Advice for finders of treasure in Northern Ireland

Certain archaeological objects are classed as treasure, and there is a system of laws and regulations in the Northern Ireland which sets out the definition of treasure, and what you should do if you find an object you think might be treasure. Items which are treasure belong to the Crown and the aim of our treasure legislation is to ensure that important and significant finds are preserved in museum collections for public benefit.

Treasure legislation in Northern Ireland

The law on treasure in Northern Ireland is set out in  the Treasure Act 1996, as amended by the Treasure (Designation) Order 2002 and, since 30 July 2023, the Treasure Designation (Amendment) Order 2023

To accompany the 2023 amendment, a  revised Code of Practice has been produced which outlines the operation and administration of  the treasure process across the UK. There are differences in the regime governing treasure across the various jurisdictions and all of these, including the practices applicable in Northern Ireland, are described in this Code.

This page provides an introduction to treasure in Northern Ireland, but anyone with an interest in the area is strongly encouraged to familiarise themselves with the legislation and the Code.  For further information on the treasure process in Northern Ireland you can also contact National Museums NI.

Definition of treasure

The definition of treasure in Northern Ireland now includes the following:

Metal objects (other than coins)

Any object, other than a coin, provided that it contains at least 10% of gold or silver and is at least 300 years old when found. Objects with gold or silver plating normally have less than 10% of precious metal.


All coins from the same find provided that they are at least 300 years old when found (but if the coins contain less than 10% of gold or silver there must be at least 10 of them). An object or coin is part of the same find as another object or coin if it is found in the same place as, or had previously been left together with, the other object. Finds may have become scattered since they were originally deposited in the ground. Only the following groups of coins will normally be regarded as coming from the same find:-

  • hoards that have been deliberately hidden
  • smaller groups of coins, such as the contents of purses, that may have been dropped or lost
  • votive or ritual deposits

Single coins found on their own are not treasure, unless they are captured within the significance criterion introduced by the 2023 Order (See below). Groups of coins lost one by one over a period of time (for example those found on urban sites) will not normally be treasure

Associated objects

Any object, whatever it is made of, that is found in the same place as, or that had previously been together with, another object that is treasure.

Prehistoric objects

Two or more associated objects of base metal (e.g. bronze or iron) and of prehistoric date (i.e. Iron Age or earlier).

Objects that would have been treasure trove

Any object that would previously have been treasure trove but does not fall within the specific categories given above. These objects have to be made substantially of gold or silver; they have to have been buried with the intention of recovery, and the owners or their heirs cannot be traced.

Significant finds

The 2023 Order provides that, for finds made from 30 July 2023, objects which do not meet any of the other criteria can be deemed to be treasure if they are of outstanding historical, archaeological or cultural importance. Objects must be at least partly of metal and over 200 years old. The criterion allows for individual coins to be deemed treasure if they meet the significance threshold.

It is important to note that a high threshold will apply to the interpretation of this criterion. To meet this threshold, objects must provide an exceptional insight into an aspect of national or regional history, archaeology or culture, by virtue of their:

  • rarity as an example of their type found in the UK
  • their particular location, region or part of the UK 
  • connection with a particular person or event

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport for the UK will shortly be publishing further guidance on the new definition, and this page will be updated when that guidance is available.

The following types of finds are not treasure;

  • objects whose owners can be traced
  • unworked natural objects, including human and animal remains, even if they are found in association with treasure
  • objects from the foreshore, which are wreck

If you find something that may be treasure

The treasure process in Northern Ireland is administered by Treasure Registry staff at National Museums NI in conjunction with the coroners Service for Northern Ireland and supported by Historic Environment Division. Any person who finds an item or items which they believe might be treasure should report it directly to National Museums NI (who will pass details to the coroner) within 14 days from when they realised the object might be treasure. By doing so (and supplying all of the necessary contextual details) the finder has fulfilled their legal obligation under the Treasure Act.

The obligation to report finds applies to everyone, including archaeologists who find an object they suspect to be treasure in the course of an archaeological excavation. In the case of archaeological excavations, the treasure find should be reported to HED in the first instance.

If you are unsure whether an item is treasure, or need advice on the treasure process, please contact  National Museums NI who can also explain how treasure cases are progressed and what to expect if you find an item deemed to be treasure.

It is important to note that, for any search for archaeological objects or treasure in Northern Ireland where there will be digging in the ground (including metal detecting activities) you require a licence from HED under the Historic Monuments and Archaeological Objects (Northern Ireland) Order 1995. Licences are only issued for archaeological projects and the application forms and process can be accessed below. 

Anyone intending to metal detect in Northern Ireland must be familiar with the law governing the activity  which is outlined in A Guide to Metal Detecting, Archaeology and the Law.

Back to top