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Metal detecting is almost always a thrill, and some avid enthusiasts might want to up the thrill factor by seeing what they can find in a graveyard. However, this isn’t the best idea.
You should not metal detect in graveyards. In many states, metal detecting in a graveyard is illegal due to various trespass laws. Moral and ethical issues also arise when metal detecting in a cemetery or graveyard.
In the rest of this article, I’ll explain in detail why metal detecting in a cemetery is a bad idea. I’ll also describe under what circumstances it may be more appropriate to detect in this kind of area. Let’s get to it!
Why You Shouldn’t Metal Detect in Cemeteries
You shouldn’t metal detect in cemeteries because doing so may violate some trespass laws in your area. Additionally, some may look down on the morals and ethics of someone who metal detects in an area meant for burial and remembrance.
Admittedly, a graveyard is a compelling place to consider metal detecting. You would probably find many different coins or pieces of jewelry on the site. However, you should not metal detect in cemeteries.
One reason you shouldn’t metal detect in a graveyard is that it may not even be legal. Laws about where you can and can’t metal detect vary throughout the United States, but there are trespass laws everywhere that might apply to burial sites.
For example, if your state has a trespassing law that prohibits entering or remaining on someone’s property, and you enter a private cemetery to metal detect, you’re violating that trespassing law and subject to a fine and possible jail time.
Some graveyards and cemeteries are on public land or a historical site. It is strictly prohibited to metal detect on historical sites and Native American burial grounds under the National Historic Preservation Act and the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA). The tribes own Native American burial grounds, so it is completely inappropriate and illegal to try, and metal detect on them.
I discourage metal detecting at any graveyard, but especially Native American grounds. These areas often have strong spiritual significance to the tribes, so metal detecting would not only be disrespectful to those buried there but also to their beliefs as a whole.
You should never try metal detecting on a grave itself because the land is probably owned by the family of whoever is buried there. Furthermore, it would be disrespectful if a family member wanted to visit their loved one buried there to find someone metal detecting where their loved one was laid to rest.
Metal Detecting in Graveyards: The Morals and Ethics
Even if it is legal for you to metal detect in graveyards in your area, I don’t recommend doing it. It’s in bad taste to disrupt an area meant for remembrance and peace for a hobby, and there are plenty of other areas where you can metal detect without disrespecting the dead.
Additionally, if you were to find something, such as a piece of jewelry, there’s a high possibility that that item was meant to stay with someone who had passed away forever, and it’s bad form to steal from the dead.
The general perception of graveyards is that they should be peaceful places where the dead can rest and loved ones can visit the departed and pay their respects. The public will likely look down on someone who decides that their metal detecting is more important than this tradition.
Overall, metal detecting in a cemetery is likely to result in people having a bad perception of metal detecting, which should never be the enthusiast’s goal or intention. If the public has a bad view of metal detecting, they may encourage your local community or city to pass stricter laws regarding where you can and can’t detect.
When Is It Appropriate To Metal Detect in a Graveyard?
Suppose you really want to metal detect in a graveyard. There may be certain situations where it is more acceptable to do so than others.
First, if you want to metal detect in a cemetery, you should always get permission from the cemetery owner. Asking for permission will help you avoid any legal troubles and give you peace of mind as you’re detecting that you’re not going to get caught doing something you’re not supposed to be doing. You should also offer to share anything you find.
Here are some recommendations for how to ask the owner of a cemetery for permission to metal detect within graveyard grounds:
- Tell them why you want to do it. What are you hoping to find? Why is metal detecting within this specific graveyard so important to you? If you don’t know the answers to these questions, I would recommend rethinking the idea and coming up with a different spot.
- Offer to share what you find. The cemetery owner is more likely to be open to the idea if you tell them you’ll share what you find. This way, you might be able to reveal some interesting history, and you can assure the owner that you’re not just doing this as a hopeful cash grab. I recommend reading my article on if you can keep things you find with a metal detector for more information: Can You Keep Things You Find with a Metal Detector?
- Meet with the person face-to-face. You might be tempted to shoot an email or call, but I recommend scheduling a meeting with the owner in person because this is such a touchy subject. An in-person meeting will help the owner gauge your intention, and you’ll demonstrate that you’re taking this seriously and it wasn’t just a spur-of-the-moment decision.
- Respect their boundaries. Suppose the owner says that you can metal detect within their graveyard only under certain conditions (such as staying away from all the graves or only detecting within certain areas). In that case, you should respect their boundaries and don’t push them. Additionally, if they say no, you should respect that decision, no matter how disappointed you might be.
If you get permission and decide to metal detect in a graveyard, be respectful of the headstones and graves themselves. Headstones can get quite fragile with age, so if you accidentally hit one or knock it over, you may ruin an expensive, sentimental, and irreplaceable item.
Here are some other recommendations regarding graveyard etiquette that you should follow if you choose to metal detect there:
- Obey the opening hours. If you stay past the opening hours in a cemetery, you can get charged with trespassing and risk jail time and a hefty fine.
- Be respectful of any mourners. If someone is visiting a grave, avoid metal detecting around them and give them space and quiet.
- Don’t leave anything behind. Don’t create any extra work for the caretakers or display any signs of disrespect by leaving trash behind or making a mess that needs to be cleaned up. You’re already toeing the line of respectfulness, so don’t push it.
- Be careful about in-ground graves. Pay attention to where you’re stepping and detecting, and avoid stepping on in-ground graves. If the graveyard has paths, try to stick to them or as close to them as possible to avoid accidentally stepping on a grave.
- Be quiet. Cemeteries are meant to be peaceful places. Don’t blast music or make loud noises as you’re detecting.
You’ll probably receive fewer dirty looks if you try metal detecting around the edge of the property, near any walls or boundaries, and far away from the graves. You might have a better chance of finding something there, as people may have dropped items while walking around.
Many places to metal detect are far more appropriate than doing so in a graveyard. If the cemetery you’re interested in is next to a church, try metal detecting on the general church grounds instead of going within the cemetery. Here are some other recommendations for where to go instead:
- City parks
- Sporting fields
- College campuses
- Carnival grounds
- Ski resorts
- Ghost towns
- Near bars
- Old rest stops
- National forests
These locations have the potential for having just as many treasures as a graveyard, but they come without the moral and ethical implications of metal detecting at a burial site. National forests, in particular, can be metal detecting gold mines, and they rarely have restrictions that prohibit metal detecting. That’s nearly two million acres (809,371 hectares) of land right there!
Many people are interested in metal detecting at a graveyard to find coins. If you are interested in finding coins, I recommend reading my article on the best settings for coins. Click on the link to learn more: These are the Best Metal Detector Settings for Coins
Metal detecting in a cemetery is illegal in some areas and situations, and even if it isn’t illegal, the practice is seen as immoral and unethical. There are some situations where metal detecting in a graveyard is more appropriate, such as obtaining permission from the cemetery owner and staying away from the graves. Still, you should avoid metal detecting in graveyards and find an alternative place.