Protecting Northern Irelands Archaeology

Historic Monuments have been protected by legislation since 1869.

The current legislation is the Historic Monuments and Archaeological Objects (NI) Order 1995. Monuments may also be protected by taking them into State Care or by Scheduling them for protection.

The Department for Communities also administers the Protection of Wrecks Act (1973) in Northern Ireland’s territorial waters, within 12 miles of shore, and have designated the wreck site of the Armada galleass Girona for protection under the Act. The Historic Monuments and Archaeological Objects (NI) Order 1995 also applies within territorial waters.

Archaeological Objects

Archaeological objects discovered by members of the public, for instance, during fieldwork or excavating building foundations, must be reported to the Department’s Historic Environment Division, to the Ulster Museum, or to the Police, within 14 days of discovery. Details such as where and how the object was found should be recorded.

Object(s) may then be held by us or the Ulster Museum for up to three months to permit proper examination and recording.

Different procedures exist for objects which are suspected to be treasure.

Archaeological Objects Classified as Treasure

On occasion certain types of archaeological objects are uncovered in Northern Ireland which are classified as treasure. Such objects fall under special legislation called The Treasure Act 1996, which replaces the common law of treasure trove in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Objects classified as treasure have to be dealt with under special procedures separate to that for other types of archaeological objects.

Further information can be found in the leaflet;

If you suspect that you have discovered treasure, or any other archaeological object, you should contact the Department, the Ulster Museum or the Police Service as soon as possible;

Metal Detecting

Metal detectorists should be aware of the restrictions on searching for archaeological objects imposed by the Historic Monuments and Archaeological Objects (NI) Order 1995.

It is an offence to search for archaeological objects without an archaeological excavation licence issued by us. It is also an offence to be in possession of a detecting device on a protected site (Scheduled or State Care Monuments) or to remove an archaeological object from a protected site without written consent from us.

Further information and guidance on the main points of the law regarding metal detecting in Northern Ireland can be found in the leaflet;

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