Since the 1970ies, Germany and Austria have tried to “solve” the so-called “metal detecting problem” primarily by tightening the laws governing the intentional searching for archaeological finds by members of the public. The underlying hypothesis is that tighter regulations (allegedly) create a deterrent effect. From this hypothesis, a prognosis can be derived which can be tested empirically: the more restrictive legal prohibitions against metal detecting are in any given country, the fewer metal detectorists should be active in the respective country.
In our contribution we empirically test this prognosis based on the number of members signed up to metal detecting fora on the internet in Austria, Germany and the United Kingdom. The results of this empirical test clearly falsify this prognosis: of the three countries compared, the United Kingdom, the country with the most liberal metal detecting regulations, has the fewest, while Germany, the country with the most restrictive attempt at resolving the ‚metal detecting problem‘, has the most metal detectorists per capita by a large margin. The difference is nothing short of dramatic: in Germany, roughly 3.5 times as many persons per capita are members of metal detecting fora as are in the United Kingdom.