October 19, 2029 – by Maxx Dickerson
“He walked out in the gray light and stood and he saw for a brief moment the absolute truth of the world. The cold relentless circling of the intestate earth. Darkness implacable. The blind dogs of the sun in their running. The crushing black vacuum of the universe. And somewhere two hunted animals trembling like ground-foxes in their cover. Borrowed time and borrowed world and borrowed eyes with which to sorrow it.” ― Cormac McCarthy, The Road
Just fifteen years ago, back in 2014, my friends and I used to detect everywhere. We used to knock on doors of old homes and get permission to hunt yards. Oh, the things we used to find – buttons and wheat pennies. Silver coins and jewelry. We would compare and compete, and marvel at our finds, and share them with others on on the old internet. We could still even hunt parks in most towns back then. Those were the good ole days, and we had some great times.
I remember hearing about a town here and there who no longer allowed metal detecting on public property, but I really paid no attention. It was always somewhere else, and I figured it was just the rich people protecting their landscaping or something. Federal national parks became off-limits. I guess that should have been a red flag.
And suddenly it seemed it was everywhere. You couldn’t hunt public property pretty much anywhere. My town was one of the last – they didn’t really care about detecting until their road funding was threatened. Metal detecting was just one of many things they had to comply with to keep their funds.
You could no longer even hunt a public beach. The last great frontier for metal detecting that was left was private property, and we figured that was safe. After all, this is America, right? We just had to always get permission to detect.
But we didn’t – at least not all of us. The bad detectorists got even bolder. Occurrences of trespassing became more and more common. Even worse it became more and more publicized. I remember a kid getting shot and killed somewhere out west for slipping onto a private lot to detect in the middle of the night. He was a local official’s son – so it was all over the news. What an ugly day for metal detecting.
And it all came to a head when a group of American universities established something called “New Archeology.” Instead of studying prehistoric sites and the like, New Archeology focused on the study of a concept called “The Evolution of Modern Culture”. Everything even remotely historical became of interest to New Archeology. Early American frontier settlements, antebellum, even early 1900s – those things made sense I guess, but to connect the dots in the “evolution of American culture”, sites from the 1950’s, 1960s, even the 1970s became of interest to new archeologists. The price of things on eBay skyrocketed for a while, but buying these “artifacts” (what a farce), was soon frowned upon by the “purists” (another farce) who said the only way to study the evolution of our culture was through observing these things where they still remained in their native environment. The Rubik’s Cube bought on eBay was scoffed at by the beatnik that claimed he had found his in an attic or better yet, a box that had been buried in a child’s backyard.
New Archeology became wildly popular. It spread to the UK, then all over Europe. I used to laugh when I pictured a bunch of archeologists digging up the site of a disco. It doesn’t seem so funny now, and I’m not laughing any more.
Because then came the Federal Archeological Resources Decree of 2022 (FARD), or as we call it, “FART”. It was basically an update to the ARPA law that passed in 1979 protecting American Indian cultural sites. If you’ve ever read the 1979 ARPA law, you’ll wonder why they bothered to rewrite it at all. It is very vague. Any site over 100 years old, Indian or not, could already be interpreted as falling under protection of the law. But FARD intended to protect any site deemed “historical”, chiefly by new archeologists.
FARD actually closed the loopholes and reduced the word “Indian” to be only a minor part of the scope of the law’s protection. But what really hurt were the specific restrictions and penalties relating to metal detecting.
It actually became illegal to own or use a metal detector without something like a master’s degree in archeology, something that would take six years and cost you over a hundred grand. Even use by the military was restricted to certain high-dollar mine sweepers – and you had to be on active military duty to use those. The penalties were ludicrous – a $5000 fine for first occurrence and jail time for a second offense. Jail time for detecting? Happens all the time now. And of course detectors are seized on sight, whether they are being used or not. The hard part to believe though was that private landowners with grounds deemed “historic” were forced to allow access to new archeologists immediately upon request, and faced similar fines and penalties for failure to cooperate.
FARD was basically the door slamming on “amateur treasure hunters”. Curiously, FARD passed quickly and easily. The detector manufacturers didn’t even make an attempt to stop it. There was some detectorist interest group – I can’t remember their name – but they had no funding or backing that could get them anything other than laughed at. But at least they tried, and I commend them for that. It was just too late. There were no demonstrations by detectorists either. No million detector march. Nothing. For whatever reason, we just laid down. The “Expert Analysts” on CNN said it was because of our introverted nature. That really pissed me off.
The truth is that this thing happened so gradually – starting with minor detecting restrictions in the 1990s and progressing in the early 2000’s to major restrictions on public property – one little area at a time – that no one could accept what was happening. Or no one cared.
The jackasses that defaced the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in 2020 gave New Archeology all of the ammo it needed to get the bill passed with the fat backing of the universities. “The Tomb” was the face of the bill – though there was no evidence that the bozos that did that even owned a metal detector. But looking back, I think it was all over even before that happened.
So I don’t detect anymore. I sold my detector right before the law went into effect to speculators that still didn’t believe it would actually pass. I don’t even pull my finds out to show anyone anymore. All the detecting sites on the new net are now gone. There are still people that detect though – groups of kids mostly that detect at night and in remote areas with the brazen abandon of graffiti artists.
Who would’ve believed it?
Impossible? I guess we’ll see.
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