Norfolk, Suffolk and Lincolnshire among the top 10 counties for buried treasure


Norfolk, Suffolk and Lincolnshire are among the ten counties were you are most likely to find buried treasure, according to a study of all discoveries since 2012.

It reveals that there have been 8,775 pieces of buried treasure uncovered in England, Wales and Northern Ireland over the past decade.

Using UK government data on treasure and portable antiques, the analysis shows that Norfolk has had the most finds at 917, but people on the Isle of Wight are most likely to come into contact with a treasure – at 129 finds per 100,000 people. 

One of the major treasure troves uncovered in Norfolk was a £145,000 collection of a gold necklace and pendants found in an Anglo Saxon grave by a student.   

Norfolk had the highest number of treasure trove finds between 2012 and 2019, according to new research

The Winfarthing Pendant, discovered in 2014, was on show at the British Library in London along with the Alfred Jewel and the Domesday Book

The Winfarthing Pendant, discovered in 2014, was on show at the British Library in London along with the Alfred Jewel and the Domesday Book

WHEN IS A FIND CLASSED AS TREASURE? 

The following are Treasure by law in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, according to the British Museum:  

Any metallic object, other than a coin, that at least 10 per cent by weight of metal is precious metal and that it is at least 300 years old when found. 

If the object is of prehistoric date it will be Treasure provided any part of it is precious metal.

Any group of two or more metallic objects of any composition of prehistoric date from the same find.

Two or more coins from the same find provided they are at least 300 years old when found and contain 10 per cent gold or silver 

If the coins contain less than 10 per cent of gold or silver there must be at least ten of them. 

Only the following groups of coins will normally be regarded as coming from the same find: 

  • Hoards that have been deliberately hidden 
  • Smaller groups of coins, such as the contents of purses, that may been dropped or lost 
  • Votive or ritual deposits

Any object, whatever it is made of, that is found in the same place as, or had previously been together with, another object that is Treasure.

Any object that would previously have been treasure trove, but does not fall within the specific categories above. 

Only objects that are less than 300 years old, that are made substantially of gold or silver, that have been deliberately hidden with the intention of recovery and whose owners or heirs are unknown.  

SOURCE: British Museum 

Figures published by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) revealed 2019 was a record year for treasure, with 1,300 pieces found in the UK. 

This was the biggest haul since records began, according to the data published earlier this year, and driven by a growing interest in metal detecting as a hobby.

Metal detecting had such a big impact that 96 per cent of all finds in 2019 were the direct result of people out searching for metal in the ground. 

For the study, JewelleryBox.co.uk looked at data from 2012 to 2019 published by DCMS as part of the ‘Treasure and portable antiquities statistics’ collection.’

This data only covers England, Wales and Northern Ireland, which is why no Scottish regions are included in the list of most likely places to find buried treasure. 

These were matched with ‘Estimates of the population for the UK, England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland’ data from ONS.

This allowed them to calculate how likely of a chance an individual would have at finding treasure in each region, per 100,000 people in the population of that area.

With a population of just 141,606 and 184 finds since 2012, the Isle of Wight has the most discoveries per 100,000 people at 129.

‘The island has a rich history dating all the way back to before the Bronze Age, so there is probably plenty more treasure out there to be dug up,’ the team wrote.  

However, with a population of just over 900,000 and over 900 finds since 2012, Norfolk is a close second at 100 finds per 100,000 people.

Notable finds in Norfolk since 2012 include a Medieval chandelier and Bronze Age sword, as well as the pendant and necklace discovered by a student detectorist.

‘The county was a rich Anglo county and has been well populated by various groups throughout history so it’s perhaps no surprise that it’s such a treasure trove,’ according to the JewelleryBox team, who analysed the DCMS data.

Dr Helen Geake, who looks after treasure finds for Norfolk, said the past wealth contributed to the number of finds.

‘Norfolk has a lot of Treasure finds because it has a lot of metal-detectorists in the county, and a lot of ploughed land where they can search. 

‘Plus in the past, when wealth was based on agricultural land, it was quite a wealthy county with a relatively high population.’

Dorset came third in terms of population, with 87.2 finds per 100,000, or a total of 331 discoveries since 2012.

A spokesperson for Dorset council said it is a rural county with a few concentrated towns and a relatively small population. 

‘We have a very active team that has a long history in working with detectorists, encouraging best practice,’ including surgeries on how to report treasure finds.

Dorset’s history stretches back to the Jurassic period, and evidence of every era of humans have been found in the county.  

‘And our county town – Dorchester- has an Iron Age Hill fort (Maiden Castle), the best preserved exposed Roman town House in the UK,’ according to the spokesperson. 

An example of treasure in Dorest includes a rare gold coin dating back to the 15th century, worth £15,000 and unearthed by treasure hunters in 2017. 

The prized coin was made during the brief 86-day reign of King Edward V who was murdered in the Tower of London. 

Essex had a total of 570 finds since 2012, putting it in third place for overall discoveries after Norfolk (917) and Suffolk (581), but with its 1.8 million population, it lagged in 13th place in the overall table, with 38.1 per 100,000 people.

Figures published by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) revealed 2019 was a record year for treasure, with 1,300 pieces found in the UK

Figures published by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) revealed 2019 was a record year for treasure, with 1,300 pieces found in the UK

An example of ‘treasure’ uncovered in Essex includes a 1,700-year-old gold ring believed to have once been a ‘prized possession’ of a Roman woman or young man.

It was found in a farmers field in Broxted, near Saffron Walden in 2019, and declared treasure by the Essex Coroner’s Court. 

WHAT TO DO IF YOU FIND TREASURE? 

You must report treasure to the local coroner within either:

  • 14 days of first finding it
  • 14 days of realising an item might be treasure, even if you’ve had it for longer

You only need to report items officially defined as treasure.

There’s an unlimited fine or up to 3 months in prison for not reporting treasure. 

After a find is reported a local Finds Liaison Officer will contact you to talk about how and where you made the find and to give you a receipt.

They’ll write a report on the find and at this point museums can express an interest in it if it might be treasure.

The coroner will then hold an inquest, with the discoverer, site occupier and land owner invited to ask questions. 

If a museum wants the treasure then the Treasure Valuation Committee will decide how much the treasure is worth and how much will go to anyone eligible for a share of the find.

You can comment on the valuation, along with the site occupier and landowner, or send your own valuation for the committee to consider. 

You may get a share of the reward if you’re:

  • the finder, and had permission to be on the land and acted in good faith
  • a person or organisation with freehold on the land
  • someone who occupies the land as a tenant of the owner

Archaeologists are not entitled to a share of any reward. 

If you act in bad faith (for example by trespassing or trying to hide the find) you may get a reduced share of the reward, or none at all.

It can take up to a year from when the treasure was found until the reward is paid – longer for large finds.

If the find does not count as treasure or no museum wants it then you get it back, with the landowner informed. 

Based on the data the least likely place to find treasure was in County Durham in North East England, although they don’t go into why so little treasure was found.

However, like most places the numbers are actually increasing – from a single find in 2012 to 11 discoveries in 2019 – a total of 50 during that period, but with a population of over 500,000, that works out at just 5.4 per 100,000 people.

The Isle of Anglesey had fewer actual finds, at just four since 2012, and in many years none at all, but with a population of just 70,000 it had 5.7 per 100,000 people.

One of those discoveries was a Bronze Age hoard dating back 3,000 years, discovered by metal detectorists in Cwn Cadnant in 2015. 

The team decided to use the per 100,000 people figure to create their table as it shows the likelihood of people within the county encountering treasure trove. 

East Riding was also among the top ten, with over 300 finds since 2012.

Dr David Marchant, museums registrar for East Riding of Yorkshire Council, said it was a rich farming area that has been settled by humans for thousands of years, ‘so inevitably people drop, lose, or discard items.’

‘One of the Treasure highlights in our area would be the Anglo-Saxon sword pommel that was found on the beach at Aldbrough and is currently on display in the Treasure House in Beverley.

‘The other one would be the South Cave Weapons Cache, which, although when they were found did not meet the strict definition of Treasure, were undoubtedly the major find by metal detector users in our area over the past 20 years.’

In fact, the increase in the number of discoveries in recent years has been driven by individual treasure hunters, rather than organised archaeological digs. 

Speaking to the Guardian in February, culture minister Caroline Dinenage said: ‘The search for buried treasures by budding detectorists has become more popular than ever before and many artefacts now see the light of day in museums’ collections.’ 

‘However, it is important that we pursue plans to protect more of our precious history and make it easier for everyone to follow the treasure process.’ 

These are all finds that fall within the definition of Treasure Trove, rather than just items dug up that are old, or even valuable.

Under the Treasure Act it includes any metallic object other than a coin that is at least 10 per cent gold or silver, and at least 300 years old when found.

If it is prehistoric and metal, then it is considered treasure regardless of how much of it is made of a precious metal.

Combinations of items can also be ‘treasure’ where one item isn’t, for example two or more coins from the same find provided they are at least 300 years old when found and contain 10 per cent gold or silver will be treasure.

If the coins contain less than 10 per cent of gold or silver there must be at least ten of them for it to be classified as treasure.  

Any object, whatever it is made of, that is found in the same place as, or had previously been together with, another object that is treasure – so if a hoard previously declared treasure was found in a field, any future object is treasure.

According to the British Museum Portable Antiquities Scheme there are strict rules around reporting treasure, or suspected treasure. 

‘You must report all finds of treasure to a coroner for the district in where they are found,’ the guidelines read.

This is ‘either within 14 days after the day on which you made the discovery or within 14 days after the day on which you realised the find might be treasure.’ 

The coroner holds all finds until it is decided whether it is a treasure or not, and if it turns out to be a treasure museums are invited to express an interest. 

Daena Borrowman at jewellerybox, speculated that coastal towns, such as the Isle of Wight, Norfolk, Dorset and Suffolk could have the most buried treasure due to historic trade links, as well as higher levels of wealth in the past.

An metal detectorist has unearthed a Roman signet ring with the inscription 'DM' on it while searching in a field in Suffolk. Kevin Cracknell. 59, first thought he had unearthed a farmer's signet when he dug up the ring last year but an inquest has found that it is from 200AD

An metal detectorist has unearthed a Roman signet ring with the inscription ‘DM’ on it while searching in a field in Suffolk. Kevin Cracknell. 59, first thought he had unearthed a farmer’s signet when he dug up the ring last year but an inquest has found that it is from 200AD

‘As you look down the list of counties with the most buried treasures found, you can see the stark difference between in-land counties such as: Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Cheshire towards the bottom and these coastal towns at the top,’ she said.

It is also a common activity to look for buried treasure across beaches, Borrowman added, ‘with people taking metal detectors and their kids for a day out.’ 

‘So although all the factors mentioned clearly make a huge impact, we can’t neglect the fact that there is going to be less people looking for the treasure in counties such as: Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Cheshire. 

‘Along with the possibility that the historical buried treasure in big cities lies underneath roads, big buildings and landmarks.’

She said in comparison to modern jewellery, items found during the medieval and bronze age were more likely used a commodity money at the time. 

‘Whereas modern day jewellery is generally worn as adornment, while some precious modern day jewellery may be owned as a financial asset.

‘Future generations are unlikely to stumble upon a lot of jewellery from our time in the form of buried treasure as very precious jewellery is securely locked away in a safe or exchanged for its value in money while cheaply made jewellery is not likely to last for very long if buried. 

‘It’s also possible that with the fashion landscape changing and items being made available within days, the long lasting quality of jewellery just isn’t the same and trends change so rapidly that high quality jewellery just isn’t necessary for the majority of the population in the UK.’

Details are available from the JewelleryBox.co.uk website. 

Table showing the breakdown of treasure finds in the UK over the past decade

Table showing the breakdown of treasure finds in the UK over the past decade



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