London, December 4
The UK government has made changes to its Treasure Act to ensure other metals such as bronze and copper are also covered alongside traditionally recognised gold and silver.
The move is one of the biggest changes to the act since it came into effect nearly 25 years ago for more archaeological finds to be protected for the state.
Under the existing definition, objects are designated as treasure if they are found to be over 300 years old, made of gold or silver or found with artefacts made of precious metals.
Once officially identified as “treasure”, artefacts become the property of the Crown or the Queen and are available for acquisition by local or national museums to go on public display.
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) said the growing popularity of metal detecting since the inception of the act in 1996 has brought to light an increasing number of finds from Roman Britain that do not meet the current treasure criteria because they are often made from bronze and not precious metals.
“The search for buried treasures by budding detectorists has become more popular than ever before and many ancient artefacts now see the light of day in museums’ collections,” said UK Culture Minister Caroline Dinenage.
“However, it is important that we pursue plans to protect more of our precious history and make it easier for everyone to follow the treasure process,” she said.
Under the new plans, a new definition will be developed to ensure that major finds can be designated as treasure if they are historically or culturally significant.
This will be the first time the official treasure definition will not be based solely on the material qualities of an artefact, aimed at allowing local and national museums to acquire more objects for public collections.
The DCMS took the action as some items of perceived national importance have been lost to the public or at risk of sale into private collections. Recent finds include a bronze-enamelled horse brooch from between the second and fourth century AD, which resembles earlier designs of the Iron Age period.
As a rare example from this era, the government said national and local significance of the object could be recognised under a new definition of treasure. However, when it was discovered earlier this year, the brooch was not recognised under the Treasure Act.
“Thanks to the generosity of the finder in this instance, the brooch is currently on display at the Collection at Lincoln, however, the planned proposals published today will secure the future of objects like this one,” the DCMS said.
Another “exceptionally rare” Roman figurine wearing a cloak known as the Birrus Brittanicus would also have been lost to the public.
The figurine was found near Chelmsford in 2014, but despite being an extremely unusual example of a British character being depicted in Roman portable art, the artefact’s copper alloy composition did not meet the current definition of treasure.
Due to a deferred export licence delaying the sale, Chelmsford City Museum was able to raise the funds to purchase the figurine to display for the local community.
A specialist research project running through next year will inform the new definition, with opportunities for detectorists, archaeologists, museums, academics and curators to contribute to options in development.
The development follows a consultation process conducted by the UK government ahead of the new measures to improve the experience of the treasure process, which include a new time limit to streamline some stages of the process, limiting the number of times the Treasure Valuation Committee can review a case, and developing a mechanism to return unclaimed rewards to museums. PTI