Research by the BBC has revealed Norfolk as the best spot for treasure hunters. But is everything as it seems? Of all the treasures found in the ground, fewer than 5% are discovered by professional archaeologists. More than 90% are unearthed by amateur treasure hunters armed with metal detectors – devices originally devised for hunting down land mines. Recent finds include a hoard of Roman coins in Herefordshire, a collection of Norman and Anglo-Saxon coins in Buckinghamshire and collection of Viking jewellery in North Yorkshire. But one county in England boasts more treasure finds each year than Herefordshire, Buckinghamshire and North Yorkshire combined: Norfolk.
Coroner figures (treasure is declared such by coroners) for the past three years reveal the county has on average 116 treasure finds a year, followed by Essex with 71, Suffolk with 65 and Lincolnshire with 59. Coventry, Bristol and the City of York, on the other hand, have not had a single treasure declaration in three years.
The BBC’s map of treasure does seem to reflect the sites of the much older major cities such as Norwich, Lincoln, York, Bristol, Ipswich and Winchester. But while finds might reflect historical areas of settlement, far more important, says Dr Lewis, are the activities of the people who make the finds. East Anglia – an area of arable farmland – and the flats of Lincolnshire are simply easier to metal detect on than hilly farmland in, say, Cumbria or the Pennines. Metal detectorists cannot detect in built-up urban environments, meaning town centre finds – such as the Fenwick Treasure in Colchester – are nearly always made by archaeologists brought in as part of a redevelopment. In the 1980s, archaeologists and metal detectorists were at war over the nation’s subterranean heritage. But in the 20 years since the PAS set out clear guidance for the reporting of finds by the public, the relationship between responsible detectorists and archaeologists has thawed.
All finds should be reported to one of the country’s 37 finds liaison officers (FLO). Between them, they have collated details of more than one million finds since the scheme started. Dr Lewis said of the 80,000 finds reported each year only 1,000 or so were treasure. The location of treasure finds also reflects the regional vibrancy of a metal detecting as a hobby and – in some instances – the talent of the detectorist. The first areas to have FLOs were Kent, Norfolk, the West Midlands, North Lincolnshire, north-west England and Yorkshire. Four of these regions feature towards the top of the treasure finds list.