Can we really differentiate between treasure hunters and non-professional archaeologists?

Jean-Olivier Gransard-Desmond

Archaeologist, President of ArkéoTopia. Email:

Cite this as: Gransard-Desmond, J-O. 2013 Can we really differentiate between treasure hunters and non-professional archaeologists?, Internet Archaeology 33.


Since February 2010, the issue of Users of Metal Detectors (UMDs) has been a hot topic in France. If the issue unleashed passions, although this has not really been reflected in the French media, a question is implicitly linked to the subject: apart from preventing the very real danger of new archaeological sites being destroyed, will this spell the end of amateur archaeology? With the creation of the National Archaeological Excavations Association (INRAP) in 1973, which became a public service called the National Institute for Preventative Archaeological Research in 2002, coupled with the growth of private companies in archaeology, the professionalisation of French archaeology has significantly changed the relationship between this profession and amateur archaeologists. This evolution now underlines the ambiguous position of the French state, which, on the one hand, supports the contributions of civil society to the profession, yet on the other hand, is still very suspicious about organisations that are not directly dependent upon the state. After a quick review of relevant legislation and the evolution of French archaeology, we will present a profile of the UMDs, their impact on archaeology and the reactions to this subject by professionals as well as the state, communities and citizens. Then, we will broaden the issue by asking if UMDs represent the only human danger for archaeology. Finally, we will discuss potential solutions to the problem of looting while still encouraging the involvement and recognition of amateur archaeologists and citizens committed to the protection of French heritage.

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