Advice for finders of Treasure on archaeological projects

Excavations at Hitcham 2 (case study)

Along with members of the public, archaeologists are also required by law to report items of potential Treasure to the Coroner, and the items will then be subject to the normal Treasure process as potential property of the Crown. It is therefore highly recommended that archaeologists consider the implications of discovering Treasure on an excavation before beginning to dig. They should ensure that an adequate site repository is identified and that potential cleaning and conservation issues are anticipated.

The following guide has been written to advise archaeological teams on the different stages within the Treasure process.

1. As soon as possible after you realise that potential Treasure has been found, please notify your local Finds Liaison Officer (FLO) or the Treasure Section at the British Museum (treasure@britishmuseum.org). You will need to provide the following information:

  • Date of discovery
  • county and parish of findspot
  • national grid-reference of findspot
  • brief description of find

The Treasure Section will then issue you with a unique Treasure Reference Number in the following format: 2014 T123. Use this number in all correspondence regarding the find.

2. You must then inform the Coroner in the district in which the find was made, citing the reference number issued to you by the Treasure Section.

3. After reporting a find of treasure to the Coroner please send the following to the Finds Liaison Officer and the Treasure Section:

  • Completed treasure receipt. Please note that the finder is the organisation or group and not the individual member of the project that found the object.
  • Colour photographs supplied as .jpgs. Front and back images of objects are good. We don't need images of coins where a catalogue will suffice. Where there is a group of objects found in association, please use your common sense, individual photographs of gold and silver objects of note are essential but in many cases group shots can be taken, for example, of beads, metalworking waste or pottery sherds found in association.
  • The name of the designated site repository. There is a presumption that objects of Treasure found during the course of archaeological excavations or investigations will be kept with the rest of the archaeological archive. The repository housing that archive must however be willing to pay the landowner's share of any reward for the items of Treasure, unless the landowner waives their right to a reward.
  • A named point of contact within the archaeological team, their email and phone number
  • A short report for the coroner which will then be checked by the relevant curator at the British Museum. We appreciate that report-writing will take time. The report should be headed with the Treasure case number, item description and findspot followed by the following sections:
    • Circumstances of discovery: date of project and brief description of context
    • Description of the object/s focusing on why they are potential treasure (metal content/date) and any points of note. Where applicable, objects found in association must also be briefly detailed. For hoards of coins, a brief description of the group followed by a catalogue will suffice.
    • A statement of whether, and under what criteria, the case qualifies as Treasure under the terms of the Treasure Act 1996.

If there is difficulty writing a report, for example, where amateur archaeological groups are concerned, or in cases of rare or unusual items of treasure, the expertise of a British Museum curator may be required to help with the report writing. In such cases please contact us to discuss, usually we will ask for the items to be delivered to the British Museum; in such cases the FLO may be able to aide in transporting the item.

4. Inquest or Disclaim
The case cannot be concluded until the British Museum's Treasure Section advises the Coroner that the case needs to be heard at inquest or that the Crown disclaims its interest in the find and there is no need for an inquest. All of the elements of Step 3 (above) must be completed before this advice can be given. Cases will only be disclaimed if the landowner waives their right to reward, or if the site archive confirms that it will not pay to acquire the find and no other institution wishes to acquire it, in which case the find will be returned to the landowner. For all other cases, where acquisition by the site archive is intended AND the landowner wishes to claim a reward, the Treasure Section will advise the Coroner that an inquest is necessary.

5. After the inquest, assuming the find is declared Treasure, it will be valued and a reward paid to the landowner.

With regards to the payment of rewards the Treasure Act states that:

..rewards will not be payable when the find is made by an archaeologist or anyone engaged on an archaeological excavation or investigation.

This then applies to all archaeologists and volunteers working on any project. For clarity, we advise Project Directors to ask all participants to sign a statement waiving their right to a reward as a member of the project team.

Landowners are, however, entitled to claim their portion of the reward for treasure items, which is 50% of their market value. Landowners can waive this right and effectively donate the object/coins to the site archive. We endeavour to maintain the integrity of the site archive and therefore if the landowner does decide to claim, the designated site repository will be expected to acquire the object through the Treasure process by paying 50% of its market value. If the site repository is unwilling or unable to pay this, the objects may be acquired by another museum or returned to the landowner.

Upon discovery of potential treasure we would therefore like you to put the question to the landowner:

'Do you wish to waive or claim your right to a treasure reward?'

If the landowner waives their share we will write to the Coroner to instruct that the Crown's interest in the object has been disclaimed to the site archive. The landowner will receive a certificate of thanks from the Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries.

If the landowner wishes to claim we will write to the Coroner to request that an inquest is held, and once the object is officially declared Treasure, we will begin the valuation process. We will require a point of contact at the site repository who is authorised to agree the recommended valuation of the Treasure Valuation Committee and who can pay the subsequent invoice for the case. The landowner will be able to withdraw their interest in claiming a reward at any stage.

Where a landowner and repository are effectively one and the same, for example, the site is owned by a County Council which also manages the museum designated as the site repository it is nonsensical for the landowner to claim and in such cases they should be urged to waive their right to a reward.

It is preferable for the archaeologists to initiate the conversation regarding the reward, given existing contact with the landowner. The Treasure Section would advise you to use a proforma letter outlining the different options and the following paragraph can be used in cases where landowners are waiving.

For example:

"I, xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx, as landowners in Treasure case 20xx Txxx, confirm that I am happy to waive my right to a financial reward for the find, namely a xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx from xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx. I understand that this means the find will be disclaimed to remain with the main site archive, and thus be transferred, without a specific purchase, into the care and ownership of xxxxxxxxxxx Museum."

We are happy to take over communication with the landowner once a certain time has elapsed, or if you are finding it difficult to gain a decision from the landowner. Please note that members of the treasure department and the regional FLOs are not able to discuss the possible value of items of treasure. We can, however, refer interested parties to comparanda in the Treasure Annual Reports published through our website www.finds.org.uk/treasure.

If a landowner feels unable to decide, without knowing possible value, we suggest taking the case through to inquest and valuation as outlined above.

Paragraph 66 of the Treasure Act 1996 Code of Practice stipulates that the 'valuation will be as at the time of the finding of the object and in the condition in which it was found.' It is therefore advised that the only conservation performed on items of potential Treasure is done to ensure that the object is stabilised (not subject to further deterioration) or performed in order to aide in the identification of the find.

It is expected that items of potential treasure will be stabilised and stored by such means as has been planned for in the archaeological project. In the case of coins that require cleaning for identification, it is expected that this process will be carried out as part of the overall excavation report. This is the responsibility of the archaeological unit - not the British Museum or Portable Antiquities Scheme.

As a summary piece of advice, we hope that it has been made clear that it is wise for implications of the Treasure Act 1996 to be considered and factored into all archaeological project proposals from the start.

Social Bookmarking: