The Heritage Minister has proposed a series of changes for the way Treasure finds are processed, and the PAS has released new metal-detecting guidance for landowners.
With recorded Treasure finds hitting a record high for the second year running (CA 347), Heritage Minister Michael Ellis MP has launched a public consultation on a review of the Treasure Act 1996.
Currently, Treasure is defined as gold and silver objects over 300 years old, or groups of coins and prehistoric metalwork (see https://finds.org.uk/ treasure). Under the proposed plans, this definition would be widened to include all finds that are over 300 years old and worth over £10,000. Such a step would avoid future cases like that of the Crosby Garrett Helmet (CA 287), a rare Roman cavalry helmet that, being made of copper alloy, did not qualify as Treasure (which museums are entitled to acquire) and was sold to a private collection.
Other considerations affect the Treasure process itself, including suggesting time-limits for some of the individual stages, and creating a legal duty for someone who acquires a find that they reasonably believe to be Treasure to report it to the Coroner.
Michael Lewis, Head of Portable Antiquities and Treasure at the British Museum, commented: ‘The Treasure Act [which lays a legal duty on a finder to report possible Treasure] has been very successful in ensuring that the most important archaeological finds have been acquired by museums, of which the Staffordshire Hoard is probably the most famous. Much of this success (in England) is thanks to the PAS and its national network of locally based Finds Liaison Officers, who liaise with finders – mostly metal-detectorists – to encourage them to record their discoveries. In 2018, this included 1,071 Treasure finds and almost 70,000 other items.
‘Since 2001, the last time the Act was reviewed, the world of metal-detecting and archaeology has substantially changed, and therefore this consultation is timely. In essence, it explores three main areas. First, should the definition of Treasure be changed to ensure more archaeological objects can enter into public collections, capturing nonmetallic items also? Second, normalising the Act so it better reflects current practice, and helping those involved with the processing of Treasure better to understand their obligations. Third, some changes are proposed that will ensure third-parties that come into possession of potential Treasure (such as antiquities dealers and those who inherit unreported Treasure) make proper due diligence checks, and also giving the enforcement authorities more time to pursue prosecutions under the Act.
‘The consultation ends with some questions that explore wider issues of reporting and recording. It asks, for example, whether all archaeological finds should be owned by the Crown (as in Scotland) or whether searching for archaeology should be licensed (as in Northern Ireland). It also highlights the fact that many detectorists wish to be better acknowledged for their contribution to the past, and therefore suggests dedicated training to give them the skills and expertise. Ultimately, it is up to the public to decide how the Act might be moulded in the future to better protect the past.’
The consultation closes on 30 April. For more information, and to have your say, visit www.gov.uk/government/consultations/revising-the-definition-of-treasure-in-the-treasure-act-1996-and-revising-the-related-codes-of-practice
New metal-detecting guidance for landowners
The Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS), working with the Country Land & Business Association (CLA) and the National Farmers’ Union (NFU), has developed guidance for landowners who allow hobby metal-detecting on their land. Metal-detecting, when undertaken responsibly (in accordance with the Code of Practice on Responsible Metal-Detecting in England and Wales) can add value to archaeology. The purpose of this new guidance is to enable landowners to be better informed about metal-detecting, the law regarding searching for archaeology, and how metal-detecting can best contribute to our understanding of the past.
Michael Lewis, head of the PAS, said: ‘It is up to the landowner to decide who they allow to search for archaeology on their land, although some parts of their landholding might be out of bounds: for example, it is illegal to detect on scheduled monuments in England without the permission of Historic England. Metal-detecting in the UK is not regulated – therefore, while there are people out detecting with genuine passion for the past, others are merely treasure-hunters with little regard for archaeology. For the landowner, this represents a challenge, since most will only want to give permission to people who will do the right thing, especially as some land will have been cared for by generations of the same family. This new guidance therefore recommends that landowners have a written agreement with would-be finders, outlining clearly the nature of the permission and what happens to any finds that are discovered.’
He added: ‘By law, all archaeological finds (apart from those that are Treasure) belong to the landowner. Although most archaeologists will believe that such finds should end up in public collections, most museums are unable to take in everything that is found, even if it is donated. This guidance therefore suggests that landowners ask to see all items found on their land, and that archaeological finds are recorded with the PAS. In the case of Treasure (which finders are required to report by law, and which museums are entitled to acquire), landowners might waive their right to a reward, so that important finds can be acquired by local museums.
‘In essence, the guidance reminds landowners that they have an important role in ensuring the history of their land is protected and preserved, and that this story of the past is also shared.’
For the full guidance and a pdf of the leaflet ‘Metal-detecting on your land – know your rights’, visit https://finds.org.uk/getinvolved/guides/guidancelandowners.
This article appeared in issue 349 of Current Archaeology.
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