The Treasure Act and Portable Antiquities Scheme
Thousands of archaeological objects are discovered every year, many by
members of the public, particularly by people while metal-detecting. If
recorded, these finds have great potential to transform archaeological
knowledge, helping us understand when, where and how people lived in the
The Portable Antiquities Scheme (www.finds.org.uk) offers the only proactive
mechanism for systematically recording such finds, which are made publicly
available on its online database. This data is an important educational and
research resource that can be used by anyone interested in learning more.
shows A coin from the St Albans Hoard, unearthed in October 2012. Courtesy
Portable Antiquities Scheme.
The Portable Antiquities Scheme is managed by the British Museum, and funded
by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport through a ring-fenced grant,
the British Museum and local partners. Its work is guided by the Portable
Antiquities Advisory Group, whose membership includes leading
archaeological, landowner and metal-detecting organisations.
Under the Treasure Act 1996 (see www.finds.org.uk/treasure) finders have a
legal obligation to report all finds of potential Treasure to the local
coroner. The Portable Antiquities Scheme and its network of Finds Liaison
Officers play an essential role in the operation of the Act, advising
finders of their legal obligations, providing advice on the process and
writing reports for Coroners on Treasure finds.
The Act allows a national or local museum to acquire Treasure finds for
public benefit. If this happens a reward is paid, which is (normally) shared
equally between the finder and landowner; interested parties may wish to
waive their right to a reward, enabling museums to acquire finds at reduced
or no cost. Rewards are fixed at the full market value of the find,
determined by the Secretary of State upon the advice of an independent panel
of experts, known as the Treasure Valuation Committee.
December 2012 - The launch today of the Portable
Antiquities and Treasure annual reports show that 97,509 finds were recorded
by the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) in 2011 (an 8% rise on the previous
year) and 970 Treasure cases were reported in the same period (up by 12%).
The PAS website www.finds.org.uk now features 820,000 finds with nearly
400,000 images from across England and Wales contributing enormously to the
archaeological record. Last year 463,160 people used the website and
database, and it also won best research/online collection at the Best of the
Web awards 2011 at the Museums and the Web conference.
Increasingly more and more people are becoming aware of the PAS. In July
this year Britain’s Secret Treasures, which highlighted 50 finds recorded
through the PAS, was screened primetime on ITV1 from 16-22 July. The series
was watched by an average of 3.5M viewers, the highest being 4.2M.
Neil MacGregor, Director of the British Museum
said “It is clear from the discoveries reported this year that the Treasure
Act and Portable Antiquities Scheme goes from strength to strength. The ITV
series this year shows just how much these finds have captured the public’s
imagination and changed our understanding of the past. It is a scheme which
is envied the world over. I am very grateful to the Department for Culture
Media and Sport for continuing to support the Scheme and to Treasure Hunting
magazine who have continued to publish PAS reports . And to other generous
funders such as The Headley Trust, Institute for Archaeologists and the
Heritage Lottery Fund who support staff to ensure that the Scheme can
continue its vital work. As well as the funding bodies who have helped
acquire Treasure finds.”
Ed Vaizey, Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries,
said “It never ceases to amaze me that such incredibly important objects
have survived in the ground for many hundreds of years, waiting to be found
by everyday people. Not only are these objects extremely exiting
discoveries, but once reported Treasure or recorded with the Portable
Antiquities Scheme they have great potential to rewrite the history of this
country, and enrich local and national museums”.
Four exciting new discoveries are to be highlighted at the launch this year:
An extremely rare late Iron Age helmet from near Canterbury, Kent.
This copper-alloy helmet was found by a metal- detectorist in October 2012,
and the findspot subsequently excavated by the Canterbury Archaeological
Trust. The helmet had been upturned and used as vessel to hold a human
cremation. A brooch found with the helmet probably once fastened a bag
containing the bones. Both the helmet and brooch date from the early to
mid-first century BC. Julia Farley, Iron Age Curator at the British Museum
notes “This is a very rare find. No other cremation has ever been found in
Kent accompanied by a helmet and only a handful of Iron Age helmets are
known from Britain. Therefore we think this example was probably made on the
continent and it is fascinating to speculate how it came to be in a grave in
In the middle of the first century BC, Caesar was at war in Gaul (modern
France). But as well as being a time of war, it was also a time of travel,
communication, connections and change. Mercenaries from Britain had
travelled to join the fighting, and it is tempting to believe that the
person who owned this helmet might have fought in Gaul, against the Romans
or perhaps even alongside them, eventually bringing the helmet with them to
Britain. Before Gaul fell, Caesar would make his first expedition to
Britain, landing on the shores of Kent not far from where this helmet was
found. The owner of this helmet, or the people who placed it in the grave,
may have lived through the very beginning of the story of Roman Britain.
The second largest hoard of Roman solidi (gold coins) ever found in
The discovery was made by a metal-detectorist near to St Albans,
Hertfordshire, and reported to his local Finds Liaison Officer. In October
2012 the findspot was excavated by a team of archaeologists from St Albans
City and District Museums Service and altogether 159 coins were recovered.
The coins date to the late 4th to early 5th century AD (after AD 408 regular
supplies of Roman coinage to Britain ceased) and were mostly struck in the
Italian cities of Milan and Ravenna and issued under the Emperors Gratian,
Valentinian II, Theodosius I, Arcadius and Honorius. The largest hoard of
Roman solidi was found at Hoxne in Suffolk in 1992 and comprised 565 solidi.
Richard Abdy, Curator of Roman Coins as the British Museum said “This is a
hugely exciting find. During the period of the Roman occupation of Britain,
coins were usually buried for two reasons; as a religious sacrifice to the
Gods, or as a secure store of wealth, with the aim of later recovery. The
late date of the coins suggests their burial could have been associated with
the turbulent separation of Britain from the Roman Empire c. AD 410”.
Threat of war or raids may have led to the burial of the coins, as may the
prospect of a long journey, or any other risky activity, which could then
result in the non-recovery of a hoard and its consequent survival in the
archaeological record. Gold solidi were extremely valuable coins and Roman
law did not allow them to be spent in everyday marketplace situations. They
would have been used for large transactions such as buying land, or goods by
the shipload, and were an especially handy source of portable wealth for
travellers (in much the same way as gold sovereigns were to Britons abroad
prior to traveller’s cheques or internationally accessible bank accounts).
Therefore it is likely that the ancient owners of these coins were very
rich, typically Roman elite, merchants or soldiers receiving bulk pay.
The hoard will be available to view in the Citi Money Gallery at the British
Museum from 4 December.
An important hoard of Viking Age gold and silver metalwork.
In May 2012 Stuart Campbell and Steve Caswell were detecting on farmland
near Bedale, North Yorkshire when they found a Viking Age hoard. Much of the
material was left by the finders in situ and thereafter recovered by
archaeologists from Yorkshire Museums. The hoard consists of an iron sword
pommel inlaid with gold foil plaques, four gold hoops (from the hilt of the
sword), six small gold rivets (probably from the pommel or hilt), four
silver collars and neck-rings, a silver arm-ring, a silver ring fragment, a
silver penannular brooch, and 29 silver ingots. Some of the objects, which
date to the late 9th to early 10th, are decorated in late Anglo-Saxon,
Anglo-Scandinavian and Viking art styles. Barry Ager, Medieval Curator at
the British Museum said “At the time the hoard was deposited the north of
England was largely under Viking rule, with their capital at York. So the
material in this significant hoard probably represents Viking bullion,
either obtained by trade, or plundered or extracted from enemies, which
could later be melted down and reused for jewellery, or further exchange.”
It is likely that those who buried this material intended to come back for
it, but for reasons unknown to us they were not able.
The Bedale hoard will be available to view in Room 2 of the British Museum
from 4 December.
Intriguing boar mount associated with Richard III.
Found on the Thames foreshore was this copper-alloy mount in the form of a
boar, which was reported to the local Finds Liaison Officer. The mount shows
the boar chained, collared and wearing a crown, and it has a crescent
(presumably heraldic) above one of its legs.
Michael Lewis, Deputy Head of PAS and Treasure said ‘given the renewed
interest in Richard III, after the apparent discovery of his remains in
Leicestershire, it is wonderful to have a London find associated with the
king. The mount is very similar to a number of boar badges which have been
reported Treasure over the past few years, which were made for followers of
Richard III (of York), as Duke of Gloucester, during the Wars of the Roses.
Richard took the white boar has his sign; ‘bore’ may have also been an
anagram of Ebor, the Latin for York”.
Badges in the form of a boar were ordered for use at Richard III’s
coronation (in July 1485) and also for the investiture of his son, Edward,
as Prince of Wales (in September). However, it is not certain what the mount
from London came from, maybe a piece of furniture or was used to decorate an
item of leather once owned by a supporter of Richard III, or possibly even
the king himself.