Metal Detecting

Springhead saw the coming of age of a device traditionally viewed as the enemy of archaeologists: the metal detector.
Detectorists with more enthusiasm than knowledge have been blamed by archaeologists for removing finds without documenting their context; on occasions they have been accused of outright theft from sites. (Fortunately the Portable Antiquities Scheme is doing much to promote the voluntary recording of such finds).
Any excavation runs the risk of an unofficial visit from detectorists. Archaeologists have used their own metal detectors mainly as a defensive tool to combat this by getting everything detectable out of the ground before anyone else can.
But the responsible use of metal detectors can reveal finds that could otherwise be missed, as Springhead showed most clearly. In the original contract between Wessex and Rail Link Engineering, there was a clause requiring a metal detecting survey of the site.
Wessex Archaeology decided the expertise of a local detectorist group would be the best way forward and contacted the 30-strong Dartford Area Relic and Recovery Club. They wanted one member to be on hand regularly so that a good relationship could be built on both sides.
Step forward Roger Richards, who took up the hobby of detecting full-time after selling his successful sheet metal business. Roger worked unpaid as a volunteer almost every day on the site. He first thought he would work for the five months the first contract was expected to run, but ended up staying for the whole two years.
"It went from one thing to another once I realised I could get on with everybody here," said Roger. "They made me feel part of the team and that’s one reason I stayed".
The effect of Roger’s staying was enormous. About three-quarters of the metal objects at the site were found by him using his detector. These included two thousand Roman coins, 80 Celtic coins, a hundred brooches and a large and well preserved Saxon sword. It was his discovery of a brooch on the slope that revealed the Saxon cemetery.
"I never realised it was going to go on so long," said Roger. "I did it to prove a point about how well metal detecting can work with the right sort of people. Archaeologists are now recognising how effective it can be. Some of the older ones may be set in their ways but the younger ones are seeing the benefits of using them".
Phil Andrews agrees. "It’s been invaluable, " he said. "So many of the finds would not have come to light without Roger’s work. I think that this scale of detecting should go on at the majority of sites that we run."