Treasure (England and Wales)

Last Modified: 04 Jun 2014

800px-Sheet_Gold_Plaque,_Staffordshire_Hoard_by_John Callas

As a legal term, Treasure has been used in England and Wales to refer to specific categories of archaeological artefact.

‘Treasure’ can summon all sorts of images for people, including the romantic image of ‘buried’ and ‘sunken’ treasure in stories and games (Hobbs 2003: 10). Legally, ‘treasure’ defines the categories of artefacts covered by the Treasure Act 1996 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and by treasure trove systems in Scotland and the UK Crown Dependencies. When used in a legal sense, the term ‘Treasure’ is often spelt with a capital ‘T’ (e.g. PAS 2012).

In England and Wales, if an inquest judges an artefact to be Treasure under the Treasure Act 1996 (which came into effect on 24 September 1997), and its subsequent amendments, it legally passes into the possession of the Crown (or in some cases into possession of portfolios of land held on behalf of the Crown, for example the Duchies of Cornwall and Lancaster).

Defining Treasure

In order to classify legally as Treasure in England and Wales, a number of different criteria have to be met. According to the Treasure Act:

1. Treasure is—

(a) any object at least 300 years old when found which—

(i) is not a coin but has metallic content of which at least 10 per cent by weight is precious metal;

(ii) when found, is one of at least two coins in the same find which are at least 300 years old at that time and have that percentage of precious metal; or

(iii) when found, is one of at least ten coins in the same find which are at least 300 years old at that time;

(b) any object at least 200 years old when found which belongs to a class designated under section 2(1);

(c) any object which would have been treasure trove if found before the commencement of section 4.

(d) any object which, when found, is part of the same find as—

(i) an object within paragraph (a), (b) or (c) found at the same time or earlier; or

(ii) an object found earlier which would be within paragraph (a) or (b) if it had been found at the same time.


2. Treasure does not include objects which are—

(a) unworked natural objects, or

(b) minerals as extracted from a natural deposit, or which belong to a class designated under section 2(2). (HMSO 1996)

In addition, the Treasure (Designation) Order 2002 added further definitions to Treasure for items found after 1 January 2003:

3.  The following classes of objects are designated pursuant to section 2(1) of the Act.

(a) any object (other than a coin), any part of which is base metal, which, when found is one of at least two base metal objects in the same find which are of prehistoric date;

(b) any object, (other than a coin) which is of prehistoric date, and any part of which is gold or silver. (HMSO 2002)

Ulph (2012) has analysed the definition of Treasure, as expressed through the Act and the Treasure (Designation) Order, commenting on the complexity of the guidance provided. She observed, for example, that:

‘Where the objects are not coins, the definition includes any object over 300 years old which has a metallic content of which at least 10 per cent by weight is a precious metal (gold or silver). The Secretary of State can designate a class of object over 200 years old which he considers to be of outstanding historical, archaeological or cultural importance….’

‘…As regards coins, they must be over 300 years old and either there must be at least two coins found together with a metallic content of at least 10 per cent of a precious metal, or there must be at least 10 coins in the ‘same find’. Furthermore, if a metallic object is discovered amongst other objects in the above categories in the ‘same find’, that object is discovered will be viewed as treasure too.’

Ulph also comments that, for objects that fall outside of the definition of Treasure, such as the Crosby Garrett helmet that was discovered in Cumbria in 2010, there is little legal provision to curtail the sale of potentially significant pieces to private collectors rather than museums: ‘This may mean that the public and academics are deprived of the opportunity to study an object of considerable archaeological importance’ (Ulph 2012: 89).

Reporting Treasure

Possible Treasure should be reported to the Coroner, although in practice reporting is often through PAS staff . Further advice available through the website of the Department of Culture, Media and Sport for finders who may have discovered Treasure.

If a museum decides that it wishes to obtain an artefact that has been discovered and is classified as Treasure, the finder and/or landowner receive between them a reward equivalent to the market value of the artefact, as decided by the Treasure Valuation Committee (TVC), which is paid by the museum wishing to acquire the artefact (Bland 2009: 64). For England, the administration of the Treasure process is undertaken by the Department of Portable Antiquities and Treasure at the British Museum (Lewis 2010: 6). Since the 1960s, personnel at the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff have taken responsibility for processing Treasure claims from Wales, although still engaging with the TVC. Before then, and even since in a few cases, the British Museum processed Treasure from Wales as well (Hobbs 2003: 13). If a museum does not claim the Treasure, it is returned to the finder, who may wish to sell it, keep it, or even donate it to a museum or other organisation. The rights of the landowner in the event of a Treasure find are reasonably clear. In law, in England and Wales the ownership of any buried artefact passes with ownership of the land in which it is buried. Metal-detector users often enter into a ‘search agreement’ with the landowner. This is an understanding whereby a split, usually 50%, is agreed between the landowner and the metal-detector user. This agreement may result in the sharing of a Treasure reward, as happened with the Staffordshire Hoard in 2009 (Leahy and Bland 2009: 46), but could also be an offer to split the finds themselves (Grove 2005: 14). Usually this will be agreed in writing as well as verbally (Palmer 1995: 79). Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) offer an exemplar agreement at, although the legal effect of such an agreement can sometimes be ‘not free from doubt’ (HMRC n.d.).

In other parts of the UK – Scotland, Northern Ireland, and the UK Crown Dependencies – there are different legislative and administrative provisions. Treasure Trove in Scotland generally covers a broader range of circumstances in which materials may be legally claimed as ‘Treasure’. Unlike elsewhere within the UK the landowner has no rights over treasure trove finds made in Scotland, and the ex gratia award, if paid, is paid solely to the finder.

The UK Crown Dependencies follow systems very similar to the treasure trove system that operated in England and Wales prior to the Treasure Act. Northern Ireland has the Treasure Act 1996, but it is administered in conjunction with the Historic Monuments and Archaeological Objects (Northern Ireland) Order 1995, which has implications for metal detecting and other interactions that might uncover Treasure in Northern Ireland (see Hurl 2009).


Bland, Roger (2009), ‘The Development and Future of the Treasure Act and the Portable Antiquities Scheme’, in Suzie Thomas and Peter G Stone (eds.), Metal Detecting and Archaeology (Woodbridge: The Boydell Press), 63-86.

Grove, Brian (2005) The Treasure Hunter’s Handbook (London, Piatkus).

HMRC (n.d.), ‘CG77599 – Gains: disposal of found objects: not treasure: agreement between landowner/finder’, <>, accessed 25 October 2012.

HMSO (1996) ‘Treasure Act 1996′, <>, accessed 7 February 2013.

HMSO (2002) ‘The Treasure (Designation) Order 2002′, <>, accessed 7 February 2013.

Hobbs, Richard (2003), Treasure: Finding our Past (London: The British Museum Press).

Hurl, Declan (2009), ‘Metal Detecting in Northern Ireland’, in Suzie Thomas and Peter G Stone (eds.), Metal Detecting and Archaeology (Woodbridge: The Boydell Press), 99-106.

Leahy, Kevin, and Bland, Roger (2009), The Staffordshire Hoard, (London, The British Museum Press).

Lewis, Michael (2010), ‘Introduction’, in Michael Lewis (ed.), The Portable Antiquities Scheme Annual Report 2009 and 2010 (London: Department of Portable Antiquities and Treasure, British Museum), 5-6.

Palmer, Andrew (1995), The Metal Detector Book (London: B.T. Batsford Ltd.).

PAS (2012), ‘The Treasure Act’, <>, accessed 24 June 2012.

Ulph, Janet (2012) ‘Criminal Offences Affecting the Trade in Art and Antiquities’, in Janet Ulph and Ian Smith (eds.) The Illicit Trade in Art and antiquities (Oxford, Portland, Oregon: Hart), 78-145.

Useful Links: Treasure Act 1996 The Treasure Act 1996 The Treasure (Designation) Order 2002 Portable Antiquities Scheme (operates in England and Wales) Scottish Treasure Trove Unit Northern Ireland Environment Agency: Information for finders of Treasure in Northern Ireland Manx National Heritage (responsible for Treasure Trove administration on the Isle of Man) Jersey Heritage (responsible for Treasure Trove administration on Jersey) Guernsey Museum (responsible for Treasure Trove administration on Guernsey, Herm, Sark and Alderney)