Keeping a close eye on hidden treasures

DID you ever hunt for hidden treasure as a child? It seems there's still a number of committed treasure hunters out there, using their metal detectors to search for gold.

If they're lucky they might unearth some Roman coins or an old Viking axe.

More often than not they'll return home empty-handed, but for the odd occasion they do make a find, it is worth the hours of searching.

The Portable Antiquities Scheme has been set up to help people who do happen to make a find. They can take their item along to a finds surgery and have it assessed by a finds officer.

Northamptonshire has just appointed a new finds officer, Steven Ashby, who is keen to see what people unearth.

He said: "Northamptonshire is a good place for finds. We don't get a lot that gets classed as treasure but we are getting more as the scheme builds.

"In Northamptonshire we have a broad range. We get a lot of Roman metal-like coins because Northamptonshire has quite an extensive network of Roman rural settlements across the county. We've also had flint axes, Bronze Age weapons, pottery, Anglo-Saxon belts and military medals.

"Last year there were more people finding things who were non-metal detectorists. It can be people out walking their dog, in their garden or farmers who find things out in their fields. There does still seem to be quite a lot of people using metal detectors, though. People are very interested in it. Some do it for money but most of the people I have spoken to are just keen to find out as much as possible about their object."

Northamptonshire has seen more than 30 discoveries of actual 'treasure' since 1997.

In March, 2004, a man was searching with a metal detector and discovered 56 items dating back to the Bronze Age (1000 to 800BC), which is very rare in Northamptonshire.

The artefacts, including axes, knives and spearheads, were scattered over a small area and were probably dispersed by the movement of a plough. They are to be given to Northampton Museum.

Another metal detectorist uncovered a Roman silver mount while searching near Paulerspury in November, 2003 which the finder was allowed to keep.

Treasure is classed as anything made of at least 10 per cent in weight of gold or silver and is more than 300 years old, or any object that is prehistoric and contains gold or silver.

If you find something which might be treasure you are legally obliged to report it within 14 days. It has to be passed to the coroner and the British Museum will identify it. An inquest will then decide if it is treasure.

If it is treasure, a museum will have the option to acquire it. It will be valued and compensation will be paid to the finder and the landowner.

If it isn't treasure the finder gets to keep it.

Steven, who studied archaeology and zooarchaeology – the study of animal bones to find out about a particular period – at university before becoming Northamptonshire finds officer, said: "If anyone does find something I would advise them to make as good a record as you can about where you found it. Either mark it on a map or some metal detectors now have GPS which records the location.

"Some finders are worried we will give away too much information about a find location because they think others will start searching there but we can limit the degree of precision if they have concerns.

"These finds are then recorded on a national database – it now has about 200,000 finds on it.

"If you find anything bring it to me. We want to get as much information as we can so we can build up a picture across the county.

"We are not in the business of taking things off people. If they are happy to lend it to us we can research it and what we want is to get as much information as possible about the county. It is about engaging the community and protecting our heritage."

Steven is holding a series of finds surgeries across the county.

Members of the public who have found something they think might be of value can bring it along to be identified and recorded.

Sessions are taking place at:

n East Carlton Country Park on Monday from 2pm to 4pm.

n Wellingborough Council Croyland Abbey offices on Wednesday from 11am to 1pm.

n Manor House Museum in Kettering on Thursday from 11am to 1pm.

n Oundle Museum on Wednesday, April 4, from 2pm to 4pm.

For details call Steven Ashby on 01604 237249 or e-mail sashby@