Sébastien Potet

Metal Detectorist
Summer excavation 2017

A father of two and an adjudant [equivalent to UK WO2], Sébastien has been serving in the French Air Force for 15 years — and metal detecting for 22, starting at age 12. Passionate about metal detecting, he strongly believes that its responsible use can support heritage conservation. He is campaigning for change in the French mentality and legal framework, which he believes could move away from prohibition and towards regulation of responsible metal detecting.

A member of the European Council for Metal Detecting (ECMD), Sebastien heard about Waterloo Uncovered through fellow member Olivier Van Den Bergh, who has been part of WU’s metal detecting team since 2015. For Sébastien “Waterloo Uncovered was my eighth archaeological excavation in the last 3 years. Taking part was an occasion to expand my professional experience in excavations and to meet other history buffs, open minded archaeologists, and other detectorists who advocate for responsible metal detecting. And of course, it was a chance to supplement my knowledge of this epic battle, that changed the course of history.”
Sébastien volunteered on the 2017 excavation for a couple of days. “I left work on a Tuesday around 17:15 in France, and hit the road towards Nivelles where the team was staying. I joined them in the evening and was quickly immersed in the international team as people from various nationalities welcomed me with Belgian beers — a great way to form friendships! And I could tell that my presence and that of my friend Patrice lifted a burden from Alex: she was glad not to be the only ‘froggie’ (French person) on site!”

On the excavation, Sébastien worked with the other metal detectorists on the team. “My role on the dig as a metal detectorist was to locate probable artefacts that could be of interest to the archaeologists, bag them, and mark them with a flag before the GIS team came to map their position later during the day.
Where the digger had already stripped the ground, we would do some flagging if there were likely targets, eventually indicating the type of metal if asked by the archaeologists. I also helped check that no metallic finds were left before backfilling.”
“Before the day even started, I felt excited and curious. I think everyone is motivated by the same thirst for knowledge: What new elements will we find today? Anything that will reinforce our understanding of the site, or that will bring up new questions? In fact, I didn’t care much which part of the site I was sent to: the most important thing was to use my metal detecting experience to help find and put together pieces of the past — and in my own modest way, help reconstitute the puzzle of History on this huge battlefield.”

During his time on the excavation, Sébastien’s skills payed off: “I found re-enactor buttons, but also 1815 ones. However, the best find in my opinion wasn’t one of mine: my friend Patrice found a silver coin that, while it still has to be analysed, looks like it could have been used to pay the troops — as it was still in use in 1815. I also have learned that the configuration of Hougoumont farm’s courtyard was different than that described in historical maps. This is where Waterloo Uncovered’s great strength lies: rewriting history thanks to excavation.”

In fact, WU has comforted Sébastien in one of his longstanding opinions: “It’s possible for metal detectorists to work hand in hand with archaeologists: on the project there is no judgement, and all goodwill is welcome! As detectorists, we felt like we were really being trusted, and that is something I will never forget.”
Asked what his favourite thing about the dig was, Sébastien answered: “The effervescence: the site office was this anthill of activity, and at the end of each day, everyone would be busy going around, trying to see all the finds from the day. There was so much curiosity, it was an incredible atmosphere! Everyone was enthusiastic and proud to be contributing, each in their own way, to that one project.”

But it isn’t only the archaeology that was fascinating: “Seeing how charities like Waterloo Uncovered can bring a smile back to the faces of people that life hasn’t spared, who have faced ordeals, and for some been wounded… that really moved me. Serving in the military, you’re always more or less prepared to cross paths with wounded people; But seeing young persons in wheelchairs who have a smile on their face thanks to this experience has really made me look differently at the benefits of WU. In coming years I’m hoping other French volunteers and veterans, with physical or psychological wounds, will be able to take part in the excavation.”

In September 2017, Sébastien was one of the French delegates for the second ECMD (European Council for Metal Detecting) conference, in Norwich (UK). They were introducing a new Code of Conduct for metal detectorists — as an incentive towards working more similarly to archaeological practices, to favour the preservation of information (www.ecmd.eu). Sébastien plans to continue metal detecting and taking part in archaeological excavations, and who knows, join the Waterloo Uncovered team in 2018?

Sebastien in 2017