Can You Metal Detect in a Cemetery?


To most of the world, graveyards or cemeteries are a somber, quiet resting place for loved ones. These resting grounds should be an area that is not disturbed, a place where family can come visit their lost loved ones in peace.

There are a few people that think it is ok to metal detect in cemeteries, however, most in the metal detecting community agree that you should not. State laws will vary if it is legal or not. Metal detectorists feel that it is immoral and gives the community, and hobby, a bad image, for those that do. 

Battles and wars often led to many casualties and losses. Entire towns and countries were destroyed during some of those negative events and a lot of hidden treasure in the ruins and ground. That includes various types of arms, jewelry, gold, and silver. We are going to explain a few of the different types of cemeteries. While they are virtually the same, a resting place for the dead, there are some differences.

Regular Cemeteries

This term covers all modern cemeteries that are still in use by the public. There were some people that had an idea to metal detect in regularly registered cemeteries that are still open and in use. They came there with their equipment, however, the police quickly arrived. That is because in many states it is not permitted to metal detect in such areas. No one would allow you to dig a grave of their loved ones, so the laws in most states prohibit such activity. You can be fined or even sent to jail for such an offense, and the penalty would depend on the level of damage.

Even if it is legal in your state it is still just not a good idea to metal detect in a cemetery, especially one that is still open and used on a regular basis. There are different weird stories about such activities, however, people involved in that kind of business are considered thieves by the law. The graves are the property of the owners and no one else has the right to take other people’s things.

That’s why it is always suitable to know the laws before starting an adventure of this kind. It is a good way to avoid legal problems and stay entirely safe when it comes to that matter. It is also usually not allowed to perform those types of activities on federal land including national parks and historical sites. Both of these belong to the United States including all the artifacts that the ground may hide from the eyes of the curious visitors. People who try to metal detect there would also be fined or even sent to jail depending on the level of the offense.

There are, however, areas where you can freely use your metal detector without any worries about the legal aspects of the activity. These include different local and state places, along with BLM lands, just check with your state’s rules and regulations for your particular destination. It is usually available online so it is easily accessible, and you should not have any problems finding out all the important details regarding that matter.

Mass Graves

This is where dozens or even hundreds of soldiers were buried after a war or battle. Many of such places are entirely forgotten by everyone and there are sometimes not even any signs of graves in the area. However, that does not mean the mass graves do not exist. It is possible to find some of those places if you carefully investigate the history of battles during the Civil War.

Usually, mass graves are located near the places where the battles took place. The armies of both sides wanted to take care of fallen soldiers, however, they often had not enough resources to create a normal cemetery for that. The war was still going on, and they needed to act fast and efficiently. Transportation to some distant areas was also impossible during such circumstances and the risk of different diseases was high. That’s why they simply buried the bodies in big holes next to each other. Many of the fallen soldiers were buried in their uniforms. The jewelry, as well as different pieces of weaponry, stayed together with the bodies. Their pockets were sometimes filled with coins so the items stayed in the ground with them.

It is not an ideal solution to perform metal detecting on a regular cemetery because you might have a problem with the laws and different penalties are possible, not to mention the moral and ethical issues as well. However, there are normally no issues when it comes to searching in open meadows. Of course, that is, outside of the moral or ethical issues that digging on or around a gravesite brings. Still, those who investigate the events of the past can clearly conclude that some meadows were battlefields in the past so they may also hide various traces of such events.

A mass grave from the past is a serious historical discovery that helps us to find out more about our past. And some of the hidden treasures might be very valuable since it dates from a distant past. You still could potentially be on either protected grounds or federal or state lands where you are not allowed to dig or disturb the area.

It is, of course, important to be psychologically prepared for activities of this type. The exploration can take a while, and you will maybe need to search for days until you really find something. Human bones are often found together with the items so you have to be ready to handle such a detection properly. This also assumes you plan to dig that far into the ground since most detectorists normally only dig down a foot or so into the ground.

Forgotten Cemeteries

As mentioned, history is full of interesting events, and these can date back to the distant past. Time can make various changes and adjustments to the area so it can affect tombstones as well. There are very old cemeteries in uninhabited areas that no one has taken care of for a very long period. Time has taken its toll on the area and the tombstones possibly do not exist anymore. It is maybe possible to find just some traces of these or they are not visible at all anymore. Such forgotten cemeteries are sometimes not part of any registry and no one is even aware that they really exist at all. They might be located in different areas, such as forests, hills, meadows, and mountains.

Some researchers have, however, succeeded in finding some of those places, thanks to different historical reports. They might check all the available records about some particular areas so if some ghost towns existed there, then the chances are high the forgotten cemetery is a part of the location too. When you get the exact position of such a place, you can start searching. People often buried their loved ones together with different treasures so interesting discoveries are possible if you succeed to find a forgotten cemetery.

They typically have a different history. Some of the forgotten cemeteries are very old and might date back hundreds of years. Mining has, for example, been a very strong industry in the United States from the beginning of the country. A lot of people were involved in the business in various ways because great incomes were possible.

Miners often created communities such as small villages and towns near the mining areas. They typically lasted until the exploration was finished. Then they moved to some other locations when that happened. Their previous communities became ghost towns. They stayed empty and cemeteries from such places were totally forgotten and abandoned. It is usually not forbidden to use a metal detector in such areas because the cemeteries are not registered at all which means no one knows they exist at all.

Some of the forgotten cemeteries belonged to natives who lived in the area hundreds of years ago. The construction of their tombstones was quite different than those made by the Europeans. They were often developed of different materials too so they could be less resistant to extreme weather conditions and the circulation of time. That’s how these cemeteries could disappear more easily when the population left the area.

Some cemeteries could also be destroyed by different negative events such as wars and natural disasters. Flooding is, for example, quite common in some areas and the water can be quite dangerous for objects such as tombstones. Some of the forgotten cemeteries have already have been found by other researchers so they probably uncovered all the important artifacts from the area, but many still could be out there.

Metal Detecting Equipment

If you do not already have some equipment, you will need some before starting off on your adventures.  Here is some information to help you get started.  Not all metal detectors are the same despite the fact they use the same name. The specifications and quality of different models might significantly vary. That’s why it is important to check these before purchasing. You will definitely avoid mistakes during selection in that way.

Some metal detectors might have particular abilities that other models do not possess. For example, there are types that provide water protection so you can see them in the areas where it is not totally dry. These models are also suitable for exploration during bad weather conditions. The rain and snow cannot harm such devices and they can operate normally under those circumstances.

For example, I use the Garratt AT Pro which is submersible in up to ten feet of water.  Or on the completely extreme end if you’d like to metal detect while scuba diving there is the Minelab Excalibur II 1000 Waterproof Detector that can go to underwater depths of up to 200 ft (66m). There are of course accessories such as Minilabs’ waterproof headphones or the Garratt AT Pinpointer that is waterproof as well.

The weight of the device is also an important factor during the proper selection so it is always wise to choose lightweight models. Explorations of the ground usually take a lot of time and energy and a too heavy detector may cause you various troubles during those moments. That would make additional pressure on your activities so you would have to involve an extra effort to achieve the same results.

There are also metal detectors more suitable for beginners. You do not need any particular skills in order to operate some of these so virtually anyone can perform exploration with some of those models. If you are new to metal detecting, you should definitely focus on some of those models. You will learn faster while using them, and you can later transfer to more developed models. I started out renting a Garrett Ace 200 from my local Tates Rents for about $20 a day to just get started on the weekends and practice some before buying my Garratt AT Pro.  Any of the Garrett Ace line detectors are perfect, small, and lightweight for any beginner, and they are in the $200~$400 range.

It is also good when you know that your investment is safe and protected. That’s a good motivation to purchase metal detectors from a store and producer that provides a long warranty and money-back guarantee. If anything goes wrong with the device, you can simply return it to the shop and take your money back. There are a lot of offers on the Internet and all the important details are visible on the product’s list. KellyCo offers a 30-day Hassle-free return policy and they offer excellent customer support as well.

Jason Smith

I am a former Marine who works as a Software Engineer. I have five US States left to visit. My sarcasm is legendary as is my knowledge of movie quotes. I can name the song or artist of just about any 80s or 90s song. I like whiskey, wine, coffee, soaking in hot springs or my hot tub. I enjoy getting out hiking, and taking pictures, along with metal detecting & magnet fishing from time to time. I do enjoy the occasional gaming by breaking out the original NES or SNES. I do spend a lot of time building other websites, (about 30 some in total).

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