Treasure

 

The British Museum has a legal responsibility under the terms of the 1996 Treasure Act to process treasure finds from England and Wales. As the leading source of numismatic expertise in this country, the Department of Coins and Medals is actively involved in most cases where coins are recovered, either by chance finds or archaeological excavation.

Each year the Department deals with about 50 treasure cases, of which only the most spectacular make the national press. Outstanding finds of gold and silver coins, such as Hoxne (1992), Appledore (1997) and Shapwick (1998), stand out in comparison with most hoards that consist of heavily worn and corroded base-metal coins.

Once delivered to the Museum, a potential treasure find may require conservation before it can be fully identified. The identification and cataloguing process allows the curator to advise the local coroner on whether or not a find fulfils the definition of treasure as established by the 1996 Treasure Act.

If a find is declared treasure at inquest, both local and national museums have the opportunity to acquire it. The full market value of a find, as established by the independent Treasure Valuation Committee, is granted to the finders and landowners in the event of its acquisition by a museum. Only in the event of a find being declared 'not treasure', or where no museum expresses an interest in acquiring a find, will it be returned to the finder.

The Department of Coins and Medals has acquired several important finds in recent years, all of which are either displayed in the Museum's galleries or available for study by scholars and enthusiasts alike. The Department also provides advice to local museums hoping to purchase hoards, and has played an important role in helping finds to be displayed in museums close to their place of discovery, such as the Shapwick hoard, now in Taunton Castle Museum.

The introduction of the Treasure Act (which replaced the common law of Treasure Trove) has led to a doubling of the number of cases each year, as a result of the inclusion of non-precious metal finds in the definition of treasure. At least five members of the Department are regularly involved in treasure work.

Appledore

When a find is of national importance, the Museum will, if possible acquire it. Appledore is an example of an unusual late Anglo-Saxon coin hoard that challenges the chronology of coin groups from this period. This hoard, discovered in 1997 and subsequently acquired by the Museum, is in an extremely good state of preservation, and so allows real comparisons between minting practices in different mint towns to be made. The Appledore find has increased our understanding of political and economic developments surrounding the rebellion of Earl Godwin (the father of King Harold) against Edward the Confessor in AD 1051-2.

Hoxne

Hoxne is one of the most stunning treasures ever discovered, consisting of more than 15,000 gold and silver coins, and over 200 pieces of precious-metal jewellery and tableware. The hoard provides an example of the coinage that was circulating in Britain at the time when the Roman Empire effectively lost control of the island in the early 5th century AD. Through the acquisition of the Hoxne treasure, the Museum has gained a visually striking display of Roman wealth, and the most comprehensive series of late Roman coinage ever discovered in Britain.

Hoards processed by the Department, including those acquired by the Museum, are published, together with others identified by colleagues in national and local museums, in frequent volumes (see recent publications). Summaries of finds are also published in specialist journals and the Treasure Annual Report for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.