The treasure act 1996


The Treasure Act 1996 comes into force on 24 September 1997 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, replacing the common law of treasure trove. This leaflet provides a summary of the main points of the new law, further information will be found in Code of Practice on the Treasure Act, which can be obtained free of charge from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (formerly the Department of National Heritage) (Tel:0171 211 6200). Metal detectorists are strongly advised to obtain a copy of the Code of Practice which, among other things, contains guidance for detectorists, sets out guidelines on rewards, gives advice on the care of finds and has lists of useful addresses. A separate Code of Practice and leaflet has been prepared for Northern Ireland. A Welsh language version of this leaflet can be obtained from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport or the Welsh Office.


What is the new definition of treasure?
The following finds are treasure under the Act (more detailed guidance is given in the Code of Practice):
1. Objects other than coins: any object other than a coin provided that it contains at least 10 per cent of gold or silver and is at least 300 years old when found. (Objects with gold or silver plating normally have less than 10 per cent of precious metal).
2. Coins: 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 10 of them; there is a list of these coins in the Code of Practice). 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 left together with, the other object. Finds may have become scattered since they were originally deposited in the ground. Only the following groups of coins will normally be regarded as coming from the 'same find':
(a) hoards that have been deliberately hidden;
(b) smaller groups of coins, such as the contents of purses, that may have been dropped or lost and
(c) votive or ritual deposits.
Single coins found on their own are not treasure and groups of coins lost one by one over a period of time (for example those found on settlement sites or on fair sites) will not normally be treasure.
3. Associated objects: any object, whatever it is made of, that is found in the same place as, or that had previously been together with, another object that is treasure.
4. Objects that would have been treasure trove: any object that would have previously been treasure trove, but does not fall within the specific categories given above. These objects have to be made substantially of gold or silver; they have to have been buried with the intention of recovery and their owner or his heirs cannot be traced. The following types of find are not treasure:
- objects whose owners can be traced.
- un-worked natural objects, including human and animal remains, even if they are found in association with treasure;
- objects from the foreshore, which are wreck.
If you are in any doubt, it will probably be safest to report your find.


What about objects found before the act came in to force?
You should report objects that come into any of the four catagories just described if they are found after 23 September 1997. There is no need to report any objects found before that date unless they may be treasure trove (see 4 above)


What should I do if I find something that may be treasure?
You must report all finds of treasure to the coroner for the district in which they are found either within 14 days of the day on which you made the find or within 14 days after the day on which you realized that the find might be treasure (for example, as a result of having it identified). The obligation to report finds applies to everyone, including archaeologists.


How do I report a find of treasure?
Very Simply. You may report your find to the coroner in person, by letter, telephone or fax. The coroner or his officer will send you an acknowledgement and tell you where you should deliver your find. The code of practice has a list of all coroners with their addresses, telephone and fax numbers. There are special procedures for objects from a few areas for which treasure franchises exist, but they should be reported to the coroner in the usual way. The main franchise-holders (the duchies of Lancaster and Cornwall, the Corporation of London and the City of Bristol) have confirmed that they will pay rewards for finds of treasure from their franchises in the normal way.


Where will I have to take my find?
You will normally be asked to take your find to a local museum or archaeological body. Local agreements have been drawn up for each coroner's district in England and Wales to provide the coroner with a list of such museums and archaeological organizations. The Department is publishing a series of leaflets, roughly one for each county of England and one for Wales, listing the relevant coroners, museums and archaeological services in each area. The body which receives the find on behalf of the coroner will give you a receipt. Although they will need to know where you made the find, they will keep this information confidential if you or the landowner wish-and you should do so too. The body receiving the find will notify the Sites and Monuments Record as soon as possible (if that has not already happened), so that the site where the find was made can be investigated by archaeologists if necessary. A list of Sites and Monuments Records is in Appendix 3 of the Code of Practice.


What if I do not report a find of treasure?
If you fail to report a find that you believe or have reasonable grounds for believing to be treasure without a reasonable excuse you may be imprisoned for up to three months or receive a fine of up to level 5 on the standard scale (currently 5,000) or both. You will not be breaking the law if you do not report a find because you do not initially recognize that it may be treasure, but you should report it once you do realize this.


What happens if the find is not treasure?
If the object is clearly not treasure, the museum or archaeological body will inform the coroner, who may then decide to give directions that the find should be returned without holding an inquest.


What happens if the find is treasure?
If the museum curator or archaeologist believes that the find may be treasure, they will inform the British Museum or the National Museums & Galleries of Wales. The museums will then decide whether they or any other museum may wish to acquire it. If no museum wishes to acquire the find, the Secretary of State will be able to disclaim it. When this happens, the coroner will notify the occupier and landowner that he intends to return the object to the finder after 28 days unless he receives an objection. If the coroner receives an objection. the find will be retained until the dispute has been settled.


What if a museum wants to acquire my find?
If a museum wants to acquire part or all of a find, then the coroner will hold an inquest to decide whether it is treasure. The coroner will inform the finder, occupier and landowner and they will be able to question witnesses at the inquest. Treasure inquests will not normally be held with a jury. If the find is declared to be treasure, then it will be taken to the British Museum or the National Museums & Galleries of Wales, so that it can be valued by the Treasure Valuation Committee.


How do I know that I will receive a fair price for my find?
Any find of treasure that a museum wishes to acquire must be valued by the Treasure Valuation Committee, which consists of independent experts. The Committee will commission a valuation from one or more experts drawn from the trade. You, together with the museum that wishes to acquire the find and any other interested party, will have an opportunity to comment on the valuation and to send in a separate valuation of your own, before the Committee makes its recommendation. If you are dissatisfied you can appeal to the Secretary of State.


What if the coroner or museum loses or damages a find?
They are required to take reasonable steps to ensure that this does not happen; but if it does, you should nonetheless be compensated.


Who will receive the reward?
This is set out in detail in the code of practice.
To summarize:
-where the finder has permission to be on the land, rewards should continue to be paid in full to him or her. (The burden of proof of proof as to whether he or she has permission will rest on the finder.) If the finder makes an agreement with the occupier/landowner to share a reward, the Secretary of State will normally follow it;
-if the finder does not remove the whole of a find from the ground but allows archaeologists to excavate the remainder of the find, the original will normally be eligible for a reward for the whole find;
-rewards will not normally be payable when the find is made by an archaeologist;
-where the finder has committed an offence in relation to a find, or has trespassed, or has not followed best practice as set out in the Code of Practice, he or she may expect no reward at all or a reduced reward. Landowners and occupiers will be eligible for rewards in such cases


How long will it take before I receive my reward?
The Code of Practice states that you should receive a reward within one year of you having delivered your find, although this may take longer in the case of very large finds or those that present special difficulties. If no museum wants to acquire the find it should be disclaimed within six months or within three months if it is a single object.