What Do You Do if You Find A Hoard?

It’s estimated that there are over twenty thousand detectorists in the UK. That’s men and women who regularly go out on fields and beaches with metal detectors.

Many are inspired by their interest in history, for others it’s a treasure hunt promising invaluable riches. The chances are slim but it’s not impossible and if you do literally strike gold, what happens next?


Gold torc - Bronze Age
About 5 inches across. Gold torc – Bronze Age. Soon became property of the Crown under the Treasure Act 1996. It is beautiful. Can only imagine the high status of the person who owned this.

Where To Look

Before considering the law with regards to the finding of hoards, it’s important to be familiar with the legal implications of detecting itself.

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You can’t just buy a metal detector and start using it in the nearest park or field, as there’s a good chance you’ll be trespassing. Of course this doesn’t apply to land you own yourself or with others. It’s yours, so you can do what you want on it.

bronze age swords
Bronze Age swords

You don’t have to own acres either. If you’re new to metal detecting, your garden is as good a place as any to start. You’re unlikely to find that elusive hoard, especially if you live on a modern estate.


But if your house is centuries old and used to be a pub, who knows? Whichever, a bit of back garden detecting will get you used to your machine and you might find a few dropped coins or an item lost by previous owners.

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It’s more likely though that the land you’re detecting on is owned by somebody else and ideally you need written permission to detect on it. Should the worst happen and you end up on the wrong end of a court case, verbal permission may not be enough.

If you do get permission to go onto someone else’s land, be careful that no damage is done. If you’re on a farmer’s planted field, keep to the edges so you don’t walk over the crop.

You can always return after the field has been harvested, with the farmer’s agreement of course. If you’re in a field with animals, be cautious.

Getting permission from a farmer is just a matter of asking. Many are happy to allow detectorists onto their land, for a share of the spoils. Others are not so obliging.

Items from the Staffordshire hoard which were declared to be treasure in September 2009
Items from the Staffordshire hoard which were declared to be treasure in September 2009

If you want to use your detector in a local park you’ll need permission from the council and it’s not always given. Many parks are long established so have a history of being used as places of recreation.

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If the council does agree to you detecting there, you probably won’t be the first, so the easier finds will have already been made.

If you live near the coast, the beach is somewhere you can use your metal detector without having to ask approval. After a storm is the best time to try your luck, but with the tide coming in a twice a day, something new could have been washed up every time you go.

As beaches erode and sand moves over time, items that have been buried for years can move nearer the surface.

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There are also coins and sometimes jewellery that are dropped by modern day visitors, as they change clothes to soak up some sun or go for a dip in the sea. But these sink very quickly into soft sand and might only be detectable after a heavy sea.

You don’t have to go it alone. There are metal detecting clubs in most areas, who welcome beginners and new members. Some own their own land, while others arrange days out when all the members detect on one site. It’s also a great place to meet people who share your interest and to learn from more experienced detectorists.

Why Are Hoards There?

Iron Age coins
A hoard of Iron Age coins from Beverly, East Riding of Yorkshire, England.

Several incredible hoards have been found in the UK over the last quarter of a century and no two are the same. They’ve been discovered in different areas geographically, are from different time periods, with contents ranging from the practical to the precious, including coins, jewellery and even bullion.

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But why has so much been hidden in the ground? Over two thousand coin hoards have been found from just Roman Britain. They are generally thought to have been buried in times of upheaval.

Their owners had every intention of recovering them but for some reason were unable to do so. Death or not being able to pinpoint the exact location probably being the most common.

Other hoards are thought have been buried with no intention of recovery. They were ritual offerings, possibly deposited over many years by farming communities trying to ensure good weather and harvests.

Reporting a Hoard

When a hoard is found, there is a legal obligation to notify the authorities. If you discover what you believe is treasure, the penalty for not reporting it can be up to three months imprisonment, or a fine of up to five thousand pounds. This is to ensure that finds of historic importance are not lost to the nation.

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What are the correct steps to take if you chance upon a hoard? First of all, just enjoy the moment. This is a rare event, so take time to appreciate it. What you’re going to want to do, but absolutely shouldn’t, is start sharing the news.

The Ringlemere Cup
The Ringlemere Cup, found in 2001 in the Ringlemere barrow in Kent, England, which was declared to be treasure under the Treasure Act 1996 and is now displayed in the British Museum. Made of gold, it dates to the Bronze Age, between 1700 and 1500 BC.

It takes just seconds to put a photograph on social media or ring a friend, but the word will get out fast and before you know it, others will arrive and start disturbing the site.


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For the time being, keep the news to yourself and protect the details of your find until you can get expert help.

The hoard will either be ‘in situ’, which is concentrated together in one place, or if it’s in farmer’s field, possible scattered due to ploughing. In situ finds should be left as they are. Scattered coins can be collected, but a note should be made of where each was found.

The hoard should be covered up again and a note made of the find spot. A GPS Tracker or an app such as ‘What 3 Words’ can really help in relocating the spot.

Bronze Age axe
An incredible find, note the axe head moulds.

As an extra precaution, you can go old-school and do what they would have done before we all carried around such advanced tech in our pockets and take photographs of landmarks to help mark the location.

If you carry on digging there is a chance that you will destroy valuable archaeological evidence and reduce any reward that might be coming your way.

The Coroner

At the time of writing, under the 1996 Treasure Act, all treasure finds must be reported to the coroner in the relevant district within fourteen days of the day of discovery, or within fourteen days of the day on which you realised it might be treasure, for example after having it identified.

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You can report your find in person, by letter, telephone, fax or email. At this stage, the only other person you should inform about what you’ve uncovered is the owner of the land on which you made your find.

Staffordshire helmet
The Staffordshire helmet cheek guard. This Anglo-Saxon helmet was discovered in 2009 as part of the Staffordshire Hoard.

The coroner will then appoint a Finds Liaison Officer (FLO). A network of FLOs has been established across England and Wales and they will be your point of contact.

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They will take responsibility for the find and decide what’s going to happen next, arranging and organising funding for an archaeological dig if required.

If the treasure is not a hoard, but an individual find which you’ve recovered from the ground and removed from the site, you will be asked to take it in for assessment.

Where Should I Take My Find?

In each Coroner’s district, there is a local agreement between the Coroner, the FLO, local archaeologists and museums about where finds should be taken. You’ll be advised where this is in your area and the person receiving the find will give you a receipt. They’ll want to know details of where the find was made.

What Is Treasure?

So what is actually classed as treasure under the Treasure Act and need to be reported?

Firstly any metallic object other than a coin, if at least ten percent of the metal is gold or silver and which is at least three hundred years old when found.

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All coins from the same find if they are at least three hundred years old when found. If the coins are ten percent gold or silver or more, there must be at least ten of them.

To be regarded as coming from the same find the coins should be thought to be part of a hoard that was deliberately hidden, or be part of a smaller group of coins that has been dropped or lost, such as the contents of a purse. Coins buried for religious or ritual purposes also fall into this category.

When something is declared as treasure, any object whatever it is made of, that was found in the same place or had been with it, is also treasure. When hoards get scattered over ploughed fields, coins that were buried together might be found separately.

Lastly there are objects which are less than three hundred years old which are substantially made of gold or silver, that have been deliberately hidden with the intent of recovery and who’s owners and heirs are unknown.

It’s probably also useful to know what finds don’t qualify as treasure. Firstly it isn’t treasure if the owner can be traced.

Objects on the foreshore from shipwrecks, single coins on their own and groups of coins lost one by one over a period of time also wouldn’t qualify. If there’s any doubt, the Finds Liaison Officer will always advise.

If A Find Is Declared Treasure

If the FLO, museum curator or archaeologist believes your find is treasure, they will inform the British Museum or the National Museums and Galleries of Wales, who will decide if they or any other museum want to acquire it from the Crown.

If no museum wants it, the Secretary of State will disclaim it and the Coroner will notify the landowner that the find will be returned to you in twenty eight days, unless the landowner objects. If there is an objection, the Coroner will keep the find until you and the landowner have resolved any dispute.

If a museum does want the find, the Coroner will hold an inquest. You and the landowner will be invited to attend and can question any witnesses. Finds declared treasure are then valued by independent experts. You can also have your own valuation done.

Once a valuation is agreed, the people entitled to a share are the finder, the landowner and the occupier of the site as tenant of the owner. Ideally the time between the finder handing over the find to the person nominated and the payment of a reward should be no longer than twelve months, if no challenges are made to valuations. With a large hoard though, it will probably be longer.

If a find is deemed not to be treasure, the Coroner may well return it without an inquest.

No-one knows how many hoards are still waiting to be discovered. But they are out there and as time goes by, more will be recovered. Each will be found by someone and with a little bit of good fortune, that someone could be you.

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