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Review of Treasure Trove Arrangements in Scotland





3.1 Among those invited to discuss their views on Treasure Trove, were the finders of treasure. They were a disparate group of people, accessed as individuals since they bore little or no relationship to one another. In contrast to England where metal detecting clubs proliferate, Scotland has few, the corollary being that finds are rarely reported by clubs but by individual detectorists, fieldwalkers and one-off finders. It was considered useful to speak to the finders to gauge their knowledge, experiences and perceptions of Treasure Trove as part of the review. The methodology for collecting and analysing finders' responses is discussed below.


3.2 Within limited time constraints it was decided to conduct a survey among finders who had reported finds and had these claimed within a five-year period between 1997 and 2001. Names were identified through the logging procedure of the TTAPS, which records details of all finds received. Finders were contacted by letter inviting them to participate in a survey on the basis of their experience of Treasure Trove. They were asked to complete a questionnaire, and provision was allowed for additional comments they might wish to make. Respondents were assured of anonymity and asked to respond within a two-week parameter.

Description of Sample

3.3 The sample was non-randomised and limited to 158 respondents. The findings from the sample are not generalisable to the larger population of finders and metal detectorists, since only those who have used the Treasure Trove procedure were invited to participate in the survey. Finders who have not used the Treasure Trove procedure, for whatever reason, are therefore not represented in the analysis that follows. Anecdotal evidence from finders about unscrupulous detectorists did emerge as a prominent theme however, and is discussed in the findings section.

3.4 Finders were categorised as three distinct groups of people according to the extent of their experience with Treasure Trove. Group 1 were current finders who consistently reported finds and therefore had considerable experience of the Treasure Trove procedure. Group 2 were one off finders and by far the largest category, with limited experience of the procedure. Group 3 were similar to Group 1 except that for reasons unknown, they no longer reported. As the study progressed, 3 other finders were also sent questionnaires because they were perceived as having some interest in Treasure Trove, either as metal detectorist club members, or possessing knowledge of both the Scottish and English system of claiming treasure. They have not been included in any of the groups and did not return questionnaires. The groups are illustrated below by number of questionnaires sent and returned (Table 1).

Group 1 Current Finders



Group 2 One-off Finders



Group 3 Former Finders



Total Questionnaires

158 sent

66 returned

Table 1: Finders by Group

The questionnaires

3.5 The semi-structured, self-completion questionnaires were administered to the sample at a single juncture in February 2003. Questions were constructed by drawing on the main components of the Treasure Trove procedure: general; finding and reporting; claiming and allocation; valuation and reward, and other. Operationalisation drew on these aspects, in particular probing finders' knowledge, understanding and experience of the Treasure Trove procedure. Suggestions about such issues as allocation of items, were also allowed for in the provision of multiple choice responses to questions. There were 27 questions in total, several of which were open-ended to facilitate the generation of more in-depth data.


3.6 In addition to the questionnaires three individual in-depth interviews were conducted around loose themes pertaining to Treasure Trove. Two of these were with metal detectorists in different regions of Scotland, one a club member and the other an individual searcher. The third interviewee, also a metal detectorist club member, had knowledge of the recording and claiming procedures of both Scotland and England.


3.7 In the data analysis there has not been any use of statistical inference techniques. This is for three reasons: sample type, sample numbers, and the gendered nature of the sample. Since the sample was not randomly selected, the analysis did not permit inferences to a given population. In conjunction the study was not aiming to establish concise causal connections between variables. 22 Secondly, with 66 responses from 158, the numbers were too small to conduct valid tests of significance. Finally, since women were barely represented as finders, in particular in Group 1 and 3, gender distribution was insufficient and therefore not a variable upon which any tests could be performed. Despite this, it is interesting to note that finders were overwhelmingly male, and that none of the metal detectorists in Group 1 and 3 were female.

3.8 Excel was used to record questionnaire responses, and SPSS to formulate frequencies so that the data could be indexed in terms of similarity and contrasting content.

3.9 Qualitative data from the three interviews were analysed thematically, with interview notes examined for references to finding and reporting. These references were organised in terms of both similarity and contrast of content. Although there were only three individual interviews with finders, saturation of categories occurred, consistent with those emerging from the questionnaires to the extent that the data shows typicalities. The strength of the three interviews was that they facilitated more in-depth 'thick description', 23 not amenable to survey techniques.

3.10 The following section explores finders' responses to the questionnaire in terms of the main themes that emerged. Data from interviews has been used at times to support or add other details to questionnaire findings.


3.11 The data is broadly presented under the following headings: General; Finding and Reporting; Claiming and Allocation; Valuation and Reward, and Other.


i. TTAP Secretariat

3.12 Regardless of criticisms of various aspects of the Treasure Trove procedure, the assistance received from the Secretariat was considered in very positive terms, in particular as 'helpful' and 'professional'. One finder wrote that 'the assistance from the Secretariat has always been first class'. Another admired the 'speedy and efficient way they continue to deal with the receipt of finds . . .the information supplied [and] the rapport I enjoy with them and the motivation'.

ii. Clubs

3.13 A third of all finders who returned their questionnaire said that they were a member of a metal detectorist club, or local archaeological or history club. Almost half of those in Group 1 claimed membership of a club, and just over half of Group 3. 12 of the total number of those in clubs (22) were in metal detectorist clubs.

3.14 One interviewee said that most metal detectorists worked alone and that this was the preference for many because detecting is a 'private and competitive business'. By contrast, two of the other interviewees (club members), felt there should be greater club formation and membership across Scotland. This was to encourage and improve communication with archaeologists and museums, a view supported by questionnaire comments. One finder suggested that the TTAPS:

"should consider improving access to the clubs and individuals via the hobby magazines. This could be followed up by the provision of information and formats for registering finds possibly through an individual within each of the clubs".

Finding and Reporting

i. Knowledge of Treasure Trove and relevant literature

3.15 Just over half of the respondents said they had known about Treasure Trove when they made their first find. Those who had not known had asked for information at the local museum. For all finders, people contacted about the procedure were most likely to be museum curators, followed by local area archaeologists, and finally the TTAPS.

3.16 Well over two thirds of finders thought their legal obligation to report had been made clear, though the questionnaire had not asked by whom. However, two respondents felt that the Treasure Trove procedure needs to be more aggressive in prosecuting transgressors, while several others talked about the legal obligations as intimidating. One finder said that the TTAPS 'needs to get the general population to be possessive about their history so that the power would exist to prosecute and humiliate the scoundrels out there.'

3.17 Slightly over half of respondents had ever read the 1999 SEED document Guidelines for Fieldworkers. Approximately half of these had found the document useful or positive in some way, while the other half expressed the opposite. One finder suggested instead, 'a new brochure format, shorter version, and up to date leaflet'. An overwhelmingly majority felt that information about Treasure Trove should be more publicly available, primarily in museums and libraries. Others agreed that access to information could be mediated via website or tourist offices, while a few suggested the provision of information in magazines and/or schools.

ii. Motivation to report

3.18 Finders were asked what they thought motivated people to report and were provided with a list of options. The most popular responses were concern for Scottish heritage, followed by identification of an object. Slightly less highlighted motivation by reward, and to a slightly lesser extent, the legal obligation. One interviewee said that whilst money may motivate the 'unscrupulous nighthawks', this was not the case for other detectorists who are urged by 'a strong sense of duty' to report for the benefit of contributing to Scotland's archaeological record.

iii. Involvement

3.19 After items had been reported, respondents were asked whether their involvement had been encouraged. Under one third indicated that it had, and that it increased their satisfaction. A typical response for example, was that:

"It made me eager to find more of my areas history which otherwise would have been lost due to weather and modern farming methods."

3.20 Being kept informed was one of the main ways that finders interpreted being involved. This was considered important for two main reasons - the enhancement of personal interest and gleaning further information about the find.

iv. Time

3.21 Whilst most finders said that they had been given an indication of the length of the time that the procedure might take, from either museum curators, local area archaeologists, or the Secretariat, most finders expressed frustration here. Length of time taken was a resounding criticism of the whole procedure.

3.22 The questionnaire asked people how long the procedure had taken. It is not clear from the questionnaires whether the actual time taken exceeded the length of time that had been indicated to them. The majority of finders' responses fell into three categories. These responses indicate a split between 3-5 months, 6-12 months, and over one year. For most this had taken either 3-5 months, or 6 - 12, up to one year when both categories are collapsed. However, it had taken in excess of one year for about a fifth of the respondents.

3.23 Experienced users of the procedure reasoned that reporting their find to their local museum often resulted in the delay of some Treasure Trove procedural aspects. It was therefore 'quicker when dealing with [the] TT Secretariat as opposed to the museum where the artefact is held.'

3.24 Some felt that excessive time length might be a factor for non-reporting. A representitive response reads, 'the length of time has always been a sore point . . . all the red tape [and] encourages non reporting.'

iv. Non-reporting

3.25 Several areas related to non-reporting. These revolved around a sense of ownership of finds, general findspot issues, and nighthawking.

3.26 A small minority of finders indicated that when they found an object there was some reluctance to report because of a sense of informal ownership and relationship to the items found. For example, one interviewee indicated that he felt a sense of ownership of the site because he had identified the site on the basis of his own extensive research. On a similar theme, some finders said that reporting the object meant that the findspot would either become 'public property' and therefore available to other finders, or the site would become scheduled thus prohibiting further exploration of that site. For example, one finder said:

"for some people there is a suspicion that the find location might be compromised and they have a mistrust of the procedure and establishment."

3.27 Some finders expressed the fear that other metal detectorists might plunder the site, thereby risking inaccuracies in Scotland's archaeological and historical record. This was further compounded where finders felt that land access was restricted, although this was a non-reporting factor for a very small minority. One finder commented that 'this type of action causes the undesirable people of our hobby to nighthawk . . . and place their finds on the black market and losing our heritage'

3.28 Other issues around non-reporting related to museum retention, that is, 'things being kept by the museum'. Indeed, according to a minority, 'a lot of finds retained by museums are never seen again'.

Claiming and Allocation

i. Broad definition

3.29 Some respondents' felt that Treasure Trove is a system that 'takes things away'. For example, one man commented that he 'was upset because my find was taken away from me by the museum and I only wanted information' about the item. A significant minority were not happy about having to report everything. Among this minority, a few mentioned coins. The complaint was that small, local museums are now claiming these, including those that are no longer rare. This linked to non-reporting, with one finder explaining that 'certain people will be less than happy to send in their coin finds if they think they'll be claimed.'

3.30 It was deemed important to return finds to finders, where items are common. One finder said:

"some items should be returned to the finder when the item is quite common. I have had a few items claimed and the acquiring museum has had plenty and better examples already. I think in those circumstances it would be better to return the finds to the finder."

3.31 Some others remarked that there ought to be some choice over where objects are allocated.

ii. Local/national

3.32 Respondents were not asked how they would define national importance, but were presented with four statements that they could agree or disagree with as follows:


Finds should always go to a local museum


Finds should go to the local museum if they are of local and/or regional importance


Finds should always go to the national museum


Finds should go to the national museum only if they are of national importance

3.33 The most popular responses proved to be a combination of 2 and 4. Almost everyone disagreed with the statement that finds should always go to the national museum, with under one quarter saying that finds should always go to the local museum.

3.34 One prevalent view - based on responses to the above and more general responses in the questionnaire - was that finds should be allocated to local museums. A prominent concern was that the NMS were 'taking all the high quality finds'. Moreover, there was some dissatisfaction expressed about the perceived lack of information and poor communication from local museums in contrast to that received from the national.

3.35 Some finders were concerned about finds being removed from local communities and some of these said that if the national museum had a better relationship with the local museums, things might improve. For instance, addressing issues of access. However, there was a sense that local museums needed upgrading to cope with finds.

iii. Display

3.36 Several respondents said that they did not know where their find had been allocated. A few said that 'finds never see the light of day'. One finder summarised his disappointing experience:

"I recently took my young daughter to see my find . . .only to be told it was locked away in a box . . . .The reason for handing in finds is so the public can view them."

3.37 Another said, 'if I had known that it was not going to be displayed I would not have declared it . . . I could've kept it in my collection'. Similarly, 'it would appear that a lot of finds retained by museums are never seen again.'

iv. Acknowledgement

3.38 The majority of finders felt that they should be acknowledged alongside the find on display. One finder summarised these feelings in depth:

"Certificates should be issued to those whose finds are claimed by the Crown and that copies should also be displayed at museums, as an encouragement to others to find or send antiquities to the Treasure Trove for examination."

3.39 Interviewees also felt that finders should be credited. They considered this as a way of further encouraging people to report finds, particularly as prestige is an important facet for the finder.

v. Land access

3.40 A small minority of finders had experienced some restrictions on where they were allowed to search from farmers and/or landowners. For example, 'farmers saying that the countryside commission is asking them not to allow metal detectorists or field walkers access to their land'. Restricting land access was linked to non-reporting.

Reward and Valuation

i. Valuation

3.41 There was considerable dissatisfaction over the valuation of finds. Some finders felt that the valuation ought to be seen as independent, and others criticised the lack of appeals procedure for contesting the valuation:

"I firmly believe that the TT should obtain their own valuations from . . . those who write continually for metal detecting magazines . . . Should he or she feel the amount is inadequate then the finder should advise TT accordingly."

3.42 There seemed to be an assumption among some finders that their finds' were not awarded their 'true' value. One finder said, 'there is no proof that we are getting the proper or adequate value for the object compared to a collector of that object would pay privately'.

3.43 Others seemed perturbed that they were obliged to trust others to provide a valuation:

"I was not shown anything to show me the true value of the find and just had to take what I was told at face value."

3.44 Furthermore, for some, not being assured of 'the true value of finds' might encourage non-reporting. By contrast, one man commented that the reward system should be removed since this encourages people to sell on the 'black market', whilst two finders said 'the panel should be the sole valuers of any object found.'

ii. Reward

3.45 Several finders said that they would like the immediate release of reward on valuation rather than having to wait for it. One interviewee explained that 'some people rely on that money and it makes a real difference to them'.

3.46 In terms of people accepting a reward, only a few had chosen to decline. This was because they either 'did not want the money', or chose to donate the item to the museum.

3.47 For some, there was 'fear of not receiving an adequate reward', and this was cited as a deterrent to reporting.


i. Nighthawking

3.48 Many finders seemed to be motivated to search and report for the benefit of Scottish heritage. There was a strong feeling that there were other metal detectorists who were not driven by the same motivation, but who plundered sites for their own interests/profit. These people were described as nighthawks and jackals. Their actions generated a negative image of metal detectorists generally. Their activities also had implication for relationships with archaeologists.

ii. Archaeologists

3.49 For some finders, the relationship between metal detectorists and archaeologists was described in bitter terms of mutual resentment. Archaeologists were perceived as undervaluing their contribution to museum displays and accusing them of damaging the environment. By contrast some metal detectorists said that the archaeologists actually do the damage, retain finds, and do not publish excavation results. One interviewee said they destroy sites and do more damage than metal detectorists because 'they dig on undisturbed soil'. He added that 'archaeologists are reluctant to accept the positive contribution of metal detecting to recent finds . . . [They] find a substantial number of things, so attitudes towards them need to change'.

3.50 Others conveyed similar views with strong sentiment. Indeed, it was suggested that metal detectorists were perceived by others as:

"second rate, uneducated treasure seekers out for personal gain and only finds oriented. Well, when I find a Celtic turret ring in a field where no dig would ever take place, I can almost hear the chariot pass by, the first man to touch this in 2000 years!!!!"

iii. Communication

3.51 The theme of communication was raised both between museums, and between finders and museums. Some felt that communications between local museums, the NMS and themselves as finders ought to improved, especially in terms of identification of an object and its final allocation. One finder expressed this by saying that the 'response to people's finds is important even when it might seem a waste of time as encouragement is more productive than enforcing the law'

3.52 Finders wanted a clearer indication of where finds would be allocated, and some wanted 'more feedback about items but there is generally none.' Finders wanted further information about the find after completion of the TT process, such as any subsequent research on the object.

3.53 Finders were also aware of resource issues, in particular the lack of funding for local museums and the 'NMS as under funded and understaffed'. But Treasure Trove for some finders, needs to be seen as,

"Fairer . . . Cut the time process [and] have a fairer value on something [and] don't constantly leave the finder in the dark."

3.54 Indeed, one suggestion was,

"to have an expert on finds travel round to different local museums . . .so that fieldworker metal detectorists etc could take recent finds to be identified . . . I think it would encourage more finds to be reported . . .sometimes you don't know if you have just junk or something worth reporting, after all you couldn't possibly report every little thing you find."

Representative Bodies

The National Council of Metal Detectorists

3.55 As well as gauging the views of finders in Scotland, it was considered useful to have some dialogue with representatives of the National Council of Metal Detectorists (NCMD). The organisation was very willing to assist with this exercise and three spokespeople attended a meeting, two from England (including the General Secretary) and the third from Scotland. With a membership of around 150 clubs, the NCMD provides a voice for metal detectorists in England. They claimed a similar role, albeit to a far lesser extent, in Scotland too. They provide guidance to club members about the position in Scotland and the law relating to Treasure Trove. The Scottish representative said that people in Scotland were unclear about the legal position pertaining to Treasure Trove. This did not emerge as a prominent theme from the finders' survey, however, although a number of issues raised by finders were similar to those highlighted by the NCMD.

3.56 Whilst the finders' survey had indicated poor relations with such people as archaeologists, the NCMD reported that the introduction of finds liaison officers in England had been a positive means of establishing effective and affirmative links between metal detectorists and others.

3.57 The NCMD articulated their perception that the valuation of items by the TTAPS was not independent, a view also consistent with the finders survey. Another consistent theme was that finders should be acknowledged next to items displayed. In conjunction, it was suggested that some finders do not want a reward, merely some form of recognition.

3.58 The NCMD maintained that it is the recognised voice for metal detectorists in Scotland, with advice and guidance provided through their website. Its representatives expressed willingness to give greater prominence to the Scottish system and rules in its published or website material. It was also agreed that it might be beneficial to have a member of this body on the TTAP. They did, however, refer to another body, the Federation of Independent Detectorists (FID).

Federation of Independent Detectorists

3.59 FID were contacted and invited to submit the view of their organisation. The reply was presented by a brief email, with two main points. Firstly, that the way the Scottish system operates has not interfered greatly with detectorists. Secondly, that there has been less friction between national and local museums in England and Wales, than in Scotland. The Federation claims to have many members in Scotland and are aiming to be more proactive in Scotland to encourage membership of their organisation.

3.60 Both the NCMD and FID maintain a code of conduct accessible through their respective websites.