Letter: Lessons of treasure trove laws in Scotland

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The Independent Online
Sir: Your items on Lord Perth's Treasure Bill (2 and 3 March) fail to make it sufficiently clear that the law north of the border is significantly different from that of England. In Scotland, all ownerless objects belong to the Crown, irrespective of their raw material or circumstances of deposition.

This legal provision has long been in place, and since the mid- 19th century has been applied to preserve Scotland's artefactual heritage for the benefit of the public. Where the Crown exercises its right to claim finds under Scottish law, then unless some other law (such as the 1979 Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act) has been transgressed, the finder will normally receive a reward equivalent to the full market value of the item. Not all reported objects are claimed; where the Crown does not wish to exercise its right, ownership is then passed to the finder.

This does not mean that all ownerless objects do get reported. 'Nighthawkers' - the disreputable end of the metal detectorist community - have been prosecuted for looting a Scheduled Ancient Monument in the Borders. However, many detectorists (and others) appear happy to comply with the law, and indeed a major auction house has recently removed from sale an item which had not been cleared through Treasure Trove. It may be that the heightened sense of national identity and pride which exists in Scotland is working to ensure that the national heritage is protected for the public good.

People should not fear rigorous portable antiquities laws; but what is needed for a system to work effectively is: a) widespread public support for the philosophy of such a law - namely the preservation of the material culture heritage for the good of all; and b) effective application of the law.

Yours sincerely,

ALISON SHERIDAN

Treasure Trove Advisory

Panel Secretariat

National Museums of Scotland

Edinburgh

14 March

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