Ancient Britain

We all have amazing technology at our disposal these days and it is hard to imagine life without it. But there was a time when people had to survive without a smartphone! We live in an age when we have information at our fingertips and an app or gadget for everything but life was very different for our ancient ancestors.

It is always interesting to learn about life in prehistoric times and Royal Mail’s Ancient Britain stamp issue explores the subject in detail. Eight stamps illustrate iconic sites in Britain and some of the exceptional artefacts which have been discovered across the country. The stamps provide an insight into how people have lived from the Stone Age, through the Bronze Age and into the Iron Age. Life in Britain from 9,000 BC to 300 BC is beautifully showcased.

Hunting for Treasure

Important artefacts are continually being discovered around the country. Whilst some of the pieces now on display in our museums have been uncovered by archaeologists, most have been found by amateurs, often using metal detectors. With a modest investment in the right equipment anyone can launch on a treasure hunt and it is possible to strike gold – literally.

The Ringlemere Cup

Back in 2001 hobbyist Cliff Bradshaw was exploring a muddy field in Kent with his metal detector. When he heard the all-important beep he started digging and unearthed a stunning gold chalice which dated from the early Bronze Age. It was only the second example of such an artefact to found in Britain. The Ringlemere Cup, as it became known, was later acquired by the British Museum for £270,000. Not bad for a morning’s work!

What Exactly is Treasure?

If you do happen to stumble upon a cache of important artefacts, you can’t just take them home and display them on your mantelpiece or sell them to the highest bidder. Your discovery may well be classified as treasure and must be reported to the Coroner. Treasure is the property of the Crown but in order to encourage the recovery of important artefacts, the Government has deemed that finders and landowners should receive a reward commensurate with the value of the pieces.

The Treasure Act

The Treasure Act 1996 identifies in detail which items constitute treasure. In summary, these items are coins and other artefacts which are over 300 years old, at least 10% precious metal and whose original owners cannot be traced. Base metal items discovered after 2003 could also be treasure as could items less than 300 years old if they were buried with the intention of being recovered. The Act does not apply to Scotland and the Isle of Man.  Different laws apply in these regions.

If your find is declared to be treasure by the Coroner, it will be valued by the Treasure Valuation Committee of a museum. With significant finds this would normally be the British Museum. The interested parties (you and the landowner) are advised of the valuation and asked whether or not you are satisfied with the amount. You may obtain an independent valuation if you are in any doubt. Museums have the right to purchase the item or items and must pay the recommended amount within 4 months. The payment would be split equally between you and the landowner.

Other Artefacts

If you unearth items of interest or value which are not deemed to be treasure, then they are the property of the landowner. These can be sold or donated to a museum. If you fancy a little treasure hunting and plan to explore private land, you should seek the permission of the landowner. You may be able to reach an agreement about splitting any spoils.

Artefacts recovered from the sea or shoreline are known as “wreck” and must be reported to Receiver of Wreck rather than the Coroner.

The law regarding treasure is complex and confusing. If you are in any doubt as to your rights, then The Portable Antiquities Scheme provides a full explanation of all laws applying to treasure and archaeological finds together with valuable advice for treasure hunters.

Have you ever discovered anything exciting? If so, then get in touch to tell us all about it!

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