A campaign to get Britain treasure hunting has been slammed as “intensely stupid” by archaeologists who fear people will be breaking the law.
The campaign, advertised by chocolate makers Cadbury, urges people to “grab a metal detector” and go looking for treasure near historical sites and monuments.
They say: “There’s plenty of real treasure out there still to be discovered. So what are you waiting for?
“Explore the UK’s top treasure hotspots and see the riches already discovered on display at national sites.”
However, experts say it is a criminal offence to dig up areas close to archaeological sites and treasure hunters could be prosecuted if caught in the act.
Dr Aisling Tierney, an archaeologist at Bristol University, told the BBC: “Archaeologists are trying to get word round ASAP that any digging within a set distance of an archaeological monument is a criminal offence, and people are prosecuted, even if they didn’t know it was illegal.
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“The campaign makes it seem all treasure hunting is ok and what you find is up for grabs.”
The Cadbury campaign suggests it is “probably worth a quick check” at Mooghaun Fort, in the Republic of Ireland, where gold ingots were discovered.
But Dr Tierney hit out at this advice, adding: “To suggest ‘a quick check’ is intensely stupid and deeply illegal.”
She said that the Republic of Ireland had strict rules surrounding the use of metal detectors.
Other experts chimed in to express their thoughts on the campaign, including the National Trust Archaeology department, who said the advice was “utterly appalling”:
Cadbury said it did not condone the breaking of existing rules and was “in the process” of updating its website to make it clear.
A spokesman added: “It was not our intention to encourage anyone to break existing rules regarding the discovery of new archaeological artefacts and we are grateful this matter has been brought to our attention.”