Abstract: A licence to loot or archaeological rescue? The Treasure Act and Portable Antiquities Scheme in England and Wales


Every country struggles to find ways of controlling the activities of amateurs who search for archaeological objects. England and Wales have developed a unique system of protection in the Treasure Act of 1996 and the Portable Antiquities Scheme. The Act gives legal protection to a small group of finds that qualify as Treasure – precious-metal objects and hoards – and ensures that these are offered to museums, while ensuring finders and landowners receive the full market value. The number of finds qualifying as Treasure has increased from about 25 a year before 1997 to 854 in 2010.

The Portable Antiquities Scheme consists of a network of 50 archaeologists who encourage searchers – mainly metal detector users – voluntarily to report their finds, recording the information on an online database (www.finds.org.uk) which now includes details of nearly 700,000 finds. Despite these spectacular results, which include finds such as the 2,500 gold and silver Anglo-Saxon objects from the Staffordshire hoard and the hoard of 52,500 Roman coins from the Frome hoard, problems with the illegal recovery of objects and their sale abroad remain. The sale of the Roman helmet from Cumbria for £2 GBP at Christie’s in October 2010 has led people to question the effectiveness of the Treasure Act. This lecture looks at the problems surrounding these issues and the concerns of archaeologists.


Short bibliography and/or website on lecture topic (for lay reader):

The Portable Antiquities Scheme website, www.finds.org.uk

Roger Bland, `A pragmatic approach to the problem of portable antiquities: the experience of England and Wales’, Antiquity Vol. 79, No. 304, 2005, pp. 440-7.

Roger Bland, `The development and future of the Treasure Act and Portable Antiquities Scheme’, S Thomas and P Stone (eds.), Metal Detecting and Archaeology, The Boydell Press, Woodbridge, 2008, pp. 63-86

Kevin Leahy and Roger Bland, The Staffordshire Hoard, British Museum Press, 2009

S Worrell, R Jackson, A Mackay, Roger Bland and M Pitts, `The Crosby Garrett Roman helmet’, British Archaeology January-February 2011, pp. 20-27.

Sam Moorhead, Anna Booth and Roger Bland, The Frome Hoard, British Museum Press, 2010

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