Metal Detecting in Scotland

man beachcombing
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When lockdown came upon us in March 2020 people tried to cope with it in many different ways. Getting outside was vital for mental health and wellbeing. One of the hobbies that people turned to – or returned to in many cases – was metal detecting.

Metal detecting has risen and fallen in popularity over the years but it was one activity people, facing weeks of lockdown, could safely do, outdoors, distanced from others. The rise in people taking part in metal detecting also saw, as you would expect, an increase in ‘finds.’

Metal Detecting and Treasure Trove in Scotland was the subject of the latest talk in the Kilmartin Museum lecture series (21.07.2022). It has been recorded so you will be able to watch it on their YouTube channel.

This fascinating talk by Sophie Lynn the Treasure Trove Unit’s officer, gave us the do’s and don’ts of metal detecting and how this popular hobby, working with archaeologists, can reveal more about Scotland’s history.

Scotland’s Treasure Trove Unit (TTU) is based in the National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh. Currently there are only two members of staff. This is the place where all the ‘finds’ are processed and recorded.

Treasure Trove is based on the principles of the Scots common law bona vacantia (ownerless goods). 

Finds dug up by metal detectorists will fall into one of two categories:

  • disclaim – returned to finder
  • claim – offered to museums

It is important that the TTU is informed of all ‘ownerless finds’ so that they can been researched and recorded, this is regardless of age or material composition. If they fall into the ‘claim’ category, which means they are of cultural/historical significance then they go before the Scottish Archaeological Finds Allocation Panel (SAESP). This body will decide which museums the finds should be offered to and financial contribution for the finder.

In Scotland the law on finds differs from that in England. Landowners in Scotland do not have ownership rights on finds but metal detectorists must ask permission if they wish access to their land. Fossils and animal bones are not covered by Treasure Trove. If human remains are uncovered, Police Scotland must be contacted.

It is illegal to go metal detecting on or to damage scheduled sites in Scotland. Click on this link for more information on Scheduled monuments in Scotland

Many metal detectorists comb the beaches and coasts of Scotland. Crown Estate Scotland have useful information on this.

In Scotland (in contrast to England, Wales and Northern Ireland), there is a general right of access for the public to all beaches and foreshore, so we don’t require people to obtain a permit for access to Crown foreshore. 

Crown Estate Scotland

To find out more about metal detecting on beaches click on this link: Metal detecting, Crown Estate Scotland

Sometimes a metal detectorist comes across the find of a lifetime – a hoard. When this happens TTU advise that the hoard is safely left in place, covered, its location recorded and that the County Archaeologist and/or TTU are contacted immediately. This is so that an archaeological assessment and recovery can be put in place. This does not affect the finders rights.

The Peebles Hoard was discovered by metal detecting in June 2020. Working with archaeologists this was found to consist of a horse harness and sword from the Bronze Age – dated to 1,000 to 900 BC.  Mariusz Stepien who discovered the find did all the right things by contacting TTU as soon as he realised that this was something a bit different.

You can view a short video here of the finds recorded in 2020.

For anyone metal detecting or considering it as a hobby there is a Code of Practice you can download:

Code of Practice for the Treasure Trove system


‘Under Scottish law all portable antiquities of archaeological, historical or cultural significance are subject to claim by the Crown through the Treasure Trove system and must be reported.

‘This document provides a comprehensive guide to the Treasure Trove system and sets out best practice to be followed by all parties involved in its operation’.

Treasure Trove Code of Practice

You can follow the Treasure Trove Unit on Twitter : @TTUScotland

And Kilmartin Museum: @kilmartinmuseum

Fiona Grahame