Deadline approaching for Treasure Act consultation

Proposed changes could see museums acquire more finds
Catherine Kennedy
Museums in England, Wales and Northern Ireland could soon be offered a greater number of important finds following a review of the Treasure Act (1996), which gives public collections first refusal on significant archaeological, historical and cultural discoveries.

The legislation currently obliges finders to report discoveries of gold and silver objects that are at least 300 years old, or coins of any age that are part of a hoard, to a coroner.

Proposed changes, which are open for consultation until 30 April, include extending the definition of treasure to cover all finds that have been valued at more than £10,000, rather than just those made substantially of gold or silver, as well as obliging finders to report single gold coins dated between AD43 and 1344. The definition will also be broadened to include base metal Roman objects.

It is hoped that the changes will make it easier for museums to acquire items like the Crosby Garrett Helmet, which was discovered in 2010 but sold to a private collection because its copper alloy composition meant it did not fall under the act.

The changes are also intended to address a recent boom in the number of metal detectorists, encouraging people to carry out the hobby responsibly and making it easier for the authorities to pursue those who fail to declare finds.

Increasing awareness of the treasure process has led to a 1500% growth in reported finds, from 79 in 1997 to 1,267 in 2017, causing experts to warn that the system could be overwhelmed. To address this, a number of administrative changes are also proposed, including the introduction of a 28-day time limit for museums to declare an interest in a find in order to make the process more efficient.

In order to prevent a high volume of low-value finds being reported, the definition of treasure will change from a rolling 300-year date to a static date of pre-1714.

Museums will also be required to research the possible value of an item before expressing an interest to prevent resources being wasted on having non-eligible items valued through the formal treasure process. An exemption will be introduced for finds that fall under the Church of England’s control.

Michael Lewis, the head of portable antiquities and treasure at the British Museum, said: “The treasure review is consultative, so it will depend on what the government decides to implement.
"However, it is clear that the main aims of the review are to: normalise the treasure process to reflect current practice; reassess the definition of treasure; make it easier for the law enforcement authorities to effectively pursue those who fail to report potential treasure and to think about how we deal with the growth of the hobby of metal-detecting – recognising that many people wish to undertake that activity responsibly, while some do not.

“Any extension of the definition of treasure could have a resource implication on museums, in terms of them being offered more finds for potential acquisition, though the government is also suggesting a cut-off date for treasure of 1714 instead of the current rolling date of anything over 300 years old.

“The review also suggests setting out more clearly the timeframe for the treasure process, so that relevant parties are clearer on their obligations under the act. For example, the government is keen for museums not to declare interest in finds they are unlikely to be acquire, to save administration and unnecessary payment for treasure valuations.”

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