A metal detector is an instrument that detects the nearby presence of metal. Metal detectors are useful for finding metal objects on the surface, underground, and under water. The unit itself, consists of a control box, and an adjustable shaft, which holds a pickup coil, which can vary in shape and size. If the pickup coil comes near a piece of metal, the control box will register its presence by a changing tone, a flashing light, and or by a needle moving on an indicator. Usually the device gives some indication of distance; the closer the metal is, the higher the tone in the earphone or the higher the needle goes. Another common type are stationary “walk through” metal detectors used at access points in prisons, courthouses, airports and psychiatric hospitals to detect concealed metal weapons on a person’s body.
The simplest form of a metal detector consists of an oscillator producing an alternating current that passes through a coil producing an alternating magnetic field. If a piece of electrically conductive metal is close to the coil, eddy currents will be induced (inductive sensor) in the metal, and this produces a magnetic field of its own. If another coil is used to measure the magnetic field (acting as a magnetometer), the change in the magnetic field due to the metallic object can be detected.
The first industrial metal detectors were developed in the 1960s and were used extensively for mineral prospecting and other industrial applications. Uses include detecting land mines, the detection of weapons such as knives and guns (especially in airport security), geophysical prospecting, archaeology and treasure hunting. Metal detectors are also used to detect foreign bodies in food, and in the construction industry to detect steel reinforcing bars in concrete and pipes and wires buried in walls and floors.
In 1841 Professor Heinrich Wilhelm Dove published an invention he called the “differential inductor”. It was a 4-coil induction balance, with 2 glass tubes each having 2 well-insulated copper wire solenoids wound around them. Charged Leyden jars (high-voltage capacitors) were discharged through the 2 primary coils; this current surge induced a voltage in the secondary coils. When the secondary coils were wired in opposition, the induced voltages cancelled as confirmed by the Professor holding the ends of the secondary coils. When a piece of metal was placed inside one glass tube the Professor received a shock. This then was the first magnetic induction metal detector, and the first pulse induction metal detector.
In late 1878 and early 1879 Professor (of music) David Edward Hughes published his experiments with the 4-coil induction balance. He used his own recent invention the microphone and a ticking clock to generate regular pulses and a telephone receiver as detector. To measure the strength of the signals he invented a coaxial 3-coil induction balance which he called the “electric chronometer”. Hughes did much to popularize the induction balance, quickly leading to practical devices that could identify counterfeit coins. In 1880 Mr. J. Munro, C.E. suggested the use of the 4-coil induction balance for metal prospecting. Hughes’s coaxial 3-coil induction balance would also see use in metal detecting.
In July 1881 Alexander Graham Bell initially used a 4-coil induction balance to attempt to locate a bullet lodged in the chest of American President James Garfield. After much experimenting the best bullet detection range he achieved was only 2 inches. He then used his own earlier discovery, the partially overlapping 2-coil induction balance, and the detection range increased to 5 inches. But the attempt was still unsuccessful because the metal coil spring bed Garfield was lying on confused the detector. Bell’s 2-coil induction balance would go on to evolve into the popular double D coil.
On December 16, 1881, Captain Charles Ambrose McCoy applied for British Patent No. 5518, Apparatus for Searching for Submerged Torpedoes, &c., which was granted Jun 16 1882. His US269439 patent application of Jul 12 1882 was granted Dec 19 1882. It was a 4-coil induction balance for detecting submerged metallic torpedoes and iron ships and the like. Given the development time involved this may have been the earliest known device specifically constructed as a metal detector using magnetic induction.
In 1892 George M. Hopkins described an orthogonal 2-coil induction balance for metal detecting.
In 1915 Professor Camille Mutton developed a 4-coil induction balance to detect unexploded shells in farmland of former battlefields in France. Unusually both coil pairs were used for detection. The 1919 photo at the right is a later version of Mutton’s detector.
The design invented by Kosacki was used extensively during the Second Battle of El Alamein when 500 units were shipped to Field Marshal Montgomery to clear the minefields of the retreating Germans, and later used during the Allied invasion of Sicily, the Allied invasion of Italy and the Invasion of Normandy.
As the creation and refinement of the device was a wartime military research operation, the knowledge that Kosacki created the first practical metal detector was kept secret for over 50 years.
Beat frequency induction
Many manufacturers of these new devices brought their own ideas to the market. White’s Electronics of Oregon began in the 1950s by building a machine called the Oremaster Geiger Counter. Another leader in detector technology was Charles Garrett, who pioneered the BFO (beat frequency oscillator) machine. With the invention and development of the transistor in the 1950s and 1960s, metal detector manufacturers and designers made smaller, lighter machines with improved circuitry, running on small battery packs. Companies sprang up all over the United States and Britain to supply the growing demand. Beat Frequency Induction requires movement of the detector coil; akin to how swinging a conductor near a magnet induces an electric current; except the pulse is electric EMF and not magnetic EMF[further explanation needed].
Modern top models are fully computerized, using integrated circuit technology to allow the user to set sensitivity, discrimination, track speed, threshold volume, notch filters, etc., and hold these parameters in memory for future use. Compared to just a decade ago, detectors are lighter, deeper-seeking, use less battery power, and discriminate better.
State-of-the-art metal detectors have further incorporated extensive wireless technologies for the earphones, connect to Wi-Fi networks and Bluetooth devices. Some also utilize built in GPS locator technology to keep track of searching location and the location of items found. Some connect to smartphone applications to further extend functionality.
The biggest technical change in detectors was the development of a tunable induction system. This system involved two coils that are electro-magnetically tuned. One coil acts as an RF transmitter, the other as a receiver; in some cases these can be tuned to between 3 and 100 kHz. When metal is in their vicinity, a signal is detected owing to eddy currents induced in the metal. What allowed detectors to discriminate between metals was the fact that every metal has a different phase response when exposed to alternating current; longer waves (low frequency) penetrate ground deeper, and select for high-conductivity targets like silver, and copper; than shorter waves (higher frequency) which, while less ground penetrating, select for low-conductivity targets like iron. Unfortunately, high frequency is also sensitive to ground mineralisation interference. This selectivity or discrimination allowed detectors to be developed that could selectively detect desirable metals, while ignoring undesirable ones.
Even with discriminators, it was still a challenge to avoid undesirable metals, because some of them have similar phase responses (e.g. tinfoil and gold), particularly in alloy form. Thus, improperly tuning out certain metals increased the risk of passing over a valuable find. Another disadvantage of discriminators was that they reduced the sensitivity of the machines.
New coil designs
Coil designers also tried out innovative designs. The original induction balance coil system consisted of two identical coils placed on top of one another. Compass Electronics produced a new design: two coils in a D shape, mounted back-to-back to form a circle. This system was widely used in the 1970s, and both concentric and double D type (or widescan as they became known) had their fans. Another development was the invention of detectors which could cancel out the effect of mineralization in the ground. This gave greater depth, but was a non-discriminate mode. It worked best at lower frequencies than those used before, and frequencies of 3 to 20 kHz were found to produce the best results. Many detectors in the 1970s had a switch which enabled the user to switch between the discriminate mode and the non-discriminate mode. Later developments switched electronically between both modes. The development of the induction balance detector would ultimately result in the motion detector, which constantly checked and balanced the background mineralization.
At the same time, developers were looking at using a different technique in metal detection called pulse induction. Unlike the beat frequency oscillator or the induction balance machines, which both used a uniform alternating current at a low frequency, the pulse induction (PI) machine simply magnetized the ground with a relatively powerful, momentary current through a search coil. In the absence of metal, the field decayed at a uniform rate, and the time it took to fall to zero volts could be accurately measured. However, if metal was present when the machine fired, a small eddy current would be induced in the metal, and the time for sensed current decay would be increased. These time differences were minute, but the improvement in electronics made it possible to measure them accurately and identify the presence of metal at a reasonable distance. These new machines had one major advantage: they were mostly impervious to the effects of mineralization, and rings and other jewelry could now be located even under highly mineralized black sand. The addition of computer control and digital signal processing have further improved pulse induction sensors.
One particular advantage of using a pulse induction detector includes the ability to ignore the minerals contained within heavily mineralized soil; in some cases the heavy mineral content may even help the PI detector function better. Where a VLF detector is affected negatively by soil mineralization, a PI unit is not.
Metal detectors are widely used in archaeology with the first recorded use by military historian Don Rickey in 1958 who used one to detect the firing lines at Little Big Horn. However archaeologists oppose the use of metal detectors by “artifact seekers” or “site looters” whose activities disrupt archaeological sites. The problem with use of metal detectors in archaeological sites or hobbyist who find objects of archeological interest is that the context that the object was found in is lost and no detailed survey of its surroundings is made. Outside of known sites the significance of objects may not be apparent to a metal detector hobbyist
England and Wales
In England and Wales metal detecting is legal provided that the landowner has granted permission and that the area is not a Scheduled Ancient Monument, a site of special scientific interest (SSSI), or covered by elements of the Countryside Stewardship Scheme.
The Treasure Act 1996 governs whether or not items that have been discovered are defined as treasure. Finders of items that the Act defines as treasure must report their finds to the local coroner. If they discover items that are not defined as treasure but that are of cultural or historical interest, finders can voluntarily report them to the Portable Antiquities Scheme and the UK Detector Finds Database.
The sale of metal detectors is allowed in France. The first use of metal detectors in France which led to archaeological discoveries occurred in 1958: people living in the city of Graincourt-lès-Havrincourt who were seeking copper from World War I bombshell with military mine detector found a Roman silver treasure. The French law on metal detecting is ambiguous because it refers only to the objective pursued by the user of a metal detector. The first law to regulate the use of metal detectors was Law No. 89–900 of 18 December 1989. This last is resumed without any change in Article L. 542–1 of the code of the heritage, which states that “no person may use the equipment for the detection of metal objects, for the purpose of research monuments and items of interest prehistory, history, art and archeology without having previously obtained an administrative authorization issued based on the applicant’s qualification and the nature and method of research.”
Outside the research of archaeological objects, using a metal detector does not require specific authorization, except that of the owner of the land. Asked about Law No. 89–900 of 18 December 1989 by a member of parliament, Jack Lang, Minister of Culture at the time, replied by letter the following: “The new law does not prohibit the use of metal detectors but only regulates the use. If the purpose of such use is the search for archaeological remains, prior authorization is required from my services. Apart from this case, the law ask to be reported to the appropriate authorities an accidental discovery of archaeological remains.” The entire letter of Jack Lang was published in 1990 in a French metal detection magazine, and then, to be visible on the internet, scanned with permission of the author of the magazine on a French metal detection website.
In Northern Ireland, it is an offence to be in possession of a metal detector on a scheduled or a State Care site without a licence from the Department for Communities. It is also illegal to remove an archaeological object found with a detector from such a site without written consent.
Republic of Ireland
In the Republic of Ireland, laws against metal detecting are very strict: it is illegal to use a detection device to search for archaeological objects anywhere within the State or its territorial seas without the prior written consent of the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, and it is illegal to promote the sale or use of detection devices for the purposes of searching for archaeological objects.
Under the Scots law principle of bona vacantia, the Crown has claim over any object of any material value where the original owner cannot be traced. There is also no 300 year limit to Scottish finds. Any artifact found, whether by metal detector survey or from an archaeological excavation, must be reported to the Crown through the Treasure Trove Advisory Panel at the National Museums of Scotland. The panel then determines what will happen to the artifacts. Reporting is not voluntary, and failure to report the discovery of historic artifacts is a criminal offence in Scotland.
The sale of metal detectors is allowed in the United States. People can use metal detectors in public places (parks, beaches, etc.) and on private property with the permission of the owner of the site. In the United States, cooperation between archeologists hunting for the location of colonial-era Native American villages and hobbyists has been productive.