Stricter rules for treasure hunters offer silver lining

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The Independent Online
Arts minister Mark Fisher yesterday unveiled new guidelines to codify treasure hunting for the first time in 750 years.

Until now the rules of treasure hunting have been based on common law practices. The new code lays down a series of penalties for those who try to keep their find a secret.

Under the Treasure Act Code of Practice, anyone who fails to disclose their bounty within 14 days faces a maximum sentence of three months imprisonment and a pounds 5,000 fine.

The measures, introduced by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, are intended to safeguard treasures for the nation. The Crown now only has a claim to unearthed antiquities if it can prove they are made "substantially of gold or silver", if they are deliberately hidden, or if the owner is not known.

The reforms, which come into effect on 24 September, widen the definition of treasure by removing the need to establish that it was hidden with the intention of recovery. The classification of items which can be considered as treasures is also expanded to include coins more than 300 years old found in hoards; other objects with at least 10 per cent gold or silver content; objects found in archaeological association with the above; plus any object covered by previous definitions.

A comprehensive system of rewards is also being introduced. Owners of land containing treasure would have to be informed of the find, and would become eligible for cash awards. Finders who inform landowners of their searching would also receive rewards, but those who fail to do so, or who trespass, could find the amount reduced or withheld.

The Government expects the new act will increase its number of treasure hauls from around 25 a year to 200.

Mr Fisher said yesterday: "The Government is fully committed to seizing this opportunity to educate people on the good practices they should adopt when they find objects which might be declared treasures."