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Legislation Concerned with Archaeology in England


Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act (1979)

The Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act (1979) is still the major piece of legislation concerned witht he protection of archaeological sites / ancient monuments in England.

Duty of the heads of the AMB and the HBC to recommend archaeological monuments and Historic Buildings to the Secretary of State for the Environment for 'listing/scheduling' - called listing (or scheduling for ancient monuments) because it is a physical list (or schedule) appended to the end of the Act noting the buildings and ancient monuments that are protected by law.

What is an Ancient Monument?

(definitions from Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 section 61)

Monument (i) any building, structure or work, whether above or below the surface of the land, and any cave or excavation; (ii) any site comprising the remains of any such building, structure or work or of any cave or excavation, or (iii) any site comprising, or comprising the remains of, any vehicle, vessel, aircraft or other moveable structure or part thereof that neither constitutes nor forms part of any work which is a monument within (i) above.
Ancient Monument any scheduled monument and any other monument which in the opinion of the Secretary of State is of public interest by reason of the historic, architectural, traditional, artistic, or archaeological interest. Ancient Monuments that were protected by law comprised only scheduled monuments (2% of total). 3 months notice must be given before any work is carried out to these monuments and application must be made via Scheduled Monument Consent.
Areas of Archaeological Importance 5 urban areas designated as archaeological importance. These include Chester, York, Hereford, Exeter, and Canterbury. This designation means that archaeologists on learning of a major archaeological find can delay development work for 13 weeks for rescue excavation , recording - but provides no money. E.H. pays large sums for rescue archaeology. But it is a major incentive for developers to make sure that archaeology in towns is considered before development work starts. Holding work for 13 weeks can be exceedingly costly.

National Heritage Act (1983)

Creates Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission for England (English Heritage), Historic Scotland and CADW. The Act leaves the Royal Commissions for England, Scotland and Wales in tact still carrying on their old duties.

Treasure Act (1996)

Provides a new definition of treasure to cover a much broader range of portable antiquities, as well as procedures to be followed if you find treasure. Treasure includes:

Treasure does not include:

Procedures for action

1. Treasure must be reported to the local coroner within 14 days of finding, or finding out that goods recovered might class as treasure. If you do not do so you may be fined up to (currently) £5000. Objects judged as treasure become property of the Crown to dispose of as the Crown wishes.

2. The coroner will tell you where to take the object -usually local museum, or archaeological body, who must inform the local SMR as soon as possible to allow for possible archaeological investigation. The coroner must also inform the British Museum, the National Museums & Galleries of Wales.

3. The BM or NMGW can decide whether they or any other museum might wish to acquire the object - within 28 days.

4. If so, an inquest is held to formally determine whether the item(s) is treasure.

5. If found to be treasure, the item is independently valued by the Treasure Valuation Committee - made up of independent experts. Valuations (rewards) can be discussed/disputed.

6. The reward is paid to:

  1. the finder if (s)he has permission to be on land, or split between finder and landowner according to some prior written agreement.
  2. if finder does not have permission to be on the land, the reward will be paid to the landowner.
  3. if further finds are made by archaeologists on site, the finder will normally be eligible for the reward in respect of the whole find.
  4. archaeologists do not get rewards for their finds

National Heritage Act (2002)

Other Legislation

Town and Country Planning Act (1990)


For information on the Monuments Protection Programme and the Monuments at Risk Survey consult English Heritage.

The Monuments Protection Programme is accessible through the Archaeology Review 1996-97.

Information on the Treasure Act is available through the HMSO.

Have a look at the broader discussion about the implementation of the Treasure Act available through the CBA web pages.

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