Precious Metals

Readers Ask: What restrictions exist?

Large Porthole sixpence, Hogge money, retrieved from around King’s Castle, Castle Island, Bermuda, during a series of archaeological excavations from 1993 through 1996.

Images courtesy of Stack’s Bowers Galleries.

I enjoyed Paul Gilkes’ article on Hogge money in the Sept. 23 issue of Coin World. My metal detector is ready! There have to be more. Are there restrictions on searching for such antiquities in the United States as in Greece and other nations?

Alan Hepler

Laytonsville, Md.

The laws involving metal detecting finds in the United States represent an interesting and at times complicated intersection of federal laws that affect all states and individual state laws.

Generally, per the Society for American Archaeology: “A metal detector user may be in violation of the law if artifacts are recovered during metal detecting, or if archaeological sites are disturbed during metal detecting activities. Artifacts and archaeological sites on federal, state, and local jurisdiction-controlled properties are protected by law. Archaeological resources on private property are also safeguarded by law (e.g., trespassing).”

A key question is who owns the land on which the metal detecting activity is taking place.

It is generally legal to collect coins from the surface of private property if you have permission from the landowner. Some states require written permission from various state departments if you dig for artifacts. It is generally illegal to dig human burial sites.

One usually needs a permit from a state department, often a state’s department of natural resources, to conduct metal detecting activities on state property. State property includes state parks, historic sites, wildlife management areas, state forests, state highway rights-of-way and navigable river and stream bottoms.

It is generally illegal to surface collect, metal detect or dig on federal lands without a federal permit. The laws effectively limiting metal detecting activities on federal property have been in place for more than a century, as the Antiquities Act of 1906 became law on June 8, 1906.

While the Antiquities Act is not a metal detecting law in its language, it effectively limits metal detecting activities on federal lands. In 1966 the National Historic Preservation Act and The Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979 further placed boundaries on metal detecting enthusiasts.

A helpful online resource is a map by the Metal Detecting Hobby Talk site at that provides state-by-state regulations.

Metal detector enthusiasts also note that actual practices in a region may deviate from the regulations legally in place.

Coin World’s Readers Ask department does not accept coins or other items for examination without prior permission from Coin World. Readers Ask also does not examine error or variety coins. Materials sent to Readers Ask without prior permission will be returned unexamined. Please address all Readers Ask inquiries to or call 800-673-8311, Ext. 172.

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