2.2 Treasure Trove

The Isle of Man has its own Treasure Trove legislation, which states that items of silver or gold with no traceable owner that have been deliberately buried may be declared as Treasure Trove by the High Bailiff in his/her capacity as Coroner of Inquests (with or without a jury at their discretion):

'Objects of gold or silver … hidden in the soil or in buildings … of which the original owner cannot be traced, are treasure trove and by law the property of the Crown. If … the finder … reports the find promptly … he will receive its full market value if it is retained. The find will only be retained if required for the collections of the Manx Museum, the British Museum or other similar institutions.' Isle of Man Government Circular 66/72.

In practice, the requirement of animus revertendi, the intention to recover the buried items, has also applied in past cases. This legislation was originally intended to make sure that the Lord of Man (a title originally granted in 1399 and gained by the British Crown in 1765) did not lose out on any stray funds:

'... any Treasure whatsoever being found and secretly hidden under Ground, either within the House or without in the Fields, or in the Thatch of the House, or within any other covert Place, to the End to defraud the right Heyres, or for any other fraudulent Intent or Purpose, shall be the Lord's, as a Prerogative due unto his Lordship by the Lawes of this Isle.' Treasure Trove 1586 Act

(The 'fraudulent' purpose has since been dismissed, with the emphasis now on the items being 'hidden'.)

It is only since the 1970s that the Manx Museum has had the pre-emptive right to acquire any Treasure Trove items (previously, items were offered to the British Museum first), and items subject to an inquest are retained by MNH.

The number of potential Treasure Trove items is increasing, with six cases currently ongoing, at various stages of the process. The type of material mainly comes from two periods in Manx history, the Viking Age (800–1266 AD) and post-Viking (1267–1400 AD). The Vikings, as already mentioned, valued the Isle of Man as a trading centre and, as a result, stashed a large number of hoards in the ground during their occupancy. These hoards vary from coin only, to hack silver only, to a mixture of both. Gold items from this period are rare on the Island, but one gold hoard has been found in the west of the Island (Fig. 7). This consisted of one complete ring of twisted gold wire, a piece of another ring and a fabulous carved fragment of a ring or mount. The complete ring and the carved fragment both have a gold content of over 90%, the other fragment being between 70–80% pure gold. The remaining Viking Age hoards are silver, the most notable recent find being in 2003 when a collection of over 460 coins, 24 ingots and one broken armlet were discovered (Fig. 8). This hoard, the Glenfaba Hoard, turned out to be a catalyst for a major review of the Treasure Trove process in the Isle of Man.

Figure 7  Figure 8

Figure 7: Greeba gold hoard ©Manx National Heritage
Figure 8: Selection of objects from Glenfabe Hoard ©Manx National Heritage

The period after the Vikings saw the Island alternating between Scottish and English rule for a period of about 100 years and presumably the insecurity that this generated was the reason for a number of coin hoards to be buried around the Island. These range from a hoard with around 30 coins from the early 1300s, to one with over 600 coins from the same period. The majority of these hoards contain coins minted in Ireland, Scotland and England, reflecting influence from and trade with, our near neighbours at this time.

The process for potential Treasure Trove items has changed since the discovery of the Glenfaba Hoard, and completely new legislation is now being drafted for this category of archaeological object. A disagreement over the valuation of the Glenfaba Hoard led to closer scrutiny of the existing legislation by the Island's parliament. Subsequently, MNH sought advice from colleagues in the neighbouring countries and as a result, approached the Treasure Valuation Committee (TVC) in London to enquire whether an arrangement could be put in place to enable Manx Treasure Trove items to be considered in the future. This was accepted and now every Manx Treasure Trove case goes to the TVC for valuation, with MNH paying the valuation costs and maintaining management of the Manx items. This 'stepping aside' from the valuation process has proved to be a success and is the first stage of an overhaul of the legislation.

Compared to the Treasure Act (website: Treasure Act) in force in England and Wales, the Isle of Man Government Circular has a narrow yet vague definition of Treasure Trove and does not include provisions for an accompanying Code of Practice (website: Treasure Act Code of Practice). The fallout from the Glenfaba Hoard case initiated a direction from government to redraft the legislation and this was an opportunity for all interested parties on the Island to be involved in one of the most important changes to portable antiquity legislation in decades.


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