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In England, How are Discoveries of Treasure Handled?

To be defined as treasure in England, something must contain at least 10% precious metal.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 15 November 2014
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Many nations have strict laws governing the discovery of a treasure trove. These laws are designed to ensure that precious archaeological finds can be acquired by national museums and studied, rather than vanishing into the antiquities market. In nations with thousands of years of history which include numerous cultures, as is the case in England, the law as it pertains to the discovery of a treasure trove is very specific. Law-abiding treasure hunters abide by the terms of English law, because they are allowed to keep some items, and they are compensated for items taken by the Crown.

Under English law, when someone dies without leaving a will, his or her property passes into the ownership of the Crown. The same thing applies with treasure. If treasure was obviously buried or secured, it must be turned over to the Crown when it is discovered. If, however, property is lost, it belongs to the person who finds it. When someone discovers a treasure trove, they are obligated to report the find to the coroner, who is responsible for determining who the treasure belongs to.

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To be defined as treasure in England, something must contain at least 10% precious metal, such as gold or silver. It must also be more than 300 years old. Prehistoric artifacts made from base metals are also considered to be treasure. A treasure trove involves two or more items of individual treasure. For example, two gold coins is a treasure trove, as is a collection of Celtic copper dishes and utensils.

When a treasure trove is found, typically the items are left on site while a coroner is summoned to document the scene and remove the items. The items are taken into temporary custody while the ownership rights are determined. While in custody, the treasure trove is typically studied, documented, and valued. If the treasure is determined to be the property of the Crown, the finder is offered compensation and the pleasure of knowing that his or her find is of historical importance. If the treasure trove belongs to the finder, extensive documentation of the artifacts exists, thanks to the studies conducted on it.

Treasure hunting in England is a popular pastime, because of the plethora of artifacts which can be found. Some groups lead guided treasure hunting tours, allowing visitors to search for treasures under the guidance of professionals who are also well acquainted with the law. In many cases, a treasure trove is unearthed by a farmer or gardener, entirely unintentionally. Whether a professional treasure seeker or an unwitting gardener, failure to report the discovery of a treasure trove to the authorities will have legal consequences.

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