Detectorists and statistics, or why there’s more maths in Archaeology than you’d think

Tea drinking seems to be a common theme amongst the Day of Archaeology entries, and why not? A nice hot beverage does seem a fairly fool-proof way to stimulate the grey cells, and is an almost mandatory accessory for a research student like myself.


My name is Fliss Winkley, and having completed a Masters in Artefact Studies at the Institute of Archaeology, UCL and done a brief stint training with the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS), I am now studying again. I’m in the first year of a PhD investigating metal detectorists’ relationships with landscape, inspired by the experiences of seasoned detectorists and searchers who I met whilst working with the PAS. I hope to issue a questionnaire to at least 1,000 detectorists (representing 10% of the conservative estimate of the number operating in England currently) to find out just how many of them detect regularly on the same landscape and how they feel about it, particularly in terms of reconstructing a historic landscape and generating a sense of place.


First step today is to check the emails: I find not only that library books need renewing, but also that I have had several responses on Twitter, the former referencing a traditional method of research that I am very comfortable with, the latter a new technique of outreach that I am only just beginning to understand! This reminds me that I need to upload more information to the Twitter page as well, to give people a better idea of what I am up to.


Next step (thanks to a reminder e-mail from my supervisor) is to design a cover sheet for my questionnaire, so that paper versions can be circulated far and wide, alongside the web-hosted version with which I am hoping to snare those respondents I can’t get to! I already have a cover sheet on the online version, but managed with great oversight to forget this might be useful in the paper copy! The relationship between metal detectorist and archaeologist has often been a prickly one in the past, with old prejudices remaining steadfast in some corners even today. As such, I have to be diplomatic when approaching potential respondents and take care to emphasise on the cover sheet that they will not be asked to reveal the exact locations of their findspots (the point at which an artefact is found).


After attaching the completed cover sheet to the questionnaire, I am ready to distribute the word doc and the link far and wide and cross my fingers that the responses start coming in. I am determined to achieve my target of 1,000 responses so that my data is statistically sound: I didn’t go through the pains of battering my fluffy theoretical brain with basic statistics to get a bad set of data and spoil it all! So if you, or anyone you know is a metal detectorist, please take a look at my questionnaire, and help an archaeologist today!

7 thoughts on “Detectorists and statistics, or why there’s more maths in Archaeology than you’d think

  1. Peter Twinn says:

    Well using such emotive language as, “I am hoping to snare those respondents I can’t get to!”, is about to get you no where.

    The kind of thing no detectorist likes to read and certainly not likely to cooperate with. Same old same old.


  2. Felicity Winkley says:

    Dear Pete,

    I’m sorry you feel this way. The questionnaire was developed with a club in Kent I got friendly with during my FLO training, and is designed to give MD Users a chance to air their views on various things, including the historic landscape, findspots and nighthawking. It is not about catching anybody out on the Code of Conduct or recording. The questionnaire has backing from the NCMD and is already getting a good response from a number of other clubs and detectorists.


  3. Peter Twinn says:

    Hi Felicity, and thanks for the reply. My note was about your language rather than your research, if you wish to gain the type of cooperation you require then emotive language is not going to help, hence my posting.

    I notice you did your degree at Bristol, I’m currently there myself, if you’d like to get in touch then you can do it through Mark Horton or Stuart Prior.



  4. Mark Caudle says:


    I am a detectorist and after reading Felicity’s story I was saddened by your negative response. Such comments such as “same old same old” simply mean that the relationship between responsible detectorists and archaeologists can never move on. This may have been the situation in the past, but with cooperation and understanding from both sides this can be changed for the good of all concerned.



  5. gary says:

    Archaeologists majority are middle to upper class, went to public,private school have or had professionaly employed parents,, Some even have double barrelled names Llike farquharesn-smithe n such. While majority of snotty nosed metal detectorists did real jobs of work like Ex miners, or skilled trades men, But unfotunaltly dont pronounce there H’s in there speech so are looked down upon by the PHD waving colllege uni chavs with disgust and annoyance that a lo life pleb with a metal detector has the nerve to show an interest in local historic sites and artefacts and acheave an enviable success rate in unearthing artefacts of genuine interests, instead of walls, bits of roof tile some useless peice of broken piss pot or a darker patch of soul where a wooden post once stood. Hence the two shall never mix,,,,,or if they do it will be to let the detectorist check the spoil heaps,,,,Just to show who is in charge and to make him look like a twat….

  6. Ian says:

    Oh dear.

    Fliss, please do not be deterred or put off by people who carry huge chips on their shoulders and have never learnt any social skills or even basic good manners.

    Welcome to the world where your every word will be scrutinised for hidden meanings! Do not make the error of using common parlance or even make any attempt at humour, as you will be immediately jumped upon – rather console yourself with the knowledge that there are plenty of enthusiasts who will be willing to assist in every way possible and have a genuine interest in uncovering the past. Good luck and well done!


  7. lee finch says:

    Hi Fliss,
    thx for the info sheets i shall distribute them among my members this week (Kendal and district mdc)and i hope to have some quality replies to help you on your research, keep up the good work and keep the barriers coming down.
    Lee club chairman.

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