder if it continues to be the ultimate criteria, will we  even have a place to use it?” He was thinking that digging deep holes in parks could result in loss of permission but the applicability of his words to the British context is inescapable. Of course people shouldn’t be allowed to  metal detect in places where their machines are operating deep into archaeological layers. But what will the Establishment do? Politely request them not to? “Of course you can shin up a tree to look at Ospreys’ eggs, we know you’ll leave them there. If the farmer has doubts, tell him you have our approval”.


Update 14 November 2012

A Third Open letter to:
The Archaeology Forum
Dear Sirs,

Artefact Hunting using “deep” metal detectors

It is now eight months since we wrote to you pointing out that the Minelab GPX 5000 (cost, £4,500) had now been joined by the Blisstool LTC64 V3 (cost £558) in the deep seeking category with both being said to be capable of detecting small objects at a depth of 24 inches. Our concern was that depth plus affordability represented a major threat to archaeological deposits lying below plough level, one which the Code of Responsible Detecting doesn’t properly address. “Don’t dig below plough level” doesn’t reflect the new reality. The following forum postings made last month serve to show that the problem is no longer theoretical but current:

the performance of [the Blisstool] against price is amazing, looking for another machine at the moment so will be giving it a lot of consideration, it looks like Blisstool could revolutionise the hobby.”

“I have found the Bliss most outstanding for the deep searching for the remnants of scattered hoards and where a field has been very productive in the past but the plough is no longer getting down to where other coins and artifacts lie there undisturbed I have opened back up some of my long left sites where I had presumed I had cleaned out and left as worked out”

As we said in our previous letter, we should be glad to hear if you have any thoughts on this issue. It seems to us that not reacting while the situation worsens incrementally sale by sale is not a course that should be taken.]

P.S ………
Lest it should be thought we are advocating this matter should be dealt with by means of an amendment to the Code, we aren’t! There is little point in replacing one code that most detectorists ignore with an amended one that most detectorists will also ignore. No. The only way this technological threat to the archaeological resource can be addressed is for you to make sure a simple message gets to every landowner in the country:

“Please do not allow any metal detecting on your land using the Minelab GPX 5000 or the Blisstool LTC64 V3. These can reach far below the plough levels and into undisturbed archaeology and there is therefore no responsible reason for them being brought onto your land.”

It can be anticipated that this might be held up as an unfriendly act towards detectorists, and not just by detectorists. We prefer to see any opposition to such a move as an unfriendly act towards archaeology.


More Heritage Action views on metal detecting and artefact collecting