Metal Detecting Law in Scotland and Northern Ireland
March 16, 2012 Leave a comment
What to do if you make a find
- All finds, whether made by chance, by metal-detecting, fieldwalking or archaeological excavation are the property of the Crown and may be claimed as treasure trove
- If you have found a coin and/or object which is likely to be of historical or archaeological interest or importance you must report it for treasure trove assessment.
- If you are not sure what type of find should be reported please contact the Treasure Trove Unit (TTU) for advice in the first instance.
- It is important not to dismiss a find if you don’t know what it is. The most unpromising find can turn out to be an important missing piece of the past.
- The Case archive shows examples of recent finds which have been claimed as treasure trove and details of the museums to which they have been allocated.
How to report a find
- Download and complete a reporting form
- email it to: email@example.com
- or post it to the TTU
- or telephone and ask for a form to be sent to you
- If you have a digital image of the find you have made it is very helpful to include this as an email attachment or as a hard copy along with your form.
What will happen next
- The TTU will contact you to acknowledge receipt of your form
- If the find is suitable for further assessment or for recording purposes, arrangements will be made with you for the find to be delivered to the TTU.
- If the find is not appropriate for treasure trove purposes (eg Victorian and modern coins, Victorian and modern horse gear, brasses, buckles and fragments of machinery etc,) you will be advised.
Finds which are claimed as treasure trove
Finds which are not claimed as treasure trove
- Finds which are not claimed by the Crown are returned to the finder by the along with an individually numbered certificate stating that the Crown is not exercising its right to claim.
Treatment of finds
- Please do not clean or apply substances such as wax or lacquer etc to coins or objects you have found. Rewards will be reduced or waived for finds which have been treated and/or damaged by cleaning or the application of such substances.
- Please consult Treatment of finds page for information.
Illegal removal of finds from Scotland
- Under the Dealing in Cultural Objects (Offences) Act 2003, it is a criminal offence to remove any coin or object from Scotland, see http://www.hmso.gov.uk/acts/acts2003/20030027.htm
- Finders should make themselves familiar with the Legal position relating to treasure trove in Scotland where finds are the property of the Crown, not the finder or the landowner.
Use of a metal detector in Scotland
- Under Section 42 of the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act (1979) it is a criminal offence to use a metal detector on a scheduled ancient monument or a monument in the guardianship of the State. It is also an offence to remove from such a monument any object of archaeological or historical interest found using a metal detector. If in any doubt as to whether a site is scheduled you should check with Historic Scotland or the landowner.
The Treasure Act 1996 came 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 the Code of Practice on the Treasure Act, which can be obtained free of charge from the
Environment & Heritage Service (EHS). Metal detectorists are strongly advised to obtain a copy of
the Code of Practice which, among other things, contains guidance for detectorists and restrictions
on searching for archaeological objects, sets out guidelines on rewards, gives advice on the care
of finds and contains useful addresses.
What is the definition of treasure?
The following finds are treasure under the Act (more detailed guidance is given in the Code of
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 that 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
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’:
hoards that have been deliberately hidden;
✦ smaller groups of coins, such as the contents of purses, that may have been dropped or lost;
✦ 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 urban 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 previously have 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
the owners or their heirs cannot be traced.
The following types of finds are not treasure:
✦ objects whose owners can be traced;
✦ unworked natural objects, including human and animal remains, even if they are found in
association with treasure; and
✦ objects from the foreshore, which are wreck.
Metal detectorists should be aware of the restrictions imposed by the Historic Monuments and
Archaeological Objects (NI) Order 1995. If you search for archaeological objects without a licence
issued by the Department you may receive a fine of up to level 3 on the standard scale. If you are found in possession of a metal detector or similar device on a
protected site without such a licence you may receive a fine of up to level 4.
What should I do if I find something that may be treasure?
All finds of treasure must be reported to the coroner for the district in which they were found
14 days after the day on which you made the find or within 14 days after the day on which you
realised 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, fax, etc. The
coroner or his officer will send you an acknowledgement and tell you where to send your find. The
Code of Practice has a list of all coroners with their addresses, telephone
and fax numbers. A police station will also
be able to provide details of the local coroner
You could also bring your find to a museum or to EHS for examination and, if such a body determines
that the find might be treasure, they will report it to the local coroner on your behalf.
Where will I take my find?
You will normally be asked to take your find to the Ulster Museum, a local museum or EHS, if you
have not already done so. 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.
The body receiving the find will notify the Sites and Monuments Record in EHS 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. If the find was not brought originally to the Ulster Museum, the
receiving body will deliver it to them for investigation.
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, or both. You will not be breaking the law if you do not report a find
because you do not initially recognise that it might be treasure, but you must report it once you
do realise this.
What happens if the find is not treasure?
If the object is clearly not treasure, the museum or EHS 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, he will inform the
Ulster Museum. It will decide whether it wishes to acquire the find. If it does not, other
museums may express an interest
in acquiring the find.