Updates to the definition of Treasure

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Under the new definition, this bronze-enamelled horse brooch dating between the 2nd and 4th centuries AD, which was discovered earlier this year, and is currently on display at the Collection, Lincoln, could potentially be labelled as Treasure. CREDIT: Portable Antiquities Scheme

The definition of what is considered ‘Treasure’ is to be revised by the Government, to broaden its parameters and provide increased protection for archaeological finds made in England and Wales. It will be the first change made to the Treasure Act since it came into effect nearly 25 years ago.

Previously, artefacts were labelled as Treasure if they were able to meet strict criteria, including being over 300 years old and made of gold or silver or found with other precious metal items. Treasure objects are property of the Crown, and can more easily be acquired by local or national museums.

This narrow definition, however, means that many significant finds do not qualify, meaning that they can be sold to private buyers and effectively lost to the public (a controversial example was that of the Crosby Garrett Roman cavalry helmet, which was sold in 2010 – see CA 287). Under the new criteria, the local and national significance of an object would be taken into consideration, not just its material properties, and this will hopefully mean more artefacts are able to be acquired by museums and put on display.

The proposed change comes after a consultation with finders, landowners, museums, and members of the public (CA 349). Next year, a specialist project will help inform the new definition and, during this process, archaeologists, curators, academics, and metal-detectorists will be able to contribute to its development.

Roger Bland, Chair of the Treasure Valuation Committee, said: ‘I welcome the publication of the Government’s response to the review of the Treasure Act, which contained a wide range of proposals intended to build on the great success of the Act. The public response to the Review was very substantial and has raised issues, such as those surrounding the definition of Treasure, which require further work to ensure the most important finds can be protected. This document marks an important step forward in transforming the treasure process, so that it continues to meet the aims of the Act. The Treasure Valuation Committee looks forward to working with the DCMS on these.’

For more information about reporting archaeological finds and the definition of treasure in England and Wales, see https://finds.org.uk/treasure. For the law in Scotland, see www.treasuretrovescotland.co.uk.

This news article appears in issue 371 of Current Archaeology. To find out more about subscribing to the magazine, click here.

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