The Treasure Act 1996: Definition Summary
Finding any of the following after the 24th of September 1997 (or the 1st of January 2003 for category 2) will be defined as treasure under the Act:
- Any metallic object, excluding coins, if at least 10% by weight of metal is precious metal (e.g. silver or gold) and at least 300 years old when found. Furthermore, objects of prehistoric date are treasure if any part is a precious metal.
- Any group of at least two (2) metallic objects of any composition of prehistoric date if discovered in the same find.
- At least two (2) coins discovered in the same find if they are at least 300 years old when found and contain at least 10% silver or gold. Coins containing less than 10% of silver or gold need to be a find of at least ten (10) coins. As a rule, being considered as coming from the same find, means they should be (any):
- Hoards that would have been hidden ‘deliberately’.
- Smaller groups of coins (e.g. contents of a purse that were most likely dropped or lost).
- Votive (e.g. offered or consecrated in fulfillment of a vow) or ritual deposits.
- Objects found in the same place as any other ‘treasure’ (or had previously been together with) – no matter what the composition.
Finds also include any object previously considered as treasure trove that does not fall within any of the specific categories.
Objects less than three hundred years old, made substantially of silver or gold, and hidden deliberately with the intention of recovery (and whose owners or heirs are unknown), will also fall into this second category.
Note: Despite becoming scattered since originally deposited in the ground, if found in the same place as, or had previously been together with, another object or coin, it will be part of the ‘same find’.
Check if an Item is Treasure or Wreck
In most cases, the first step is checking whether the item you found will count as treasure or as wreck material (see above). Also, finders of potential treasure can contact the Finds Liaison Officers for further advice about reporting treasure in England and Wales.
Items that Count as Wreck Material
Things from aircrafts, hovercrafts (e.g. vessels), or ships could be wreck material if someone finds them on the sea shore or in tidal water (including parts of cargo or equipment).
The four main categories of wreck material are:
- Flotsam (goods that remained afloat after being lost from a ship that sank).
- Jetsam (things cast overboard from a ship in danger of sinking).
- Derelict (property abandoned at sea with no hope of recovering it – including cargo and vessels).
- Lagan (buoyed goods meant to be recovered after being cast overboard from a ship that actually sinks).
As a general rule, despite including buoys that form part of fishing equipment, wreck material would not include:
- Boats that come off their moorings.
- Buoys (e.g. markers or mooring buoys).
Note: The Receiver of Wreck (see contact details below) will confirm whether an item you found is going to be classed as wreck material.
How to Report Wreck Material
When reporting recovered wreck material to the Receiver of Wreck, it must take place within twenty eight (28) days of the find to avoid a £2,500 fine. Doing so gives the legal owner the opportunity to get their property returned to them.
Fill in the ‘Report of wreck and salvage’ form MSF 6200 (or get it from the local coastguard) and send it to the Receiver of the Wreck. It is best to send it by email during the coronavirus outbreak (COVID-19).
In recognition of the efforts and costs of saving an item, and then returning it to its rightful owner, the original finder may have entitled to a ‘salvage award’.
The Maritime and Coastguard Agency has further information about wreck and salvage law, the role of ‘Receiver of the Wreck’, wreck owners and salvors, and how to report wreck material.
After a Treasure Find is Reported
The rules for finding treasure in the United Kingdom state you must report it to the local coroner within fourteen (14) days of the find. But, only items officially defined as treasure need reporting (see above).
You can also read further guidance about searching for, and reporting, archaeological finds in England during the COVID-19 pandemic.
After reporting found treasure, one of the local Finds Liaison Officers would contact you. They would ask how and where you made the find, supply you with a receipt, and write a report on the find (some museums may express an interest in treasure finds).
As a rule, you would receive an invite to attend the inquest (held by the coroner) and have an opportunity to ask questions. They may also invite the site occupier and the actual landowner of the find.
Note: Failing to report a treasure find can result in an unlimited fine or a maximum of three (3) months in prison.
What if a Museum Wants the Treasure?
The main role of the Treasure Valuation Committee is deciding how much treasure finds are worth. Furthermore, they would determine how much, if any, would go to eligible parties for a share of the find.
The finder, site occupier, and the landowner, all have an opportunity to comment on the actual valuation. You can also send your own valuation for consideration by the committee.
What if there is no agreement after the review? In this case, the committee may also review any decision about its value, or appeal to the Department for Culture Media and Sport (DCMS).
Getting a Share of the Reward
There are several ways of determining who gets a share of the reward. In general, a share will go to the finder of the treasure (providing they acted in good faith and had permission to be on the land) and:
- A person or an organisation with freehold on the land.
- Someone occupying the land (e.g. as a tenant of the owner).
Archaeologists do not usually have entitlement to a share of rewards. Also, acting in bad faith (e.g. trespassing, trying to hide a find) means you may not get any reward – or receive a reduced share.
What if the find fails to count as treasure or no museum wants it? In this case, they will return the items to you, and inform the site occupier and landowner. They would have an opportunity to make an objection (within 28 days).
Note: Rewards for treasure finds can take up to one (1) year to receive (even longer for disputed finds or large hauls).
Related Help Guides
The British Museum can provide further information about finding treasure or give expert advice about a specific treasure find.
British Museum Portable Antiquities Scheme
Mail: [email protected]
British Museum Treasure Registry
Mail: [email protected]
You can also contact the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) for other relevant enquiries.
Mail: [email protected]