By now, most aspiring treasure hunters are aware that Great Britain is essentially the treasure capital of the world.
Aside from an extensive history of habitation that has produced almost innumerable antiquities and medieval coins, the country boasts the world’s most equitable treasure trove laws. This is effectively the reason why so many people who have the time and money to afford the treasure detecting hobby are enthusiastic to explore in the U.K. (It also makes preserving the artifacts while still dividing up the proceeds from their sale a much more amicable experience.)
In honor of the 20th anniversary of the 1996 Treasure Act that codified this common-sense attitude toward precious metal artifacts, the country’s Sunday Telegraph ranked the 20 best treasure hoards found in the U.K. since the creation of the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS). These unique caches are being featured in a year-long exhibit called the “TREASURE20.” The list was created by a group of the most esteemed archaeologists in the fields of the “Celtic, Romano-British, medieval and early modern” periods, who met at the famed British Museum to discuss how the items should be ranked. Among 19 other groups, the Anglo-Saxon Staffordshire hoard made the cut.
The precious metal items of the past featured in the exhibit had to meet certain criteria for inclusion in the top 20 list: 1) they must qualify as treasure under the rules of the 1996 law, including being at least 10% precious metal by composition; 2) they must have been unearthed in an ethical manner; and 3) they must contribute to our historical or cultural understanding of the world.
A difficult-to-ignore tension exists between the researchers and academics who study antiquities on one end, and the hobbyists and collectors who find or will pay for these items on the other end. The latter have at times in the past encroached upon the work of museums and such, as well as subsidized cultural theft of these prized rarities on the black market.
Fortunately, the provisions of the 1996 Treasure Act and the structure of the Portable Antiquities Scheme have done a great deal to resolve this conflict in a way that generally leaves all parties satisfied. Because, for example, the land owner and treasure finder split the profits 50-50 under the law, both are usually happy; the museum or university or other government organization that then receives custody of the artifacts also gets what it wants.
A statement from the organization Historic England’s Steve Trow reaffirms this benefit: “PAS is healing a breach between archaeologists and detectorists—it’s encouraging treasure hunters to act responsibly.” In return, that’s exactly what the vast majority of treasure-finders have done.
The famous hoard of 199 silver coins from Abergavenny, which date to the Norman invasion of 1066, is featured in the top 20 list. The Telegraph has also opened up the list to a vote to determine the public’s favorite item in the exhibit, which can be viewed and voted on here until May 15th.
Of course, another delightful aspect of this promotion is that it highlights the centuries of history and culture that have helped shape modern Britain.
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