Fortune hunters discovered more than 15 buried treasure troves in West Sussex last year, new figures have revealed.
The British Museum has lauded the fantastic discoveries made across England and Wales last year, which it said could have a “significant impact” on our understanding of the past.
In 2018, enthusiasts reported 17 discoveries to the West Sussex Coroner’s Court, which holds inquests into treasure finds.
That was higher than the previous year’s haul, when there were six reported finds.
Anyone who discovers what they believe could be classed as treasure has to tell the coroner within 14 days, so the court can hold an inquest to decide who should get the loot.
If they don’t, they could be punished with an unlimited fine or up to three months in prison.
A number of objects are defined as treasure under the Treasure Act.
These include coins, old metallic objects that are at least ten per cent precious metals such as gold or silver, or prehistoric metallic objects.
All potential treasure finds are processed by the British Museum, whose experts advise coroners on whether the find fits the definition of treasure.
If a coroner rules that it is treasure, both local and national museums are given the chance to acquire the pieces, and the finder will be paid a sum depending on the treasure’s value.
Last year, the West Sussex Coroner’s Court completed three inquests, and concluded that all of the finds were indeed treasure.
If the find is determined not to be treasure, or no museums want it, it is returned to the finder.
There were 999 finds reported to coroners across England and Wales last year, a six per cent decrease on the year before.
Coroners completed 425 inquests, and determined in 380 cases that the discoveries were treasure.
Ian Richardson, Treasure Registrar at the British Museum, said: “The Treasure Act, administered by the British Museum, exists to make sure that the most important archaeological discoveries are able to be acquired by public museums.
“If treasure finds are not reported, as is required by law, then we risk losing artefacts that could have significant impact on our understanding of the past.
“The general public are fascinated by the history beneath our feet, and enjoy seeing new discoveries and learning how they help fill in the gaps in our knowledge.
“Treasure finds can also contribute to an enhanced sense of place as people are proud of discoveries from their local area.”
• Report by Harriet Clugston, data reporter