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Archaeology is not metal-detecting – the discovery of objects is not the aim, however “valuable” an item or hoard may appear to be (Stealing Britain’s history: when metal detectorists go rogue, 2 June).

The use of the term “treasure” in the name of English and Welsh legislation is highly misleading, only fostering views such as that of the National Council for Metal Detecting that a find is akin to “opening a Christmas present”.

As a professional archaeologist, I approve of the antiquities systems in Ireland and Scotland, and would advocate that the use of an electronic device to detect lost metal should be licensed…

Christopher Sparey-Green

For as long as we can remember, archaeologists opposed to the damage caused by laissez-faire detecting have advocated “licensing” for England and Wales. But we would urge reflection. What does it mean, how would it work, and crucially, how could it work?

Currently, there’s an official voluntary Code of behaviour which is widely ignored. This is the crux. It means that for any “license” to work better than that, and not be a second application of tokenism, it would need to insist on good behaviour and to carry the sanction of prosecution in the event of non-compliance. Shouldn’t archaeologists confront that reality?

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More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting
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