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Anglo Saxon Gold Hunting with a Metal Detector - What If You Find Some?

Find Out About the UK's Treasure Laws and What Happens if You Find Hidden Gold

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Anglo Saxon Gold Hunting with a Metal Detector - What If You Find Some?

Gold from the Staffordshire Hoard of Anglo Saxon Gold

Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
Updated April 28, 2014
Every metal detector fan in the UK - and possibly the world - could not help but envy Terry Herbert whose hidden treasure find, unveiled to the world in September 2009, was the biggest hoard of Anglo Saxon gold ever found in the UK.

After 18 years of treasure hunting with his metal detector, Herbert uncovered a hoard that contained more than 1,500 individual pieces of seventh century, Anglo Saxon gold and silver. Once the hoard is valued, Herbert and the farmer on whose land the gold was found stand to divide a seven figure sum in reward money.

So Finders Keepers Then?

Not exactly. Technically, all hidden treasure found in the UK belongs to the Queen. So how does that work? What are the rights of the finder and what are his or her legal obligations.

The laws that apply to finding hidden treasure in the UK used to be called "Treasure Trove". In the mid-1990s the law was slightly changed by the Treasure Act of 1996. The law is different in Scotland, which still uses the older treasure trove common law rules.

Is it Treasure or Treasure Trove?

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, objects are considered treasure if they are:
  • at least 300 years old
  • made of at least 10 per cent of a precious metal – gold or silver - if not prehistoric.
  • made of precious metal in any amount or part if the object is prehistoric
  • coins that are least 10 per cent gold or silver. If a coin hoard as a whole does not contain that proportion of precious metal, then at least 10 individual coins must.
The 1996 Act also removed the obligation of proving that the objects were buried and that they were deliberately hidden with the intention of digging them up at a later date.

In Scotland, the Common Law of Treasure Trove is still the law of the land. Any buried hoard or item of archaeological interest, regardless of whether it is made of precious metal, is treasure trove and belongs to the Crown. The law applies to objects found by chance rather than during an archaeological dig.

If You Find Treasure

Throughout the United Kingdom the process is similar, although different authorities and valuing bodies are involved in Scotland. If you find objects that you believe to be treasure, you must report your find the appropriate authority. In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, finds must be reported to the Coroner within 14 days - and failure to do so can get you a £5,000 fine and three months in jail.

What Happens Next?

The coroner holds an inquest to determine if the object is, in fact, treasure. If it is not treasure, it will be returned to the finder, who may keep it - after settling any claims made by the owner of the land on which it was found and any tenant of the land.

If it is treasure, it will be offered to appropriate museums. If no museum chooses to bid on it, the Crown may relinquish its claim and, once again, it is returned to the finder.

And If It Is Treasure?

Once the coroner determines that an item is treasure, a valuation committee, made up of experts in the appropriate fields, determine a market value. In England, valuation takes place at the British Museum and in Wales at the National Museum of Wales. The Department of the Environment for Northern Ireland performs that duty in Northern Ireland, and in Scotland it is the National Museums of Scotland. Museums can then bid on the objects and what they pay is generally awarded as a reward to be shared by the finder, the landowner and the tenant or occupier of the land.

A Reward?

The finder of treasure has no legal right to any payment at all. In Scotland, this is made very clear in the policy on Treasure Trove: "Finders have no ownership rights to any find they make in Scotland and all finds, with the exception of Victorian and 20th century coins, must be reported to the Treasure Trove Unit for assessment."

Similar wording is used to describe finders rights and entitlements in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

But in practice, the finder and the landowner are almost always awarded the full market value of the object, paid by the museum that acquires the treasure, to share, 50-50. Which is how Mr. Herbert, finder of the Staffordshire Hoard of Anglo Saxon gold, and his friend the farmer, stand to split more than £1 million - maybe a lot more.

More Resources for UK Treasure Hunters

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