Treasure Hunting Laws

The rights to a treasure trove (recovered treasure that has no apparent owner) vary in different countries. In the United States treasure trove is treated in the same way as any other found property. State laws vary, but the finder is usually allowed to keep the treasure. Some states require permits for treasure hunting on state lands. The U.S. Treasury Department issues excavation permits for public lands. The federal income tax laws apply to discovered treasure.

The law on sunken treasure is complicated. Many shipwrecks are the property of shipowners, insurance companies, or state or national governments. Treasure hunters may make an agreement with an owner to recover the treasure for a fee or a percentage of the find. If a wreck has no known owner, its cargo usually belongs to the finder.