Laws on Metal Detecting in the UK
The Treasure Act is a piece of legislation designed to deal with finds of treasure primarily those made by metal detectorists in England and Wales. It legally obliges finders of objects which constitute a legally defined term of treasure to report their find to their local coroner within fourteen days. An inquiry led by the coroner then determines whether the find constitutes treasure or not. If is declared to be treasure then the owner must offer the item for sale to a museum at a price set by an independent board of antiquities experts. Only if no museum expresses an interest in the item or is unable to purchase it can the owner retain it.
'Treasure' is defined as being:
• Any metallic object, other than a coin, provided that at least 10 per cent by weight of metal is precious metal (that is, gold or silver) and that it is at least 300 years old when found. If the object is of prehistoric date it will be Treasure provided any part of it is precious metal.
• Any group of two or more metallic objects of any composition of prehistoric date that come from the same find
. All coins from the same find provided they are at least 300 years old when found (but if the coins contain less than 10 per cent of gold or silver there must be at least ten of them). Only the following groups of coins will normally be regarded as coming from the same find:
- hoards that have been deliberately hidden
- smaller groups of coins, such as the contents of purses, that may been dropped or lost
- votive or ritual deposits.
• Any object, whatever it is made of, that is found in the same place as, or had previously been together with, another object that is Treasure.
• Any object that would previously have been treasure trove, but does not fall within the specific categories given above. Only objects that are less than 300 years old, that are made substantially of gold or silver, that have been deliberately hidden with the intention of recovery and whose owners or heirs are unknown will come into this category.
• An object or coin is part of the ‘same find’ as another object or coin if it is found in the same place as, or had previously been together with, the other object. Finds may have become scattered since they were originally deposited in the ground.
• “of prehistoric date” means dating from the Iron Age or any earlier period
Under English law a landowner has sole title to any archaeological artefacts found on his or her property. Legitimate metal detectorists come to an agreement with the owners of the land they detect on to share any proceeds from treasure sales. Those who detect illegally, either on Scheduled sites or without the landowners' permission cannot benefit from the Treasure Act. Illegal detectorists have had their loot confiscated and can face fines and prison.
The Portable Antiquities Scheme - Introduction
Whilst not a legal requirement it is worthwhile outlining the purpose of the Portable Antiquities Scheme. Digging Up The Past actively encourages and recommends recording with the Scheme.
The Portable Antiquities Scheme or PAS is a voluntary programme run by the United Kingdom government to record the increasing numbers of small finds of archaeological interest found by members of the public. The scheme was begun in 1997 and now covers most of England and Wales.
It is primarily focused on private metal detectorists who through their hobby regularly discover artefacts that would otherwise go unrecorded. Members of the public can also report objects they have found and finds of non-metallic objects are also covered by the scheme. Finds that legally constitute treasure are dealt with through the Treasure Act 1996. This however concentrates on precious metals, prehistoric base-metal, and finds in association with them. Non-prehistoric base metal and non-metal finds would not be recognised as treasure and therefore be unrecorded. The PAS exists to fill this gap.
The scheme funds the posts of Finds Liaison Officers (FLOs) at county councils or local museums to whom finders can report their objects. The FLO is qualified to examine the find and provide the finder with more information on it. He or she also records the find, its function, date, material and location and places this information into a database which can be analysed. The information on the find spot can be used to organise more research on the area. Many previously unknown archaeological sites have been identified through the scheme and it has contributed greatly to the level of knowledge of the past. FLOs maintain close links with local metal detecting societies and have contributed to a thaw in relationships between the detectorists and archaeologists who often previously disdained one another.
The find remains the property of the finder or the landowner who are free to dispose of non-treasure finds.