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25 Apr 2014

Amateur treasure hunters are to thank for nearly 1m archaeological finds in the UK

The latest report on the Portable Antiquities Scheme reveals that metal detectorists were responsible for 90% of recorded discoveries

Amateur treasure hunters have been responsible for nearly 1m archaeological discoveries in the UK in the past 15 years. According to the latest annual report on the Portable Antiquities Scheme, which is run by the British Museum on behalf of the government, 920,000 finds have been made, of which 8,500 were declared to be “treasure”.

Of the 73,903 recorded discoveries in 2012, 90% percent were made by metal detectorists. Around 990 of these were declared “treasure”, essentially hoards or objects made with gold or silver. Museums are entitled to purchase such antiquities, jointly paying the finder and the landowner. Among the treasures discovered were a Roman hoard of jewellery and coins (second century AD) from Cheshire, a Roman copper vessel with decorated scenes (third century AD) from Kent, an Anglo-Saxon hoard (ninth century) from Norfolk and a silver ewer (1635-36) from Dorset.

The UK’s culture minister Ed Vaizey told The Art Newspaper that there would soon be a government consultation on a proposal to expand the definition of treasure to include objects of national importance that are not made of gold or silver. He says he has “an open mind” on the reform. The British Museum put up this idea several years ago, but the government has dithered, partly because an extension could create additional costs. 

An example of an important item that slipped out of the system, because it was not eligible to be labelled as “treasure”, was a Roman helmet (first to third centuries AD) found at Crosby Garett in Cumbria. It sold at Christie’s in 2010 for £2.2m to a private UK buyer. The helmet will be temporarily on loan to the British Museum, from 3 February to 27 April.

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