Launch of the Essex County Pages

Following the launch of the Cheshire County Pages last month we have another new County Pages site, this time from the East of England. The Essex County Pages have gone live today with a series of webpages about upcoming events, ways to get involved in archaeology and Portable Antiquities Schemes finds from the county.

Our Essex Finds Liaison Officer (FLO), Ben Paites, is currently advertising for a new Volunteer Finds Recorder to assist him at the at the Museum Resource Centre in Colchester with Colchester & Ipswich Museum Service. For more information, please see the role description on the Colchester & Ipswich Museums volunteering webpage here. The deadline for expressions of interest in 9am on Monday 11th April 2016. The new volunteer will learn to identify and record archaeological material found and reported by members of the public, and will have the chance to contribute posts on their research and experience of volunteering to the Essex County Pages. Ben and one of his former volunteers, Katie Bishop, contributed a series of blog posts themed ‘Festive Finds’ to the main County Pages news feed in December 2015.

Enjoy exploring the objects and coins discovered in Essex and recorded by Ben and his volunteer team and keep an eye out for new blog posts on the new Essex County Pages in the coming weeks!

Early Medieval gold ring
2012 T89 – Early Medieval gold ring. Copyright: Colchester and Ipswich Museum Service. License: CC-BY

Launch of the Cheshire County Pages

The second set of County Pages launches today with a new site dedicated to the archaeological finds and historical environment of Cheshire. Here you can find out more about forthcoming finds surgeries in the county and other events as they come up, search for artefacts and coins found in Cheshire and recorded on the Portable Antiquities Scheme’s database and explore the county’s museums and archaeological societies. There are also blog posts featuring notable finds and general research as well as background information about the work of the county’s Finds Liaison Officer (FLO) and volunteers.

Huxley Hoard lead and bracelets
The Huxley Hoard was found in Cheshire in 2004 (LVPL-c63F8A)
Copyright: National Museums Liverpool License: CC-BY

Vanessa Oakden is the FLO for Cheshire, as well as Greater Manchester and Merseyside, and is based at the Museum of Liverpool. In one of her blog posts, she describes a typical finds surgery meeting members of the public reporting archaeological finds to record and, in another post, she selects some of her favourite finds from her home country of Ireland found in North West England. Vanessa recently wrote a book published by Amberley Publishing called ’50 Finds from Cheshire’ looking at finds from Cheshire recorded by the Scheme. In one of the blog posts on the new County Pages, this book is reviewed by Samantha Rowe, a PhD candidate at the University of Huddersfield. One of Vanessa’s volunteers, Carl Savage, has also contributed a post on medieval coin finds from Cheshire and his voluntary role identifying medieval and post medieval coins.

The County Pages have been developed as part of the Portable Antiquities Scheme’s Heritage Lottery Fund PASt Explorers project and was first launched in June 2015 with the pilot site of Leicestershire. PASt Explorers is recruiting and training local volunteer teams to work with the Scheme’s Finds Liaison Officers to record archaeological finds made by members of the public and share information about their county’s heritage with local communities.

Other County Pages sites are in development and will be rolled out gradually over the coming year. In the meantime, we hope you enjoy finding out more about the rich history that Cheshire has to offer and more about the fantastic work of Vanessa and her volunteers in recording and sharing new discoveries from the county.

Roundup of the PASt Explorers Conference 2015

The inaugural PASt Explorers conference took place at the British Museum last month and was attended by over 140 people. This event was the first in a series of annual conferences coordinated by the five year Heritage Lottery Funded project to celebrate the contribution of volunteers to the work of the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) and to the knowledge of history and archaeology of local communities. The 2015 PASt Explorers conference was also run as the main PAS annual conference to highlight the achievements of the first year of the project, but in future these will be two separate events.

Audience in the BP Lecture Theatre
Audience in the BP Lecture Theatre. Copyright: Portable Antiquities Scheme. Licence: CC-BY.

The conference was held in the BP Lecture Theatre at the British Museum on Monday 23rd November 2015 and the day began with a brief address from Sam Moorhead (PAS National Finds Adviser) who was involved in developing the initial idea for PASt Explorers. Claire Costin (PAS Resources Manager and PASt Explorers Project Manager) and Clemency Cooper (PASt Explorers Outreach Officer) proceeded to outline the research and consultation undertaken during the development of the project in 2013-2014 and the pilot in Leicestershire, and presented the aims and achievements of the project in its first year.

Margaret (volunteer) speaking at PASt Explorers conference
Margaret (PAS volunteer). Copyright: Portable Antiquities Scheme. Licence: CC-BY.

This was followed by another joint talk, given by Stephanie Smith (Finds Liaison Officer for Sussex) and Garry Crace (Finds Liaison Assistant for Norfolk) about the systems of in-house and remote volunteering roles developed in the county, including groups of metal detectorists. The Sussex system aims to provide a flexible network of volunteers with overlapping areas of expertise who support the Finds Liaison Officer in the process of recording archaeological finds made by members of the public. After a short break, four of the Scheme’s volunteers then gave their perspective on volunteering for the Portable Antiquities Scheme, including why they got involved and why they feel the work of the PAS, and particularly the opportunity for people such as them to get involved, is important. Jack Coulthard (West Yorkshire volunteer) and Julie Shoemark (former Wiltshire volunteer and current maternity cover FLO for Somerset) spoke about their experiences of volunteering alongside a FLO, and Maragaret Broomfield (Surrey volunteer) and Tom Redmayne (Lincolnshire volunteer) spoke about volunteering to record finds remotely.

Morning panel discussion
Morning panel discussion. Copyright: Portable Antiquities Scheme. Licence: CC-BY.

The morning sessions were chaired by Helen Geake (PASt Explorers Project Officer) who invited all eight of the speakers to the stage for a half hour panel discussion prompted by questions from the audience. Audience members asked about opportunities for children to get involved in the PAS and about opportunities for members of the public to take part in archaeological excavations, as well as the geographical coverage of the PASt Explorers project and the benefits of collaboration between community archaeology projects.

Regular breaks throughout the day offered delegates the opportunity to meet other people involved or interested in the work of the PAS and the impact of heritage sector volunteering and community archaeology more widely. Among the conference delegates were many of the Scheme’s volunteers, current and former staff members, colleagues from partner organisations, and representatives from metal-detecting clubs and other community archaeology projects. In the foyer outside the lecture theatre, Current Publishing had a stand with information about subscriptions to Current Archaeology magazine.

Sara (HLF) speaking at the PASt Explorers conference
Sara Crofts (Heritage Lottery Fund). Copyright: Portable Antiquities Scheme. Licence: CC-BY.

After the lunch break, Wendy Scott (FLO for Leciestershire and Rutland) talked about the discovery of a Roman temple site discovered at Bosworth Battlefield Visitors Centre and the subsequent recording of the finds which has relied heavily upon volunteer participation. Sam Moorhead then returned to the stage to speak about how the enormous number of records generated by the Scheme’s volunteer network and the multi-period research this facilitates which is changing our understanding of British history.

A summary of recent community archaeology projects funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) was presented by Sara Crofts (Head of Historic Environment at the HLF). She considered the ways in which projects have achieved outcomes for heritage, people and communities through a series of case studies. The final talk of the day was given by Laura Phillips (Head of Community Partnerships at the British Museum) who spoke about the varied ways in which volunteers shape and support her team’s programmes and about a current research project in partnership with the Oxford Institute of Population Ageing exploring demographic change in the UK and the likely impact on volunteering in the heritage sector.

Afternoon panel discussion
Afternoon panel discussion. Copyright: Portable Antiquities Scheme. Licence: CC-BY.

The afternoon talks and panel discussion were chaired by Rob Webley (PASt Explorers Project Officer). Questions for the afternoon’s panel of speakers touched upon the relationship between landowners, local communities and archaeologists, and on the British Museum’s national partnerships.

Adam Daubney, Finds Liaison Officer for Lincolnshire, monitored the PAS’ Twitter feed and gave a commentary on the conferencetalks, which helped people to remotely follow the discussion. The hashtag for the day was #pastexplorers and you can catch up with online discussion here and on the PAS’ Twitter account. For anyone who could not attend the conference in person, digital sound recordings were made of all of the talks. The files require editing before distribution but we aim to make these available on-line as soon as possible.

Many thanks to the British Museum for hosting the conference; to all of the PAS and Museum staff involved in the organisation and smooth running of the event; to all of the speakers for their inspiring and interesting talks; to the Heritage Lottery Fund for their invaluable funding, advice and support of the PASt Explorers project; and last but by no means least, a very big thank you to all of the incredible volunteers who generously and enthusiastically contribute their time and expertise to the work of the Portable Antiquities Scheme.

Tweets using #pastexplorers
Tweets using #pastexplorers. URL: https://twitter.com/search?src=typd&q=%23pastexplorers

PAS Volunteer Conference – 23rd November 2015

We are delighted to announce that the Portable Antiquities Scheme’s 2015 conference celebrates the launch of PASt Explorers, the Scheme’s five year Heritage Lottery Funded project to recruit and train volunteers from local communities, increasing the capacity of the PAS to record archaeological objects found by members of the public.

Wiltshire PAS volunteer examining a Roman vessel hoard from Pewsey
Wiltshire PAS volunteer examining a Roman vessel hoard from Pewsey. Copyright: Portable Antiquities Scheme. Licence: CC-BY.

This conference aims to illustrate how volunteers have contributed to archaeological knowledge, and asks how we can better demonstrate the impact and celebrate the value of involving volunteers in archaeology on individuals and society as well as understanding our shared past.

The conference takes place in the BP lecture theatre at the British Museum on Monday 23rd November 2015 and is open to all PAS volunteers, staff and researchers. Refreshments (tea/coffee) will be provided free of charge. Lunch can be purchased from one of a selection of restaurants and cafés in and around the British Museum.

A speaker at a podium in the BP lecture theatre at the British Museum talking to a conference crowd
A conference at the British Museum. Copyright: Portable Antiquities Scheme. Licence: CC-BY.

Admission to the conference is free but advance booking is essential. Please see the provisional programme and reserve your place on the Eventbrite webpage here: https://past-explorers-2015.eventbrite.co.uk/ Registration closes at 12:00 noon on Friday 20th November 2015. We look forward to welcoming many of our colleagues, volunteers and supporters to our conference at the British Museum later in the year.

In future years, a PASt Explorers volunteer conference will be organised separately to the PAS annual conference and this will be held in a different region and venue each year.

PAS at the Festival of British Archaeology 2015

Three children rummage in the finds tray on a PAS stall
Children explore a finds tray on a PAS stall. Copyright: Portable Antiquities Scheme. Licence: CC-BY.

This summer sees the Council for British Archaeology celebrate their twenty-fifth annual Festival of Archaeology. Hundreds of archaeological events and activities will take place during the fortnight of Saturday 11th – Sunday 26th July 2015.

The Portable Antiquities Scheme has long been involved in supporting and running events during the Festival such as display stalls, handling sessions, talks and children’s activities during visitor open days at excavations and heritage sites. Many of our Finds Liaison Officers also hold extra finds identification sessions (finds days or finds surgeries) at local museums, giving members of the public the chance to bring along archaeological objects and coins to be identified and recorded on to the PAS database.

Keep an eye out for one of our Finds Liaison Officers at events taking place up and down the country this month. Regional summaries of what you can see and do with PAS staff as part of the Festival will be posted on the Scheme’s main News and Events feed.

A Finds Liaison Officer identifies small finds for members of the public on a stall at a village fair
Frank Basford, the Isle of Wight FLO, at the Shorwell village fair. Copyright: Portable Antiquities Scheme. Licence: CC-BY.

Jack – Volunteers’ Week 2015

Jack, PAS volunteer
Jack, PAS volunteer. Copyright: Jack Coulthard.

To mark national Volunteers’ Week 2015, PAS volunteers were invited to contribute a blog post to the new County Pages about their experiences of volunteering for the Scheme.

This post was written by Jack Coulthard, a metal detectorist in Leeds who volunteers in the Wakefield office of Amy Downes, the Finds Liaison Officer for South and West Yorkshire.

 

I first encountered the PAS when, as a metal detectorist, I attended one of the finds recording days run by the South and West Yorkshire FLO, Amy Downes, to record a medieval seal matrix. When I went to collect it after it had been recorded Amy asked me if I would consider working as a PAS volunteer. Although I spent my working life in the computer business I have a history degree and have never lost an interest in the subject, so I was intrigued at the thought of seeing all the little pieces of history represented by the small finds brought in to the PAS.

A post medieval musket ball recorded by Jack (SWYOR-D276D9)
SWYOR-D276D9: A post-medieval musket ball recorded by Jack. Copyright: West Yorkshire Archaeology Advisory Service. Licence: CC-BY.

That was seven years ago and I’m still turning out one, and occasionally two, days a week to work in our Wakefield office. The volume of finds brought in to be recorded has not diminished in that time; as more people become aware of the PAS the number of items that we record has increased. That makes the role of volunteers more and more important as FLOs have a considerable workload in addition to simply recording finds (assisting finders in dealing with treasure finds, for example) much of which is not seen by the public. Anything that volunteers can do to spread that load a little helps the system to keep functioning smoothly.

I usually help with the identification and recording of finds, especially where the work is repetitive and time consuming, so that Amy has more time to work on other aspects of the job. An example is a recent batch of 168 post-medieval musket balls which, although quite mundane items, came from a Civil War battlefield and so are historically important. I know that we are due to receive another batch, so I’ll be dealing with those too – I’m getting to be quite expert at musket balls! I also try to help with as many of the administrative tasks as I can, such as data cleansing which needs to be done from time to time and can be done from home.

 

PASt Explorers Training Programme Commences

Coinciding with national Volunteers’ Week, PASt Explorers ran the first of the Heritage Lottery Funded project’s training days at Birmingham Museums Collection Centre on Tuesday 2nd June 2015. Eleven of the Scheme’s West Midlands self-recorders and in-house volunteers attended the training session to learn how to record finds onto the PAS database with the two PASt Explorers Project Officers, Helen Geake and Rob Webley.

PASt Explorers aims to expand the training opportunities available to Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) volunteers, and the project’s training programme comprises five modules covering the basics of digital finds photography (Module 3), finds image manipulation (Module 4) and finds identification (Module 5), as well as database recording (Module 2) and a general introduction to the work of the Portable Antiquities Scheme and the Treasure Act (Module 1).

A presenter points to a screen as training attendees watch.
Participants follow the database training in Taunton, June 2015. Copyright: Portable Antiquities Scheme. Licence: CC-BY.

The Module 2 training day in Birmingham was hosted by Teresa Gilmore, Finds Liaison Officer (FLO) for Staffordshire and West Midlands. You can read more the work of the archaeological finds volunteers who work alongside her at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery (BMAG) on the BMAG blog here. In feedback after the event, the volunteers said that the training provided clear principles for recording finds on the PAS database, especially for object descriptions. They thought it was a well put together day with information delivered in an accessible manner, with one participant describing the event as:

A very enjoyable day and will keep me enthused for some time.

PASt Explorers also ran Module 2 the following week on Saturday 13th June 2015 at Somerset Heritage Centre in Taunton, Somerset, which was attended by 15 finders and volunteers, most of whom were new to recording archaeological finds with the PAS. This training session coincided with Adult Learners’ Week, a national celebration of lifelong learning, and was hosted by Laura Burnett, Finds Liaison Officer for Somerset. These volunteers were also asked to provide feedback after this training event and here are a couple of their comments:

Friendly presenters, open to questions and very helpful.

Well presented, informative, enjoyable.

Twenty-five of the 26 participants completed feedback forms after the two training events and below is a chart summarising their responses to a series of tick-box questions.

A chart to show the feedback from attendees of the PASt Explorers database training modules for volunteers run in June 2015.
A chart to show the feedback from attendees of the PASt Explorers database training modules for volunteers run in June 2015. Copyright: Portable Antiquities Scheme. Licence: CC-BY.

The first run of Module 1 of the PASt Explorers training programme will take place at the British Museum next month, July 2015. Thirty-five of the Scheme’s volunteers from across the country will be introduced to members of the PAS and Treasure teams and have tours behind the scenes at the PAS to learn how their contribution feeds into the wider Scheme.

Tom – Volunteers’ Week 2015

Tom, PAS self-recorder
Tom, PAS self-recorder. Copyright: Tom Redmayne.

To mark national Volunteers’ Week 2015, PAS volunteers were invited to contribute a blog post to the new County Pages about their experiences of volunteering for the Scheme.

This post was written by Tom Redmayne, an independent metal detectorist and self-recorder from Lincolnshire who records his own finds onto the PAS database with the assistance of Adam Daubney, the Finds Liaison Officer for Lincolnshire.

2011_0303_164817AA
PUBLIC-CE3A43: A Roman coin and the first find recorded by Tom on the PAS database. Copyright: All rights reserved. Licence: CC-BY.

I started metal-detecting in 2005 when I moved to Lincolnshire and, after making my first few exciting finds, started to look for somewhere to have them recorded as I knew that these objects must have a story to tell and a value to the historical record. After talking to many other metal-detectorists and reading the hobby magazines I was finally pointed in the direction of Adam Daubney and the PAS. A phone call later and I was on my way to Lincoln with a very mixed box of finds and some very vague coordinates of their find spots. So began an incredibly educational and fascinating journey into small finds identification, recording and research.

Soon Adam introduced me to my first handheld GPS and my finds suddenly took on new meaning with their find spots being recorded to 10 place NGR accuracy. Patterns started to become evident in where many objects were found and the whole ethos of recording to the most accurate find spot and with the most accurate description was something that I became dedicated to following.

PUBLIC-C43EF3: A Medieval buckle and the most recent find recorded by Tom on the PAS database
PUBLIC-C43EF3: A Medieval buckle and the most recent find recorded by Tom on the PAS database. Copyright: All rights reserved. Licence: CC-BY.

Over time the number and variety of my finds led me more and more into research, with small-finds and coin identification becoming a particular interest of mine. By 2010 I was identifying most of my own finds and offering a detailed description with full coordinates to Adam when I handed them to him for recording. The obvious next step was to learn how to record my own finds directly onto the database so, in November 2010 I was set up as a self-recorder by Dan Pett and I wrote my first record!

All along the way, Adam had coached me, instilling into me the discipline and standards required to ensure that the maximum amount of information was extracted from the objects that I was finding, and he continued to do so, checking my records, offering suggestions and advice and, generally, keeping me on the right tracks.

It is over four years since that first entry and I have now written and uploaded over 730 records to the database.

Not only have I enjoyed recording my own finds, but also using the database to expand my own knowledge and to help others do the same by sharing information.

I have, over the last two years, used the database myself to study and classify a type of medieval buckle called a ‘disc-on-pin’ type. My research and classification is soon to be published as a Finds Research Group Datasheet. This would not have been possible without the PAS database and the time and effort given to me by its staff over the past ten years.

The whole database is a continually-growing and invaluable resource and tool for people from many disciplines and walks of life, not just from the heritage sector, and long may it continue.

 

William – Volunteers’ Week 2015

William, PAS self-recorder
William, PAS self-recorder. Copyright: William Aldington.

To mark national Volunteers’ Week 2015, PAS volunteers were invited to contribute a blog post to the new County Pages about their experiences of volunteering for the Scheme.

This post was written by William Aldington, an independent detectorist and self-recorder from Cheshire who records his own finds onto the PAS database with the assistance of Vanessa Oakden, the Finds Liaison Officer for Cheshire, Greater Manchester & Merseyside.

 

You can’t teach an old dog new tricks… There must be some truth in this old and well used adage because it is one of the oldest proverbial sayings in the English language and there are many citations of it; the earliest example in print is in John Fitzherbert’s ‘The Boke of Husbandry, 1534’, when even then it was regarded an old saying.

There’s no doubt either, that now in my seventieth year and a retired granddad, I’m nowhere near as sharp as I once was. Though I do try hard to keep up with the very latest in technology; software ‘apps’, ‘Twitter’, ‘Instagram’, ‘Face-Tube’, and the rest of cutting-edge gadgetry.

So I do sometimes wonder what possessed our FLO, Vanessa Oakden, to take on the unenviable challenge of educating me, ‘an old dog’, in the many new facets of self-recording – with a view to becoming a PAS Volunteer. Well, she bravely did and following our initial training session at her new HQ within the Pilotage Building, in the historical setting of Pier Head and Albert Docks in Liverpool; I have gradually come to terms with the nuances of Photoshop, the specifics of academic terminology and discipline of absolute evidential accuracy.

LVPL-1EC484: A post-Medieval silver composite button found by William
LVPL-1EC484: A post-medieval silver composite button found by William. Copyright: National Museums Liverpool. Licence: CC-BY.

I came late to the addictive hobby of metal detecting and first met with Vanessa at one of her monthly surgeries at the Chester Grosvenor Museum, when I disclosed to her an item under terms of the Treasure Act, 1996. On this occasion is was a simple but exquisite post-medieval silver button, subsequently declared by HM Coroner’s Inquest as ‘treasure’ and now donated to the Chester museum. As a result we are the proud possessors of a certificate signed by Ed Vaizey, the then Minister for Culture and the Digital Economy.

My detecting buddy and I have worked hard to develop a fine portfolio of landowner partners and in a relatively short period of time we have unearthed some interesting stuff. Dubbed “Finders-Sharers” we are, as our business cards proudly state,“a trusted team dedicated to the search, discovery and preservation of buried local history in partnership with caring, sharing landowners”.

Finding and preserving bits of local history always provides the metal-detectorist with a tremendous buzz of excitement and now, armed with PAS self-recording skills and authorization; the sense of achievement in making a positive contribution to documenting the Nation’s Heritage is pretty-much complete. Thanks Vanessa for your confidence and trust in an old dog; but particularly for your limitless patience and continued support!

So, is John Fitzherbert’s ‘Boke’ of 1534 correct?…

“ …and he [a shepherd] must teche his dogge to barke whan he wolde haue hym, and to leue ronning whan he wolde haue hym; or els he is not a cunning shepherd. The dogge must lerne it, whan he is a whelpe, or els it will not be: for it is harde to make an olde dogge to stoupe”.

[stoupe = put his nose to the ground to find a scent]

… Nope. You most definitely can teach the old bloke new tricks but it does take a fair-bit longer and the challenge is not for the faint-hearted.

Paradoxically, in this fast-moving world, it’s us old dogs that have the time to ponder, learn and contribute…

National Volunteers’ Week 2015

In preparation for the launch of the County Pages, we invited our volunteers to contribute a series of blog posts about the fantastic work they do for the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) to mark Volunteers’ Week (1st – 7th June 2015), a national celebration of the volunteer sector run by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO). We asked our volunteers to tell us what they do in their voluntary capacity for the PAS, why they got involved and why they feel it is important. Their blog posts will be added to the main news feed on the County Pages throughout June and July.

Volunteers' week logo
Volunteers’ Week logo. Copyright: NCVO.

We want to share their inspirational experiences and unique insight on the work of the PAS. It’s also important to us to publicly acknowledge the vital contribution that volunteers play in recording archaeological objects and coins, generating new data for the PAS database and so building up knowledge about the distribution of archaeological finds in local areas.

The first volunteer to be profiled will be Cheshire-based William Aldington, an independent detectorist and self-recorder who records his own finds onto the PAS database. Look out for his blog post on the County Pages tomorrow.