THE next time you are ambling along the beach and spot something glistening in the sand, you may think you have struck gold. But a new code of practice on buried treasure aims to clarify the law on exactly who owns such ancient artefacts.
Those who stumble across “treasure trove” items are being warned to hand them over to the Crown Office or face prosecution.
Under Scots common law, treasure trove and other lost or abandoned property belongs to the Crown, not the finder or the landowner.
Items are held by the Crown on behalf of the public, and are allocated to museums in exchange for an ex gratia payment to the finder.
Last night, officials said the move was a “major step forward” in helping the public in an obscure area of law.
Professor Ian Ralston, chair of the Scottish Archaeological Finds Allocations Panel, which advises the Crown Office, said some people were unwittingly breaking the law. “It is illegal in Scotland to sell newly discovered antiquities. You can’t simply put them on eBay,” he said. “If you find an antiquity in your back garden in Scotland, the householder has no claim on it. “The code encourages people to follow proper procedures and they might benefit financially as a result.”
Prof Ralston said there were wide variations between Scots and English law on treasure trove and it was important that people acted within the rules. “In England, the landowner or finder may have a say in the ownership of the item,” he said. “That is not the case in Scotland. The Crown has the right to claim it. However, we’re trying to make sure the finder is adequately rewarded.”
In recent years, those unearthing treasure trove have benefited from payments from the Crown.
A Roman sculpture, one of the most important recent historical finds, was lifted from the mud banks of a Scottish river, where it had lain for almost two millennia.
The Roman lioness, found in Cramond in 1997, bagged the finder £30,000 in Scotland’s biggest ex gratia payment. The relic was found by a local ferryman who spotted its head peering out of the mud.
The 54-page code of practice sets out how the system works, outlines the roles of those involved in the process and explains the paperwork anyone finding treasure trove must fill in. It warns that “found portable antiquities” must be reported to the Crown. The code also points out that it is a criminal offence to use a metal detector on a scheduled monument without written permission.
The Queen’s and Lord Treasurer’s Remembrancer, Norman McFadyen, is the Scottish official who represents the Crown in the area. He said: “Treasure trove has, to date, been an obscure area. The concept is well known but the detail is not. There is a lack of public appreciation of the difference between the applicable law and the practical systems in Scotland and England.”
About 200 cases of Scottish treasure trove finds were reported to the Crown Office last year, a total of 4,000 objects. It is understood members of the public could get more of a financial reward if the items found are reported promptly. “If they have reported the objects promptly, that would be a plus point,” added Prof Ralston. “But if they hang on to it for along time and take a wire brush and Brasso to it, they could get a smaller ex gratia payment.”
What lies beneath –
some of the weird and wonderful artefacts found in Scotland ONE of Britain’s finest Roman relics was discovered in Cramond, Edinburgh by a ferryman in January 2007, earning him a five-figure reward. The 2,000-year-old sculpture of a lioness devouring a man was discovered on the banks of the River Almond. Cramond had been the site of a Roman fort. The 5ft sandstone artefact is the best preserved artefact of its kind to be uncovered in the United Kingdom. Weighing about a ton, it was found buried beside two plinths and is thought to be part of the tomb of a prominent Roman official in the second or third century AD. Robert Graham saw the head sticking out of the river inches from ferry steps which have been used by thousands of day-trippers over the years. At first he thought it was a modern sculpture and planned to take it home for his garden. But experts were called in after he showed it to a local archaeology enthusiast, who realised its significance.
In November last year, treasure hunters unearthed the first Roman tombstone in Scotland for more than 170 years. It was found near Inveresk, Midlothian. It commemorated a man called Crescens, bodyguard to the governor of the province of Britain. It formed part of Scotland’s annual Treasure Trove items found by archaeologists or enthusiasts which have been handed to the Crown Office.
Other pieces included a 5,000-year-old axe-head, a Bronze Age sword and mysterious carved stone balls. Items found between April 2007 and March 2008 were included in The Queen’s and Lord Treasurer’s Remembrancer’s annual report. The 5,000-year-old farmer’s axe-head was unearthed at Dunragit, Stranraer, but made from stone from the Lake District. The Bronze Age sword was found in Lockerbie and the mysterious carved balls were discovered at Pitmilly and Newburgh in Fife.