The use of metal detectors in archeology is becoming more and more popular. It is a simple inexpensive tool that makes evaluating and excavating archeological sites way easier.
There are many machines that you can choose from. In this article, I’ll help you to pick the best one for you.
Best metal detector for archeology
There is an overwhelming number of detectors on the market. To make things easier, I’ll divide them into three categories. Each one of them is the best for a certain type of sites and a certain level of accuracy.
For metal detecting CCC camps, kiln camps, and such…, an entry-level metal detector will do the job required. They are affordable and easy to use.
There are plenty of them on the market like the Garrett ACE series, the Fischer F22, Teknetics Delta 4000… All of these are fine. You can pick anyone you like. To make things easier for you, I recommend the Garret ACE 300.
It has an LCD screen that shows much useful information. You can, for example, know the probable nature of the buried metal object even before digging it.
This information can be deduced from the object’s conductivity and it should be accurate in most cases.
You can also get an estimation of the object’s depth. It is accurate only when it detects a coin-sized object. If it is bigger than that, it will appear to be shallower than it really is and vice-versa.
Each conductivity range has a distinctive tone. It has ¼” headphones. To avoid disturbing each other with the machines’ beeps, use headphones.
The stock coil’s size is 7″ x 10″. It is good to have an additional large coil in case you want to increase the depth range.
You need four AA batteries to run this device. The battery indicator will tell when it is time to replace them.
If you want to do an intensive survey of sites like civil war battlefields, you need something more advanced (and more expensive).
Metal detectors in this category have better and adjustable ground canceling capabilities. This is important if you want to deal with ground mineralization.
There are many good devices on the market like the Fisher F-5, Fisher F 70, Minelab X-Terra 505… But, the one that stands out from the crowd is the Garrett AT Pro.
The ground balancing can be adjusted manually or automatically. The frequency is also adjustable.
This metal detector is waterproof, it can be used up to 10 feet underwater. This feature isn’t really necessary for archeology, but it’s a good thing to have.
It has a DD search-coil (transmitter and receiver overlapped) with a size of 8.5” x 11”.
When the pro mode is selected, the machine’s recovery speed increases allowing it to better distinguish between targets buried near each other.
The audio will also become proportional to the characteristics of the buried object. Using headphones helps better listen to the weak signals so that you don’t miss anything.
To locate the target more precisely you can use the built-in pinpointer feature or use a dedicated pinpointer.
If you need to reach a very high precision in sites where the density of the relics is too low, then you need something like the Fisher CZ-21, White’s Spectra VX3 or the White’s Spectra V3i HP.
These machines are more advanced (and of course more expensive). They are not for beginners and the archeologist using them should be experienced.
I recommend you go with the White’s Spectra V3i HP. It has wireless headphones for more comfort.
The wired ones are not easy to use because the wire keeps dangling in front of you and snagging on branches.
It is equipped with a 10“DD search coil, rechargeable batteries, and a full-color HD display.
It has 9 preset programs by the factory and you can create a custom one if you want.
It can operate on multiple frequencies simultaneously (2.5 kHz, 7.5 kHz, 22.5 kHz) to give more information about the buried object.
Why metal detecting is important to archeology
Many archeological sites cannot be adequately identified and evaluated by shovel testing. Metal detectors are a must in sites like civil war camps or charcoal kilns where the density of artifacts is low and they are scattered all over the place.
Metal detectors can scan the entire area. You can’t do that with shovel testing (it’s only sampling).
Metal detecting is quicker and easier. You can compare for your self between the effort and time needed to swing a search coil and that needed for using a shovel.
In many cases the ground is solid like concrete, using a shovel isn’t a good option, metal detectors don’t have this problem because it is a remote sensing device that can detect the presence of a buried metal without the need for digging.
This leads us to another point, poking a shovel into the ground blindly without knowing what is underneath isn’t a good strategy. You can accidentally damage a precious relic.
Metal detectors can detect the presence of such artifact and can pinpoint their location. They can give you an estimation of their depth. So that you can recover them safely and preserve them in good condition.
Being an experienced archeologist with decades of experience isn’t enough. You need to practice and work hard before using your machine in the field.
Basic training includes digging a few holes and burying some metal objects at different depths. Then use your detector to recover them.
You also need an accurate pinpointer to avoid scratching the relics with your digging tool (I know archeologists are cautious but a reminder won’t hurt).
You can ask for help from metal detecting clubs. They will be happy to assist. And you can teach each other new skills.
Scan the same area many times with coils having different sizes to make sure nothing is left behind.
Metal detectors can interfere with each other, which will lead to false signals. So keep some distance between the archeologists.
If you are doing shipwreck archeology, then go with the Fisher CZ-21. You should be a professional scuba diver who can handle this device.
It can be submerged up to 250 feet underwater. It can perform well even when used in saltwater.
With manual ground balance, you can metal detect highly mineralized soil.
To distribute the weight of the detector, you can mount the control housing on your belt.
A metal detector is an important tool that can make archeology much easier. You have to choose the best machine for you based on your budget, the site’s nature and the level of accuracy needed.