Treasure trove: Metal-detecting finds up by 20 per cent in a year

By Marie Woolf, Political Editor

14 January 2007

This ancient brooch is now in a Norfolk museum

For most treasure seekers the promising glint of a gold coin in the garden has turned out on closer inspection to be a rusting bottle top. However, a report to be published this week will show that more buried treasure than ever is being reported found in the UK by amateur archaeologists armed with metal detectors.

The number of reported valuable finds has increased by nearly 20 per cent in the last year, with discoveries including iron age and medieval hoards, Roman coins and exquisite examples of Anglo-Saxon jewellery.

The official report will show that thousands of finds are being reported each year and that 506 discoveries were significant enough to be declared as treasure trove. The remarkable increase has caused huge excitement among museums and in government.

David Lammy, the Minister of Culture, said that metal detetectorists who spend days scanning newly ploughed fields in the hope that a beep will lead them to buried treasure are doing a huge service to Britain's cultural life.

"Metal detectorists are the unsung heroes of the UK's heritage. Thanks to the responsible approach they display in reporting finds and the systems we have set up to record them, more archaeological material is available for all to see at museums or to study online," he said.

The finds have included a £100,000 hoard of five golden armlets and bracelets dating from 1300BC which were discovered in Berkshire. Archaeologists were also excited by the discovery of an early medieval pendant in West Shropshire by amateur archaeologists Glyn and Glenys Jones in November 2004.

The gold pendant, composed of a well-polished garnet surrounded by a border of small garnets set over waffle-patterned gold, dates from the 7th century. It is thought to have been strung with other pendants on a necklace belonging to a person of high status. It was similar to pieces of jewellery found in Anglo-Saxon cemeteries in Kent.

Metal detectors can be used with the permission of landowners but are banned on scheduled archaeological sites such as Stonehenge.

The rise in the number of reported finds follows a change in the law in 1997 which has required buried treasure to be reported. The increase from 79 treasure finds in 1997 has led to a huge increase in the number of artefacts being offered to museums. The new rules offer an incentive to metal detectorists to declare the treasure because they will gain half of the proceeds of its sale.

If it is officially declared as treasure by the local coroner, the proceeds are split between the owner of the land where the artefact was found and the finder. In 2001, Chris Bradshaw shared in a £250,000 reward after he found a Bronze Age golden cup in Kent.

Dr Roger Bland, head of portable antiquities and treasure at the British Museum, said treasure seekers not only turned up surprising finds, they also often revealed entirely unknown sites to archaeologists.

But not all the discoveries have made the treasure seeker's fortune. One man made just £25 from a fragment of a silver finger ring dating from 100AD.