Norfolk's hidden treasures luring American metal detector tourists
PUBLISHED: 08:46 18 January 2019
The prospect of unearthing hidden artefacts is luring metal detecting tourists from America to pay thousands of pounds to join treasure hunting tours of Norfolk.
The county’s reputation for buried treasures has made it the number one destination for US detectorists coming to the UK to join organised group trips led by specialist local guides.
Headline grabbing finds like the 14,865 coin Hoxne Hoard and the Winfarthing Pendant, an Anglo-Saxon gold and garnet pendant unearthed by a metal detectorist near Diss that was named the UK’s museum acquisition of 2018, have helped attract visitors hoping to discover similar treasures.
Past clients of Norfolk Metal Detecting Tours have come from Louisiana, Kentucky, North Carolina and Boston and they will be running four tours for overseas visitors again in 2019.
The company says it has access to more than 33 historic Norfolk farms covering over 11,800 acres of ancient soil. Guests pay up to £2,340, excluding flights, for 12 full days metal detecting and accommodation in Norwich.
History enthusiast Steve Elden, who runs the tours and has 25 years experience of metal detecting, said: “This is their past. It is where they stem from, via the founding fathers and the Mayflower, so they are interested in their history from the pre-America days.
“Significant artefacts from medieval, Roman and Anglo-Saxon periods are obviously what they hope to find, but they are not doing it for money. They don’t get rich from it. They pay a lot more for the flights and accommodation compared to what they find.
“What they are interested in is digging for history. It is a holiday that is good exercise and is interesting. It’s totally different to lying on a beach reading a book for two weeks. It is exciting because they don’t know what they’ll find, but obviously it’s like fishing: you can go all day and get nothing.”
Other tour companies include Discovery Tours which says it has introduced thousands of Americans to metal detecting in the fields of Norfolk over the past 27 years.
Steve Clarkson, a detectorist who has worked with Norfolk Museum Service and on archaeological excavations, launched his company Iceni Metal Detecting Tours last year. His 2019 tours are already three quarters full.
He said: “It is predominantly Americans, but also Canadians and Australians. Our history is what draws them in. They want to find gold and rare historic artefacts, which you can’t guarantee of course, but that is what predominantly they are after. They seem to love it.
“Some of them are already metal detectorists over in America but who want to come over because the rich nature of British history, others are beginners. I run a scheme as part of my mini tours for newbies where I actually teach them to detect property and responsibly and how to indentify items.”
The tours are potentially controversial as some archaeologists fear detectorists do not properly register finds while some local detectorists are unhappy that Norfolk artefacts could go overseas.
Detectorists can take finds home provided that they obtain export licences for items more than 50 years old. But if a find qualifies as treasure under the Treasure Act it may be compulsorily purchased by a museum. The proceeds are then split between the finder and landowner.
Mr Clarkson said; “On my tours everything found goes to the Norfolk Heritage Explorer at Norwich Museum. They record and photograph it all. If the Americans then want their items I have to issue export licences so that they can officially have them in the States. It is all done by the book as it should be.”
Mr Elden said some of his American clients had made significant finds that had been donated to both Norwich Museum and the British Museum.
“These visitors feel honoured that a museum would want something they have found and they won’t take money for most of the time. They love the thought of being helpful,” he said.