Hidden treasure for researchers in legal changes

October 3, 1997

The new treasure act came into force last week but archaeologists are already making great finds without digging

Law changes under the 1996 Treasure Act, which came into effect last week, will have a "modest, but constructive effect" for researchers, says a leading archaeologist.

Richard Morris, director of the British Council for Archaeology, said the act's great virtue was eliminating the anomalies associated with the law of treasure trove. "The definition depended on whether the treasure was ruled to have been buried with the intention of recovery or not. That meant coroners had to try to establish the state of mind of the person who buried it, who might have died 2,000 years ago."

A further plus comes with the ruling that items found together should be considered as a whole. "In the past if you found 40 silver coins in a pot, the coins would be taken to the coroner's court and the pot would not. Items which should have been kept together might be separated or lost," said Mr Morris.

But the impact on archaeologists should not be exaggerated. Mr Morris said there were only around 30 to 40 treasure trove inquests each year, and that archaeological interest goes far beyond the precious metals defined as treasure.

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