Treasure hunting is a fantastic hobby and pastime. It not only can pay off handsomely for a determined metal detectorist, but it's a great way to bring history and cultural heritage closer to the present-day.
However, not everybody hunting for buried treasure chooses to play by the rules.
Bronze Age Gold Ring
An exceedingly rare penannular gold ring dating to the Bronze Age (roughly from 3000 BCE to 600 BCE) was found by Ricky Smith, a metal detecting enthusiast, in the county of Surrey in the U.K. about two years ago. "Pennanular" rings and brooches have a small portion of the circumference missing—an incomplete circle—as shown in the image below. It weighs close to 9.5 grams.
Mr. Smith failed to promptly notify the authorities of his discovery. Had he done so, he would almost surely have been entitled to half of the value of the treasure. Instead, he tried to go directly to a museum to sell the Bronze Age ring for full value (estimated to be between £500 to £600). This was after he twice phoned the local Finds Liaison and alerted them that he would be reporting the find to the coroner's office as the law requires.
The Treasure Act, the law that governs how these kinds of treasure finds are handled, provides for a 14-day window for the finder to notify the local coroner. The ring was found on a private estate; if a discovery meets the criteria to be declared treasure, the sale price of the item is split evenly between the property owner where it was found and the person who found it. While these rules may seem a bit burdensome to an outsider, they are a necessary way to sort things out due to the high volume of treasure that is found in Great Britain.
The ring itself supposedly dates to the Late Bronze Age (in Europe, about 1150 BCE to 750 BCE). Its rarity is noteworthy: it's just the fourth gold item of any kind from the Bronze Age that has been found in Surrey.
It seems that Mr. Smith had intended to make his discovery known until he had a change of heart and wanted to keep the entire reward for himself by circumventing proper procedure.
Instead of collecting the £250-£300 he would have been entitled to, he will end up being fined £1,050 instead! He was sentenced two weeks ago. In the time since the find, the gold ring has been offered—through official channels—for sale to various museums in the area.
What's the big deal about how Smith went about selling the ring? When such a find is not promptly reported to the correct authorities, invaluable historical context about its original location is squandered.
According to the West Sussex County Times, Mark Harrison, the National Policing and Crime Advisor for Historic England, said, “Illegal metal detecting is not a victimless crime. The actions of people like Smith affects us all because they are damaging or stealing objects that we will never see or understand because they have been taken out of these sites with no care or record as to their history or context."
Harrison added, “The vast majority of detectorists comply with the law and have made a number of significant discoveries that have added to knowledge to our shared cultural heritage.”
The opinions and forecasts herein are provided solely for informational purposes, and should not be used or construed as an offer, solicitation, or recommendation to buy or sell any product.