If you find treasure or lost goods

This advice applies to Scotland. See advice for See advice for England, See advice for Northern Ireland, See advice for Wales

This page explains what you should do if you find objects including treasure. It covers what to do with items you find in the street, in the sea or on the sea shore, as well as using a metal detector.

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

  • how easy it is to find the rightful owner.

As a general rule, when you find objects that you know don't belong to you, they can be handed in to the police or a lost property office if you found them in a public place, like a bus or train.

After 2 months, if the person who lost the objects 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, but it might be difficult to charge you if no one knows you found it.

Can you keep treasure

If you find ancient objects made of precious metal, 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 council 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. 

The police or museum will report the find to the Procurator Fiscal and the Queen's and Lord Treasurer's Remembrancer, who is responsible for treasure trove. A committee will decide what to do with the object. The committee could decide that:

  • the object doesn't need to be kept and should be returned to the finder

  • the object should be kept for a museum. If this happens, the finder might be paid a reward, based on the value of the object.

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

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 permission from the landowner. This could be the local council.

You should get permission from the secretary of state for Scotland for using a metal detector on a listed ancient monument or other protected site. You can get a fine 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 shore could be from a ship and are known technically as 'wreck'. All wreck must be reported to the Receiver of Wreck.