Crime Prevention for Detectorists and Archaeologists

26th March 2017 — 11 Comments

I was in my local coffee shop yesterday morning sipping a latte and reading a free newspaper, when I saw an article that brought back a few dormant memories. The title was ‘Traceable Water to Save Antiquities from Looters’. But, more about that later.

Ten years ago I commissioned detectorist and Police Sergeant Kevin Jay of the Suffolk Constabulary to write a couple of articles for me and this blogpost is largely based on what he said at the time. Although Kevin has left the police force, he is still a regular detectorist. What he said then is still relevant today.

As we all know, metal detecting is a fascinating and very enjoyable pursuit. We spend hours searching our sites, in all weather conditions, and occasionally we come home with a nice coin or artefact in our finds bag.

However, a recent case in my area involving a house burglary, where a detector, a collection of coins and artefacts, and cash were stolen really brought home to me just how devastating such a crime can be. The victim in this case is a detectorist of some forty five years, and the distress this incident has caused him cannot be put into words.

Kevin Jay

So what can we do to prevent ourselves from becoming victims of crime? I have a few thoughts, and hope that they may be of some use to you – but please do not think that I am trying to teach you how to suck eggs!

Most of us will travel to our land, farms and sites by motor vehicle. Firstly, just think where you are going to park up. Can you see the vehicle? Can the landowner or others working on the farm or site see it? If it is in open view, this might well deter an opportunistic thief from breaking in. I know that it isn’t always possible to leave a vehicle where it can be clearly seen, but it is something to bear in mind.

When you leave the vehicle, please make sure you do not leave property in open view. It would be best if you took all your kit with you, but I am well aware that this is not always possible -if you do have to leave spare coils or a spare detector behind, lock it in your boot out of sight. Please remember to take your sat nav – and holder – down too….you would be surprised how many of these are left in open view. They are very popular targets!

Kevin had note to say, especially about security around and in the home and ended with a few tips especially for detectorists. He emphasised marking your property in some way, the most basic method being an ultraviolet pen to mark goods with a postcode and a house number or name. These tend to fade, but a number of companies now offer permanent property marking, with identifiable chemical compounds. They deal with individuals, but would also speak to clubs, for example.

Such marking material could be used on detectors, pinpointers and coils. When I was a an active detectorist I used to note down all serial numbers relating to my equipment, and also kept a photograph. Kevin ended the article by saying:

Please also be aware that the person who approaches you in the field, might not necessarily be a fellow detectorist or member of the public wanting to share a few words or their interest in the hobby. They may have other motives! Be careful about what you tell them, and if you have any suspicions, advise your local police.

A picture of Kevin – and his police car – featured on the front cover of the October 2010 edition of The Searcher magazine.


Advertises as the UK’s no.1 crime deterrent. See how much it costs by clicking HERE

So, what did the newspaper article have to say … the one that reminded me of Kevin’s post of ten years ago? That was the first time I had heard of ‘SmartWater©,’ the high-tech liquid that leaves a unique traceable code. At the time Kevin rightly said that is was unlikely we would want to mark our gear or finds with chemicals, but it was a possibility.

The Times article reported that SmartWater© had teamed up with Syrian archaeologists on an undercover operation to protect the country’s antiquities from looters, and in a simple diagram, show how it would work.

Graphic courtesy of The Times newspaper – Click to make larger

If a marked item came up for auction then a UV scanner would immediately catch it. SmartWater holds a database of all marked items, allowing their provenance to be determined.

NB: Even though this product is used in the home, by anglers, cyclists, police and government agencies worldwide, please note what it says on the WhiteWater website …
These products are designed for use on general household items, such as smart devices, jewellery and bicycles.The product is NOT recommended for use on historic artefacts, which require bespoke traceable liquids to be prepared. Anyone interested in special traceable liquids for protecting historic artefacts should complete the enquiry form.


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11 responses to Crime Prevention for Detectorists and Archaeologists

  1. I had never heard of smartwater John.. A very intriguing idea to prevent antiquities theft.

    I [reluctantly] have taken most of my precious metal finds, that I had displayed, and put them in my safe.. Sign of the times I am afraid

  2. We use UV dye everyday in car airconditioning. It is hard to remove and cheap to buy. I guess an old type fountain pen could be used to write with the liquid.
    Here in Oz the Parks people don’t like us parking down side tracks as we might run over a rare dandelion. When we complained about our kit being able to be seen when parked beside the track they just said get better insurance. The main officer here that annoys detectorists the most is now minus a front tooth.

  3. A product that might also be useful that is used on high end cars and motorcycles is called ” Data Dots ” it is spray painted over everything , and is invisible to the naked eye , but under high magnification the dots have a registered number . So if it is stolen and recovered the rightful owner can get their items back . I do not know what the recovery rate and return rate is , but everything can help .

  4. Trouble is that the punishment does not match the crime these days.

    Shame does not seem to worry many folks especially when they need another fix.

    All rather sad, but its the times that we live in and the police are just going through the motions to support the Law of the land.

    At times iam glad to be in the home straight as we are entering a new age that i dont wish to be part of. Jerry.

  5. I am constantly amazed at the number of detectorists who post photos of their finds (sometimes their entire collection) online and don’t hide the fact that they were taken at home….

  6. That’s very interesting John will have too look up smart water

  7. John from Ontario (AKA Geobound) 26th March 2017 at 9:32 PM

    That’s a great idea John, however I suspect the thieves have caught onto that by now too.

    I generally try and put a marking of some sort on my expensive belongings, and then photograph it.

    Should my property get nicked, at least I have some sort of proof it was mine if it ever gets recovered.

  8. An interesting read John, regarding what was said about keeping the sat nav out of sight I also never have my home address left in the sat nav, like Kevin said if you are detecting in a field and leave the sat nav on view and it gets nicked if your home address is in there, its easy pickings straight to the front door with the sat nav and straight out the back door with all your gear and hard won finds !

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