Somerset among country's hotspots for treasure finds

Somerset is one of the country's hot spots for treasure finds, with dozens of discoveries made last year.

Part of a Roman coin hoard found in Snodland in north Kent is looked at closely by a British Museum worker; the coin hoard, discovered by a digger driver, is made up of over 3,600 coins and is part of the British Museum's annual report of treasure finds at the British Museum in London.
Part of a Roman coin hoard found in Snodland in north Kent is looked at closely by a British Museum worker; the coin hoard, discovered by a digger driver, is made up of over 3,600 coins and is part of the British Museum's annual report of treasure finds at the British Museum in London.

Somerset is one of the country's hot spots for treasure finds, with dozens of discoveries made last year.

Fortune hunters and metal detectorists made 42 discoveries in 2020, data from the British Museum and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport shows – the country's 10th-biggest haul.

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It means a total of 320 finds have been reported in Somerset, including North Somerset and Bath and North East Somerset, since records began in 2012, the figures show.

Across England, Wales and Northern Ireland, the number of treasure finds topped 1,000 for the seventh year in a row in 2020 – 1,077 were recorded last year.

The British Museum said restrictions on people's exercise during coronavirus lockdowns contributed to a boost in unexpected garden discoveries last year.

More than 6,000 finds – which could include a single object or a hoard of coins – were recorded with the museum's Portable Antiquities Scheme during the first lockdown alone, when hunting with a metal detector outside the home was banned.

Former culture minister Caroline Dinenage said it was "brilliant" to see the scheme grow from strength to strength during lockdown thanks to garden finds and digital reporting.

Anyone who thinks they have struck a hidden hoard has to tell the coroner within two weeks, so they can hold an inquest to decide whether it constitutes treasure and who will receive the items.

If they don't, they face an unlimited fine or up to three months behind bars.

Local and national museums are given the chance to purchase any pieces a coroner rules as treasure, but the finder doesn't leave empty-handed – they will be paid a sum depending on the haul's value.

In 2020, 191 treasure finds were reported across the South West.

The Treasure Act currently defines treasure as finds older than 300 years and made of gold or silver, or artefacts made of precious metals.

But the Government announced in December 2020 that a new definition would be introduced to protect treasure from being lost to the public. It would see artefacts also defined as treasure if they are "of historical or cultural significance".

Metal detecting is the best way to unearth lost treasure, according to the figures.

The devices tracked down 96% of finds in 2019, the most recent year with details on how the objects were discovered.

A further 3% – 36 cases – were archaeological finds and 10 from field walking or scouring streams and shores. Police recovered one treasure trove from a "nighthawker" – an illegal treasure hunter.