A significant new bill was passed in France on the 7th of July 2016. The law on the freedom of creation, architecture and heritage (Liberté de la Création, Architecture et Patrimoine) is designed to modernise the heritage protection system, among other things. It is concerned with issues such as art, music and architecture, as well as archaeological research, which also makes it relevant to the world of metal detecting.
Under Article L. 541-4 of the Heritage Code, which was introduced by Article 70 of this new Act, archaeological discoveries made on land which has changed hands after the 7th of July 2016 will now belong to the state. Prior to this change, any such artefacts would go to the landowner or, if it was an accidental discovery, half of it could also be claimed by the person who found it (such as a metal detectorist).
Once a discovery is reported, it is then up to the Territorial Commission to decide whether or not it should be officially registered as an archaeological artefact. If the answer is yes, then the object will belong to the French state. Otherwise, it will be retained by the landowner and the person who found the artefact. Even if the object belongs to the state, the landowner can sometimes receive compensation for any damage that was caused to his property during the process of discovery. If the discovery is made on land which was acquired before the 7th of July 2016, then, according to Article L. 541-5 of the Heritage Code, the landowner and the finder can claim it as their own.
Dominique Garcia, the president of the National Institute of Preventive Archaeological Research (l’Institut national de recherche archéologiques préventives) has made it clear that the new law applies everywhere. Public and private lands will both be treated in the same way. This can even apply to certain caves, which are technically the remains of ancient real estate. As a result, some moveable objects found in caverns, such as ceramics or ivory, will belong to the state if there is enough scientific interest in their preservation.
Overall, this is quite clearly bad news for the metal detectorists in France, as this new law will severely restrict their ability to participate in the cultural life of the French society and prevent them from contributing to the discovery and protection of archaeological heritage. We suspect that this will have a detrimental effect on the number of reported finds, as many people will lose their will to search for artefacts, while some may even try to sell them to private buyers, which is exactly what the new law is trying to avoid.