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In fiction, it's common to see people on beaches looking around for stuff using metal detectors.
This often carries the stereotype (in Britain at least) of someone who searches the countryside hoping to find buried treasure (not as silly as it sounds, since hauls of artifacts made of precious metals are occasionally found in Britain, which is what leads to this kind of behaviour in the first place). It's technically legal (and landowners have a good incentive, since they're entitled to a share of whatever's found on their land) and there are even specific laws for finding buried treasure (technically it belongs to the crown, but the finder and landowner will be paid a fee from whatever museum that ends up taking it), however for obvious reasons it greatly annoys actual historians and archaeologists, who'd rather see the sites properly excavated rather than plundered.
Note, that in Canada, the long running TV series, Beachcombers had the starring character, Nick, in an entirely different version of this activity. Namely, it was professional lumber salvaging using boats to haul lost logs into the water for towing to timber companies to looking recover their lost materials.
- Parodied in Spaceballs
Col. Sandurz: Are we being too literal?
Dark Helmet: No you fool, we're following orders -- we were told to comb the desert, so we're combing it!
- "We ain't found shit!"
- In Revenge of the Nerds Part II: Nerds in Paradise Poindexter spent his time on the beach using one of these. I think he even found something that turned out to be plot-relevant.
- He found a buried metal detector at one point.
- Local Hero: Ben, the local beach comber, becomes a huge plot point.
- In one episode of The Adventures of Pete and Pete, Dad explains that he met Mom when he was beach-combing and his detector went off at the metal plate in her head. In the same episode he tells this story, he's still combing the beach looking for something else really good..... and finds an Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme! He and his family dig it out of the sand and drive home in it.
- Heartbeat: Claude Greengrass finds some Roman coins in a garden of a Big Fancy House he'd been hired to look after. He spends a fortune on a dredger in an effort to find the rest of them, only to discover them just as the owner arrive home to claim the lot.
- A recent example is this guy. Who found the single largest stash of Roman coins in Britain.
- Similarly, a woman was prosecuted under the Treasure Act (which deals with finding and compensating artifacts with historical value) after failing to turn in a rare coin (1 of only 4 discovered to date). She was let off after it was revealed she had received it before the act came into law.
- The fourth case of the first Ace Attorney game has Phoenix use (and carry around) a metal detector lent to him by Detective Gumshoe. First he uses it to find a clue, at the end of the trial he uses it to prove that Von Karma has a bullet in his shoulder from when he murdered Edgeworth's father.
- In the Australia stage of Tony Hawk's Underground 2, there is a guy at the beach with a metal detector. From what he tells you when you talk to him, he's having no luck with his beachcombing. So, it's up to you to help him, by picking up cans from trashcans and giving them to him.
- In the Futurama episode "When Aliens Attack", Hermes is seen combing the beach with a metal detector. It turns out that he was using it to play hide and seek with Bender though.
- On King of the Hill, Peggy and Bobby engage in some beachcombing when vacationing on the shore, and coming in conflict with local beachcombers who don't appreciate tourists horning in on their turf.