More than 1,300 pieces of treasure were found in the UK during 2019 – the largest haul since records began – amid growing interest in metal detecting.
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport’s (DCMS) annual report on treasure finds in England, Wales and Northern Ireland said there were more than 1,000 discoveries for a sixth year in a row.
The vast majority, 96%, were discovered by metal detecting. Norfolk, Lincolnshire, Essex and Hampshire were identified as hotspots for treasure with more than 80 pieces found in each county during 2019.
There are approximately 20,000 detectorists in England and Wales, and 348 of their discoveries were acquired by or donated to UK museums in 2019. Of the found treasure, 84% were “object cases”, meaning non-coin finds.
Changes to the law have been proposed that will mean artefacts found in England and Wales are to be defined as treasure if they are of historical or cultural significance.
Under current rules, objects become treasure if they are made of gold or silver, found with artefacts made of precious metals or if they are more than 300 years old.
The rule changes are supposed to protect items including a number of Roman finds, such as a figurine found near Chelmsford, Essex, in 2014 that did not meet the definition of treasure because it was made from a copper alloy.
“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 the 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.”
In a recent New Yorker article, the BBC show The Detectorists, starring Toby Jones and Mackenzie Crook, was identified as being behind a boom in the amateur pursuit. “The show’s representation of the detectorists is wistful; their search is not just for treasure but for companionship and masculine identity,” the piece said.
There have been high-profile cases of detectorists breaking the rules. In 2019, George Powell and Layton Davies were given lengthy jail terms after failing to declare a Viking hoard that was estimated to be worth as much as £12m.
Among the Herefordshire hoard was jewellery from as early as the fifth century, including a ring, a small crystal ball held by strips of gold and an arm bracelet.
A court heard that after the pair found the items, Powell and Davies did not tell the authorities about their discovery but instead attempted to sell the coins to collectors.
Among those they found were two that are thought to depict King Alfred the Great of Wessex and Ceolwulf II of Mercia, which made historians aware of an unknown accord between the rulers.
— to www.theguardian.com