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| 1 minute read

Likely change to the definition of treasure to protect more UK artefacts

The Government has announced that the legal definition of "treasure" is set to be expanded. Contained within the Treasure Act 1996, "treasure" is currently defined as "any object" which is "at least 300 years old" made "from precious metal" and is part of a collection of valuable objects or artefacts. However, the new test for significance would include "objects of historical importance more than 200 years old", made of any type of metal, meaning objects made of non-precious metals could be classed as treasure. One such example is the "exceptionally rare" Bronze Age Rudham dirk, a ceremonial dagger which is currently being displayed at Norwich Museum.

The move has been prompted by a boom in metal detecting (owing to lockdown and recent television programmes such as Detectorists), as well as several recent discoveries which have fallen outside the scope of the definition, including the more recent Ryedale Hoard, which contains a 1,800 year old bust of Marcus Aurelius. Though this hoard and other discoveries have been acquired by museums, fears have been expressed that if the definition is to stay as it is, important, significant findings could end up in private hands, depriving the public of "local, national or regional history". Therefore the change in legal definition will make the discoveries of treasure easier for museums to acquire, and will help shed light on local history for people.

For some, this is an unwelcome change, as under the act, treasure is owned by the Crown and if identified must be reported to the relevant authorities within 14 days. The former secretary for the Colchester Metal Detecting Club, Maurice Rogers has commented that the proposed change could drive the popular practice of metal detecting underground, with individuals seeking to hoard their finds privately.

If changes are approved they will come into force four months after signing.


art law, cultural property, treasureact, treasure, cultural heritage, artefacts