Guidance

Guidance on searching for archaeological finds in England during COVID-19

Guidance for members of the public (including metal-detectorists) searching for archaeological finds in England during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Introduction

As of 13 May 2020, you are able to spend unlimited time outdoors as long as social distancing is still practised. If you choose to leave your home to search for archaeological finds, including metal-detectorists, field-walkers and people searching the Thames foreshore (mudlarking), you must follow this advice.

While this guidance applies to England, you should always consider whether there are local restrictions in place in your area or where you intend to travel. If an area is experiencing a local COVID-19 outbreak and where local restrictions have been imposed, different guidance and legislation will apply. Please consult the local restrictions pages to see if any restrictions are in place.

This guidance is designed to help individuals search safely, and to outline the requirements of bodies organising events.

It provides steps to ensure you are able to:

  • safely social distance while searching for archaeological finds
  • fulfil your legal obligations under the Treasure Act 1996
  • ensure your discoveries can be recorded and contribute to archaeological knowledge
  • ensure the protection and preservation of archaeology

This guidance has been written with advice from the British Museum’s Portable Antiquities Scheme on how to report your finds and to protect in situ archaeology.

Searching safely

Finders should refer to the current government advice on meeting with others safely (social distancing) before leaving their homes to search.

Before you leave

  1. As usual, you must obtain permission from the landowner and/or occupier before venturing on to any land.

  2. If you have previously had permission from a landowner and/or occupier, you should now check again that they are happy for you to continue to search on their land. They may be isolating or shielding and/or may wish to limit the number of people coming onto their land, and their views may have changed given the current circumstances. You should abide by any decision they make.

  3. Think carefully about how you will interact with others, such as landowners and/or occupiers and other members of the public. Make a plan of how you will ensure that you practise and maintain safe social distancing.

  4. People wishing to search the Thames foreshore should refer to the Port of London Authority Guidance on their website page Thames foreshore permits.

Advice for land managers and landowners can be found in the Access to green spaces guidance

Getting there

You must follow government guidance on access to green spaces.

  1. There are no restrictions on how far you can travel to get to the countryside.

  2. Walk and cycle if you can. Where this is not possible, use public transport or drive. If using public transport is necessary, wearing a face covering is mandatory, unless you are exempt for health, disability or other reasons, and follow government guidance on face coverings. Please be mindful that the wearing of a face covering may inhibit communication with people who rely on lip reading, facial expressions and clear sound.

  3. When travelling to outdoor spaces, it is important that you respect the rules in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and do not travel to different parts of the UK where your intended activities would be prohibited by legislation passed by the relevant devolved administration. You should also consider whether there are local restrictions in place.

Being outside

When you are outside you must follow government guidance on meeting with others safely (social distancing).

  1. Social interactions must be limited to six people. There can, however, be multiple groups of six people doing the same activity in any one place provided that these groups do not mingle.

  2. People should continue to socially distance from those they do not live with. Stay 2 metres apart from people you do not live with where possible, or 1 metre with extra precautions in place (such as wearing face coverings).

  3. You should be alert to other people nearby, such as walkers.

Events

You must follow guidance for providers of outdoor events.

Businesses and charities following COVID-19 Secure guidelines can host larger groups in total, provided that social interaction of those in attendance are limited to groups of 6 or less which do not mingle. They must take reasonable steps to mitigate the risk of transmission, in line with COVID-19 Secure guidance and including completion of a risk assessment.

In particular, those running events following COVID-19 Secure guidelines should take additional steps to ensure the safety of the public and prevent large gatherings or mass events from taking place. You should make attendees aware of, and encouraging compliance with, limits on gatherings.

You should liaise with local authorities, neighbouring businesses and travel operators to consider the cumulative impact of many venues reopening in a small area, to assess this risk and the potential for applying additional mitigations. These could include:

  • further lowering capacity
  • staggering entry times with other venues or events and taking steps to avoid queues building up in surrounding areas
  • arranging one-way travel routes between transport hubs and venues
  • advising patrons to avoid particular forms of transport or routes and to avoid crowded areas when in transit to the venue

If appropriate, the government has powers under schedule 22 of the Coronavirus Act 2020 to close businesses hosting large gatherings or prohibit certain events (or types of event) from taking place.

If you are a business or charity organising a metal-detecting event, you must:

  1. Ensure that the regulations allow for your kind of event.

  2. Ensure that you follow the guidance for providers of outdoor events. You may also find information in the phased return of sport and recreation in England guidance useful.

  3. Ensure that you are compliant with the new regulations on NHS Test and Trace. We are now mandating that businesses must ask one member of every party who accesses their services to provide their contact details through NHS Test and Trace. Find out more about how NHS Test and Trace works and how to maintain records.

  4. Ensure that social interactions at your event are limited to groups of six or less, and that they do not mix with other groups in attendance.

  5. Ensure that you follow the working safely during coronavirus guidelines for protecting people working in and visiting any indoor areas.

  6. Ensure that attendees are aware of the rules and guidance on face coverings.

  7. Ensure that you follow guidance on disposing of waste.

Protecting archaeology

Especially at this time, finders and event organisers should avoid metal-detecting on ground that has not been recently disturbed to avoid damaging in situ archaeology (such as a previously undisturbed hoard or human burial). This is because it may be difficult at this time to get archaeological assistance in excavating them.

If you, or an attendee at your metal detecting event, discover an in situ find (such as a hoard or burial):

  1. Cover it up, make a note of its location and let your local Finds Liaison Officer and the landowner and/or occupier know.

  2. The Finds Liaison Officer will then be able to advise you when and if an archaeological excavation can be organised. This could take many weeks or months to be arranged and therefore information about the site should be treated in confidence.

  3. If you are not sure whether you have found a hoard in-situ or it is dispersed (for example a coin hoard scattered by ploughing) you should seek advice from your Finds Liaison Officer before excavating further.

Finders should note that in the event of an object or archaeological site being damaged, under the Treasure Act 1996: Code of Practice, the Secretary of State may determine that any reward payable may be abated, in full or part.

The Code of Practice for Responsible Metal Detecting provides more detailed guidance on how to search for archaeology responsibly.

Reporting your finds

Due to current social distancing requirements, you will have to report finds in a different way to ensure that you and your Finds Liaison Officer remain safe. You may currently be unable to physically hand your finds into your Finds Liaison Officer, and as such, there will be new systems in place for reporting. Finds Liaison Officers will aim to provide advice on reporting via phone and/or email.

If you have found potential treasure

Finders are still required to report any potential treasure finds within 14 days and follow all other legal obligations under the Treasure Act 1996.

  1. You must report any potential treasure to your local Finds Liaison Officer or the British Museum (treasure@britishmuseum.org).

  2. You will be asked to complete a “treasure declaration form” and submit a photo of your find. This will be for your own records to show that you have fulfilled your legal obligations, and also for the Finds Liaison Officers to begin processing your case.

  3. You should hold onto finds, secure them in a safe place, and await instructions from their local Finds Liaison Officer on when it is safe to hand them in. This may be several weeks or months.

  4. You should be aware that any such finds potentially belong to the Crown (or the Crown franchises in the Duchies of Cornwall, Lancaster and the City of London) and you should look after them with care.

  5. Advice on how to safely store and look after your finds at home can be found on the Portable Antiquities Scheme website. If a find meets the definition of treasure under the Treasure Act 1996, the finder does not own the find, and it is illegal for them to attempt to sell it.

Many aspects of the treasure process are currently paused or delayed. This means that your case will take significantly longer than usual. However, you will be updated when your case can progress. We appreciate your patience and understanding at this time.

If you have found a non-treasure find

It is recognised that public finds (including those found by metal-detectorists, field-walkers and mudlarks) make an immense contribution to our knowledge of the archaeology and history of Britain.

At the current time, it will not normally be possible for Finds Liaison Officers to meet directly with finders to record finds. However, you can still share your discoveries for recording.

  1. You should contact your local Finds Liaison Officer. They can support self-recording and provide advice on the digital reporting of important finds. If you have trouble reaching your local Finds Liaison Officer or receive a non-temporary out of office response from them, please email the British Museum (treasure@britishmuseum.org).

  2. You will be advised to hold onto your finds for recording at a later date. The Code of Practice for Responsible Metal Detecting recommends that finders keep a record of the find-spot for each find, and advice on how to safely store and look after your finds at home can be found on the Portable Antiquities Scheme website.

The process of recording finds on the Portable Antiquities Scheme database may take longer than usual.

If you currently have a find with a Finds Liaison Officer and you would like its return, you should contact your Finds Liaison Officer. In most cases, it is unlikely that they will be able to return it directly, but they will be able to advise you on when it may be safe to do so. This may be several weeks or months.

Next steps

This guidance will be updated as additional steps are made if they impact any of the above.

Further information

Useful contacts

Published 26 May 2020
Last updated 16 September 2020 + show all updates
  1. Changes to 'Being outside' and 'Events'.

  2. Policy update

  3. Added a section on organising events.

  4. Updated with latest government guidance on social distancing.

  5. First published.