Archaeology out there - Council for British Archaeology

Treasure and Portable Antiquities

'Treasure hunting' appears to be becoming increasingly popular in the US and now the UK and it is  increasingly vital that everyone understands the potentially devastating impact this can have on archaeology.

'If you are thinking of rushing out to buy a metal detector to search an area near you and seek out your very own ‘treasure’, CBA Director Mike Heyworth comments, 'there are reasons why you should think again or ask the experts.'

'New discoveries have a lot to tell us about past human behaviour, but this can only happen if we record the fullest information about the finds and the place they are found. Evidence from the past is fragile and should not be damaged or lost in an attempt to generate financial profit for individuals. Britain’s treasures should be available for everyone to understand and appreciate, and kept safe and available for long-term study.'

Mike Heyworth on Britain's Secret Treasures

CBA Director Mike Heyworth on ITV1's Britain's Secret Treasures

How you can get involved

Team up with an archaeology group

The best way to extract evidence from the ground is via controlled, high-standard archaeological excavation. There are many groups across the UK who are capable of such high standards, both in the professional and voluntary sector, and it is best to join up with a local archaeology group if you have a passion for history and heritage.

Taking your interest further

If you're fascinated by Britain’s archaeology why not join the Council for British Archaeology and link up with like-minded enthusiasts who have a passion for developing our understanding of our archaeological heritage. There are also a number of amateur archaeology groups and societies who welcome new members across the UK.

Pile of Radiates copyright Portable Antiquities Scheme

Treasure hunting information

Why should we leave archaeology buried?

Britain’s landscape is full of archaeological sites. Many of these are not obvious, consisting of buried features like in-filled ditches and pits; structural remains such as walls, floors, or wells; or simply patterns of debris. Together, such traces contribute historical knowledge about where and how people lived.

In many cases it is better to leave objects and other evidence in the ground where it has been lying safely for hundreds or thousands of years. Here it remains safe for future generations to investigate with better techniques and with better-informed questions to ask.

Usually, intervention is only justified if the evidence is at risk of being lost or damaged, through development, climate change, or agricultural practices. In this case, any excavation work has to be carried out carefully to ensure that we extract as many clues as possible not just about any objects that are found, but about the full circumstances of the way in which they were initially buried and any materials or evidence buried in association with them.

Why should I leave finds where I find them?

Any new finds must be reported and recorded so that the information they offer can be shared. The place (or context) in which any find is made and associated materials will yield additional knowledge. In some parts of the country top-soils are thin, and archaeological remains may be close to the surface. Even these objects have an archaeological setting.

Any disturbance of the relationship between finds and their context will result in a loss of knowledge unless carried out appropriately. The cumulative plotting of individual finds can build up into historical patterns. This is why even a single find can add to our existing knowledge.

How do I report a find?

Report any object that is undisturbed in its primary context - in a container, or below the plough-soil - to the landowner and (with their agreement, unless it is a legal requirement) to an appropriate archaeologist. It is important to leave the find where it is so that the setting and circumstances can be assessed by an archaeologist. Liaison Officers in England and Wales and the Treasure Trove Unit in Scotland can help.

Protected sites

Anyone setting out to seek out new discoveries from the ground needs to be aware of the legal status of protected sites, such as Scheduled Ancient Monuments, legal issues about the ownership of finds, which vary across the UK, and legal requirements to report certain categories of finds.

In the United Kingdom most of the key nationally important archaeological sites are protected by law and permission is required from appropriate authorities before they can be investigated if that might involve damage, however modest, or removal of material from the site.

For England and Wales consult the Portable Antiquities Scheme and for Scotland you can find out more at Treasure Trove Scotland.

Treasure trove guidelines

In Scotland and Northern Ireland any objects found in the ground, with some exceptions of recent date, have to be reported to the appropriate authorities. In Scotland contact the Treasure Trove unit in the National Museum of Scotland.

In England and Wales there are fewer legal restrictions, unless items are classified by law as Treasure, but the views of the landowner are always important so relevant permissions need to be gained.

For information on Metal Detecting, Archaeology and the Law in Northern Ireland this guide will provide all the relevant information.

The laws and ethical codes that are in place apply to everyone, archaeologists as well as members of the public, and the key issue is often not the tools to be used but the attitude and intentions of the individuals undertaking the work.

Code for Responsible Metal Detecting

The Council for British Archaeology accepts responsible metal detecting undertaken in full compliance with the law can add to our knowledge about the past. The Code for Responsible Metal Detecting is supported by most national archaeological and detecting organisations. Anyone with a genuine interest in history will follow these best practice principles.

Any members of the public who find objects of potential archaeological interest should always take them to a local museum or (in England and Wales) to a local Finds Liaison Officer.

Treasure seekers

Individuals who seek out archaeological finds for personal financial gain or to amass a private collection without reporting their discoveries inevitably damage our potential understanding of the past. Once lost, this information is lost forever and the Council for British Archaeology deplores damaging activity by ‘treasure hunters’ and criminals which is highly detrimental to the safeguarding and understanding of our heritage.

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