Flanders, playground for detectorists

Belgium. On July 2, 1747, in Lauffeld, today in the commune of Riemst, in Belgium, not far from Maastricht, a battle opposed the French troops led by Marshal of Saxe to the allied troops of the United Provinces of William of Orange , reinforced by battalions from Austria and England. The clash reportedly left 17,650 dead, many of whose remains were buried on site.

Centuries later, it was a more modest contingent, of around sixty amateur detectorists brandishing their metal detectors, who invaded the outskirts of the battlefield, for an event organized by the Metaalstrijd club. After a day of research, 400 finds were announced and listed by the participants. There we find a jumble of coins from the 16th-17th centuries, belt buckles, musket balls and even a flat ax from the Bronze Age. The organizer encourages each registrant to photograph their find and enter it on an application with their GPS location. A team of historians is available for an initial identification of the discoveries. Legally, all these pieces belong jointly to the person who made the discovery and to the owner of the land, but, according to the organizer, the latter most often allow the detectorists to take them away.

Very tolerant legislation

In 2016, Flanders decided to authorize, practically without restriction, the search for archaeological objects using metal detectors, making it one of the most permissive regulations in Europe. To satisfy his passion, the treasure hunter is only required to register with the heritage agency to be approved and obtain a lifetime authorization to detect. A sign of the enthusiasm thus created for this hobby, the number of amateur detectorists registered in Flanders increased between 2017 and 2022 from 1,633 to 7,278. And, according to figures from the Flemish heritage agency, only 60 among these 7 278 approved detectorists declare their discoveries annually (2021 figures). 6,805 (93%) of them never reported anything.

For the Belgian branch of Icofort, an international scientific committee for the study and conservation of military archaeological heritage, this permissiveness is a source of irreversible damage to a fragile archaeological heritage. Supported by university historians, its members raised concerns with the Flemish minister responsible for heritage. When detections on battlefields do not follow appropriate scientific methods, a unique and valuable source of information on the progress of battles, as well as on the evolution of wars in Europe, cannot be exploited. “In most cases, scientific research is no longer possible because the exact location of the discovery has not been noted and the objects found have not been numbered and kept separately,” explains Marc Brion. Already a year ago, Icofort submitted various proposals to the minister and the heritage agency. “We are not against rallies or against detectorists, he wants to emphasize. What we are asking for is better supervision and better control of detections. An inventory and better protection of the sites would subsequently make it possible to prohibit the detection in strictly delimited areas of important sites recognized as valuable heritage elements. »

For Pieterjan Deckers, this controversy is counterproductive. This professor of archeology at the KU of Leuven has been collaborating with amateur detectorists for around ten years. “They have mastered the technology of detecting metallic objects with which archaeologists are not always familiar. They generally require a framework that respects scientific protocols. It's a hobby that can only grow in size as we see it in the Netherlands, Denmark and England. We therefore have every interest in finding a framework to intensify collaboration between amateurs and scientists. »

Similar Posts