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'You're really not supposed to use them': Expert critical of sale of metal detectors in supermarket

The items were seen at a leading chain recently.

Image: Shutterstock/Tomasz Guzowski

A LEADING ARCHAEOLOGIST has criticised the sale of metal detectors by a well-known supermarket chain, warning that their use by amateurs is illegal in Ireland.

The metal detectors were spotted on sale at the chain in recent days, with packaging encouraging children aged 8 years and older to use them to find “hidden treasure”.

Under the National Monuments Acts 1930 to 2014, it is illegal to possess a detection device at protected monuments and sites, and to use a detector to search for artefacts anywhere within the State or its territorial seas without a licence.

It is also against to sell such products under the same legislation, and the product has since been removed from the supermarket’s shelves.

Dr Sharon Greene of Archaeology Ireland magazine told The Journal that licences issued for the use of metal detectors by the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht usually requires a qualification to obtain.

She explains that laws around the use of metal detectors are in place to protect Ireland’s heritage from things like illegal trade and damage to archaeological sites, and to ensure that any artefacts discovered are reported to museums or other appropriate authorities.

“The best way to explain it is that when somebody removes an artefact from the ground, it might be in a known archaeological site or an unknown archaeological site where there’s no surface evidence,” she says.

“It could be a stray artefact that somebody dropped walking across the field that’s just in the topsoil.

“And when you remove that, you’re removing it from its context. For archaeologists to understand the past, context is key – it’ll give you lots of information.”

Dr Greene believes that many people are not aware that the use of metal detectors by hobbyists is illegal in Ireland, particularly because they are used to seeing it on TV.

“People watch the detectorists and all these programmes from the UK, where the legislation is completely different,” she says.

“And we as a profession don’t often enough remind people that the legislation here is actually different and you can’t go and do what they’re doing.

“Obviously it happens, and you’ve got people who know that what they’re doing is wrong, but who don’t care and they think they should be able to do it.

“You’re entitled to disagree with the law, but you’re not entitled to break the law.”

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She also suggests the sale of metal detectors in places like supermarkets will naturally lead people to think that their use is okay.

“When these things are put in front of you, with a nice attractive box that’s appealing to young people to get involved in it [...] you’d assume it wasn’t an illegal activity,” she says.

“But the fact that it says on the box to ‘use them to go and find treasure’, you’re really not supposed to do that.”

In a statement, a spokesperson for the supermarket chain told The Journal yesterday that the company was in contact with the National Museum of Ireland about the sale of the metal detector.

A spokesman for the National Museum of Ireland today confirmed that the detectors were no longer for sale, following discussions with the company.

“At the request of the National Museum of Ireland the detection devices for sale in the supermarket referred to in the article have been withdrawn from sale,” a statement said.

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