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If you find treasure or lost goods

This advice applies to Scotland

This page explains what you should do if you find something including treasure. It covers what you should do with items you find in the street or using a metal detector or in the sea or washed up on the sea shore.

Can you keep what you find

If you find something whether or not you can legally keep it depends on:

  • where it has been left or found
  • whether it is lost or abandoned, and
  • how possible it is to find the rightful owner.

As a general rule when you find goods that you know don’t belong to you they can be handed in to the police or a lost and found office if you found it in a public place like a bus or train. After a period of two months if the person who lost them hasn’t gone to the police station or the lost property office, to look for them, you can claim them.

If you knowingly keep something that doesn’t belong to you it is an offence (endnote 1) but it may be difficult to charge you if no-one knows you found it.

Can you keep treasure

If you find any ancient objects whether they are made of precious metal or other metals or clay it is called ‘treasure trove’ and is the property of the Crown.

If you find an object that might be treasure trove, you must report it to the Treasure Trove Unit at the National Museums of Scotland or to a local museum or the local authority archaeologist. If you're unsure if a find is treasure trove, you can contact the Treasure Trove Unit for advice.

If you find human remains or skeletons you must report these to the police as these are covered by different laws. 

The police or museum will report the find to the Procurator Fiscal and to the Queen’s and Lord Treasurer’s Remembrancer (QLTR) (who is responsible for treasure trove). A committee will decide what to do with the object. They could make one of the following decisions:

  • decide that the object(s) don't need to be kept, and should be returned to the finder, or
  • decide that the objects should be kept for a museum. If this happens the finder may be paid a reward, based on the value of the object(s).

It's always to your advantage to report the find at once, to make a careful note of where you found the objects, and to make sure that you don't damage the object(s), for example by cleaning them.

You can find out more about treasure trove on the Treasure Trove Scotland website.

Metal detectors

If you're going to use a metal detector to search for treasure trove or other hidden objects, you should:

  • get the landowner’s permission before searching on private land
  • get permission from the Secretary of State for Scotland for using it on a listed ancient monument or other protected site. A fine can be imposed for using a metal detector on these sites without permission. You can get permission from Historic Environment Scotland.

Items in the sea or washed up on the shore

Goods found in the sea or on the seashore could be from a ship and are known technically as 'wreck'. All wreck must be reported to the Receiver of Wreck.

Endnote

1 Section 67 of the Civic Government Scotland Act 1982

 

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