TREASURE hunters have unearthed hundreds of artefacts across Dorset in recent years, according to latest statistics.

The county is one of the best spots for buried treasure according to the British Museum and it says finds show "little sign of dipping any time soon."

Gold diggers, metal detectorists and mudlarks made 42 discoveries in Dorset last year, statistics from the Museum and Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport show .

A whopping 286 discoveries were reported since records started in 2012 – the country's ninth-biggest haul.

The Treasure Act defines treasure as finds older than 300 years.

These include coins, prehistoric metallic objects and artefacts that are at least 10 per cent precious metals such as gold or silver.

Anyone who thinks they have struck a hidden horde has to tell the coroner within two weeks, so the court can hold an inquest to decide who gets to keep it.

If they don't, they face an unlimited fine or up to three months behind bars.

There were a total of 25 treasure inquests in Dorset in 2018 with 16 so far this year.

Local and national museums are given the chance to buy any pieces a coroner rules as treasure.

But the finder doesn't leave empty-handed. They will be paid a sum depending on the haul's value.

Last year, 1,096 treasure troves were reported across England, Wales and Northern Ireland – 59 of which came from the South West.

Metal detecting was the best way to unearth lost treasure, according to the figures.

The devices tracked down 96 per cent of finds in 2017, the most recent year with details on how the objects were discovered.

A further three per cent – 33 cases – were archaeological finds and seven from field walking or scouring streams and shores.

In 2018-19, a survey of 765 adults in the South West found 1.3 per cent had taken part in metal detecting at least once in the previous year.

This compares to an estimated 1.6 per cent of adults across England.

Professor Michael Lewis, head of portable antiquities and treasure at the British Museum, said: "Given the variety of the objects being reported, from pre-historic hoards to post-medieval buttons, what they tell us about the past varies significantly.

"But there is no doubt that some of the most famous treasure finds, such as the Staffordshire Hoard, have completely transformed how we understand Britain's past, all the more remarkable as most of these finds are found by interested amateurs, not professional archaeologists.

"The main purpose of the Act is to ensure that the most important finds end up in museum collections for all to enjoy, and to that end over 200 museums across England, Wales and Northern Ireland have benefitted from the acquisition of treasure."