Archaeology and treasure

Northern Ireland's landscape has evidence of over 9,000 years of human activity. Archaeological sites and monuments, archaeological objects and maritime remains have been discovered. Sometimes certain archaeological objects are uncovered and classified as 'treasure'.

What to do if you find an archaeological object

If you discover an archaeological object or treasure during fieldwork or excavating building foundations, you must tell 'National Museums Northern Ireland' (NMNI) or the police within 14 days.

If the object is easily carried you should also deposit it with one of the bodies mentioned above and they can retain it for up to three months to allow proper examination and recording.

Occasionally, certain types of archaeological objects are uncovered in Northern Ireland which are classified as treasure. It may be difficult for you to decide if the object you find might be treasure, but the archaeologists in the Historic Environment Division or the NMNI who you report your find to should be able to help.  Once an object is classified as potential treasure, the discovery must be reported to the Coroners Service.

How 'treasure' is described

In Northern Ireland treasure is defined as:

  • a prehistoric object containing gold or silver
  • two or more prehistoric base metal objects
  • 2-9 coins which are at least 300 years old and are at least 10 per cent gold or silver or more than 10 coins which contain some gold or silver
  • objects which are at least 10 per cent gold or silver and are at least 300 years old
  • objects found in association with treasure or where treasure was found previously

Using a metal detector

If you want to use a metal detector, you should be aware that there are restrictions on searching for archaeological objects. 

It is an offence to search for archaeological objects, if that search involves disturbing the ground, without an archaeological excavation licence issued by the Historic Environment Division:

It is also an offence to possess a detecting device on a protected site (scheduled sites and monuments and State Care monuments) or to remove an archaeological object from a protected site without the Historic Environment Division's consent:

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