This year marks 15 years of the Portable Antiquities Scheme as a national scheme. Throughout the year we’ll be celebrating finds from each county – a find a day for the whole year! Here are the finds we’ve chosen for Valentine’s week:
Medieval brooch (NARC-0B6A9E): a gold medieval brooch in the shape of an asymmetrical heart.
A bent Post-medieval sixpence (PUBLIC-50E096): a silver sixpence of William III which has been smoothed and bent into a love token.
A Post-medieval locket (DENO-FA82E5): a Post-medieval silver locket in the shape of a heart, with a cherub.
A Post-medieval fidelity ring (NMGW-19DF6E): a Post-medieval silver gilt fidelity ring with the inscription ‘I like my chois’ on the inner band.
A Roman denarius of Titus (FAKL-D6D8F6): a Roman silver denarius of Titus with the figure of Venus on the reverse.
A Post-medieval cuff-link (DUR-4B94C4): a Post-medieval silver cuff-link in commemoration of Charles II and Catherine of Braganza.
A Roman Cupid figurine (NCL-2C40A4): a Roman copper alloy figurine of Cupid.
This year marks 15 years of the Portable Antiquities Scheme as a national scheme. Throughout the year we’ll be celebrating finds from each county – a find a day for the whole year! Here are the finds we’ve chosen from Cheshire:
Post-medieval dress hook (LVPL-16EEF8): a silver gilt decorated dress hook.
Medieval key (LVPL992): an elaborate medieval key.
Roman brooch (LVPL-F2D460): a copper alloy Wirral type Roman brooch inlaid with orange enamel.
Roman mount (LVPL-3A0412): a copper alloy mount in the shape of the head of Medusa.
Bronze Age axehead (LVPL-C7CF65): a flat axehead made of copper alloy.
Medieval plumb bob (LVPL-C8B1A3): a lead plumb bob with elaborate decoration on either side.
Second World War plaque (LVPL-4C8B6D): a tin alloy plaque found on the site of a Second World War Prisoner of War Camp.
This year marks 15 years of the Portable Antiquities Scheme as a national scheme. Throughout the year we’ll be celebrating finds from each county – a find a day for the whole year! Here are the finds we’ve chosen from Cambridgeshire:
Iron Age/Roman cosmetic mortar (WAW-64685C): a copper alloy cosmetic mortar with a bull’s head, dating to 100BC-AD200.
Roman plate brooch (BH-3EB8BB): a copper alloy umbonate brooch with red and blue enamel inserts.
Early Medieval mount (CAM-758D07): a gilded copper alloy mount, possibly from a horse harness.
Early Medieval weight (DUR-8BA064): a lead weight with a copper alloy disc inset in the top, with a small red stone in the centre.
Early Medieval penny (CAM-EA5AD5): a silver penny of Aethelred II minted in Huntingdon.
Bronze Age axehead (BERK-16C720): a late Bronze Age copper alloy socketed axehead.
Medieval purse bar (CAM-E408D4): a copper alloy purse bar.
This year marks 15 years of the Portable Antiquities Scheme as a national scheme. Throughout the year we’ll be celebrating finds from each county – a find a day for the whole year! Here are the finds we’ve chosen from Buckinghamshire:
Palaeolithic hand-axe (BUC-C48B16): a flint hand-axe, worked on both faces.
Iron Age razor (BUC-58FFF8): a copper alloy Early Iron Age ‘Hallstatt’ razor.
Medieval jetton (BUC-70358C): a copper alloy Tournai jetton inscribed with ‘Ave Maria Gracia’.
Roman buckle (BH-7FCB64): a copper alloy buckle with ring and dot decoration.
Early Medieval item (BERK-9E0A55): a highly decorated silver item, possibly from a horse harness
Iron Age coin hoard (BUC-6877F8): hoard of Iron Age staters and silver units.
Roman figurine (BH-9713CC): copper alloy head fragment of a horse figurine.
This year marks 15 years of the Portable Antiquities Scheme as a national scheme. Throughout the year we’ll be celebrating finds from each county – a find a day for the whole year! Here are the finds we’ve chosen from Berkshire:
Iron Age strap fitting (SUR-1C54E3): a copper alloy strap fitting, possibly from a horse harness.
Medieval seal matrix (SUR-7BBE56): a copper alloy seal matrix depicting a stag’s head with cross between the antlers, which is the symbol of St. Hubert of Lieges.
Roman sestertius (BERK-FE5596): copper alloy sestertius of Trajan, with the Basilica Ulpia on the reverse.
Post-medieval dress pin (SUR-A19E13): a silver-gilt dress pin, used for pinning clothing such as veils.
Post-medieval hooked tag (BH-A61221): a silver-gilt hooked tag, used to fasten clothing.
Roman brooch (PUBLIC-D19098): a copper alloy and red enamel plate brooch depicting a fish.
Medieval silver ring (SUR-A6A0F4): a silver finger ring depicting a pair of clasped hands.
This year marks 15 years of the Portable Antiquities Scheme as a national scheme. Throughout the year we’ll be celebrating finds from each county – a find a day for the whole year! Here are the finds we’ve chosen from Bedfordshire:
Roman finger ring (BH-737CD3): a silver ring complete with intaglio depicting the Roman goddess Fortuna.
Medieval seal matrix (BH-5B8C07): a seal matrix made from lead, which reads “Simon the Knight”.
Roman/Early medieval buckle (LEIC-AE8085): a copper alloy belt buckle depicting two horses above two dolphins.
Roman vessel (BH-C0C3F7): an almost complete pottery vessel, identified as an infant’s feeding cup.
Mesolithic flint blade (BH-138112): a flint blade showing signs of retouching along both edges.
Medieval brooch (BH-457F21): a silver open-frame brooch complete with pin.
Iron Age stater (CAM-C9EF88): a gold Iron Age stater of Andoco.
This year marks 15 years of the Portable Antiquities Scheme as a national scheme. Throughout the year we’ll be celebrating finds from each county – a find a day for the whole year! Here are the finds we’ve chosen from Avon:
Roman brooch (GLO-5F0AE3): a Colchester derivative T-shaped brooch made from copper alloy and dated AD70-150.
Neolithic arrowhead (PUBLIC-3BD03B): a barbed and tanged flint arrowhead dating to the late Neolithic/Early Bronze Age period.
Post-medieval pierced coin (WILT-852CB5): a gold half-unite of Charles I which has been deliberately bent and pierced, probably for use as a love token or lucky charm.
Roman Capricornus figurine (SWYOR-29B362): a cast copper alloy figurine of a Capricornus – half goat, half fish. This mythical creature was the emblem of the Second Augustan Legion (Legio II Augusta) who were based in Caerleon, South Wales.
Early medieval harness mount (SOMDOR-305381): a copper alloy mount depicting a moustachioed face flanked by two stylised birds. It would probably have been mounted on either the browband or noseband of a horse bridle.
Silver coin of Edward I (SOMDOR658): a silver coin minted in Waterford, Ireland, depicting Edward I.
Bronze Age socketed axehead (GLO-57A477): a cast copper alloy socketed axehead dating to the Late Bronze Age c. 1000-800BC.
Welcome to Part Two of our round-up of the PASt Explorers Conference, which took place on the 18th November 2017.
Suitably refreshed after lunch and a wander round the fabulous galleries at National Museum Cardiff, we jumped straight back into the stories. This time, the story of how lead cloth seals led Stuart Elton (PAS remote volunteer) to volunteer for the Portable Antiquities Scheme and ultimately write a book on lead seals. Stuart emphasised the power of finds to turn a casual awareness of history into a desire to know more about the lives of our ancestors, who have suddenly become real through this interaction with an artefact. A feeling of obligation to record and share what he finds is what drew Stuart to the PAS, and he is a model of best practice. All finds have an accurate findspot taken using GPS to ensure geographic validity, and each is bagged and filed with a copy of its PAS record, as well as being recorded on Stuart’s own database. So why cloth seals? Lead seals are a common find but, unlike coins, there was very little information available for them, despite the fact that they contain a wealth of information about our post medieval industry and its trading routes. And so the “Bag Seal Junkie” was born! As well as distilling all of his knowledge into a book, Stuart helps to improve the quality of lead seal data on the PAS database by reporting errors, so you see there is more than one way to volunteer for the PAS.
Next up, Steve Guy-Gibbens (PAS volunteer, Hampshire) took us on an investigative journey to uncover the story behind a Roman phalera – or is it? Phalerae are sculpted discs of gold, silver or bronze that would have been worn on the breastplate of a Roman solider during parades. They were awarded as a kind of medal for valour and often depict iconography that emphasises bravery and victory. As such, they can tell us many things, from stories of individual acts of bravery to Roman attitudes towards the military. So what about this example? The first challenge was identifying who or what it depicts. Some see a Roman goddess, others a lion. Who is right? The second puzzle that arose during Steve’s research was whether it was even a phalera at all. It is rather large compared to other examples, but it does have attachment holes suggesting it was mounted on something. There is no conclusive answer to either of these questions as yet but, as Steve found, this process of investigation and research is all part of the appeal. We can only work with the information and parallels that we have available and perhaps providing one definitive answer isn’t the key aim. What really matters is that we record each find as fully and properly as possible so that the information is there for people to write the stories they choose to write. The PAS database leaves space for alternative interpretations and we can update records when new information comes to light. And who knows? Perhaps another example like this one will turn up to help complete the picture.
From the story of a single object to using objects to tell multiple stories, Simon Nicholson (PAS volunteer, Derbyshire) took to the stage to entertain us with a selection of tales from Derbyshire and how he uses PAS finds to bring these stories alive. Like all of the speakers today, Simon’s passion for the past was sparked by archaeological finds and the local stories they can tell. By volunteering for the PAS he has ben able to work with these finds and weave them into his local history talks, some of which we were treated to at the conference. From a notorious 17th century forger to the tough and reliable pottery that lifts the lid on an early manufacturing industry, each tale was an example of how using finds from the local area can make a subject so much more engaging. Placing it in a local recognisable context can help to bring the history alive. The best example of this is the ‘Cromford Dollar’. These were Spanish silver coins counter-marked with a trade stamp that were used by tradesmen to pay their workers at a time when few silver coins were being minted in Britain. Most local people will have heard the term ‘Cromford Dollar’ but few will have seen them before. Using examples recorded on the PAS database, Simon is able to provide some background and colour to this local story. His listeners can literally hold history in their hands. The power of objects indeed.
Finally, what better story to bring the day to a close than a story that became a media sensation? Emily Freeman and Evelyn Curl (PAS volunteers, Shropshire) lifted the (piano) lid on a Treasure find that captured the interest of the whole country, and beyond. In late 2016, a piano tuner in Shropshire was carrying out a routine job on a piano that had just been donated to a local school. The keys were a bit sluggish so he lifted the to take a look and found a stash of carefully wrapped packages. On further inspection each was found to contain a cache of gold sovereigns. The coins weren’t particularly old or special but they had clearly been packed away with great care by somebody. For reasons unknown that person never retrieved them leaving us with the threads of an intriguing story. The potent combination of gold and mystery caught the public’s attention and sparked a frenzy of media interest. The team at Ludlow Museum found themselves thrust into the limelight – it certainly was not the normal PAS volunteer experience! Now that the media furore has died down, we’ve been left with an incredible story of one of the more unusual finds on the database. It’s another great example of how there is much more to an object than first meets the eye, and a suitable point on which to bring this thought-provoking conference to a close.
Throughout the day we heard many, many different ways in which the finds on the database have inspired people to get involved with their local history. Behind every object is a story, sometimes many. With more than 1.3 million objects (and counting) recorded on the PAS database there are endless stories waiting to be discovered. Perhaps the purpose of the database is not to tell the stories but to provide the information from which the stories can be drawn. And we’re not just talking about official academic narratives here. There is more than one way to write about the past. What matters most is that the stories produced continue to engage people with their past. The database is for everyone, after all. What stories will you discover?
On Saturday 18th November we were welcomed to the National Museum Cardiff for our annual PASt Explorers conference. Battling rail replacement services, inclement weather and hordes of rugby fans, attendees arrived at the museum ready for a day of engaging and thought-provoking talks. This year the theme was ‘Telling Tales’ and we explored the multitude of stories contained within the PAS database.
We had tales of discovery and tales of inspiration; familiar tales with a new twist, and new tales that are being unlocked through PAS data. We even had tales of tales! At the heart of each were the finds themselves, and this was the key theme that emerged throughout the day. We heard about finds that had sparked a passion, finds that brought communities together, finds that challenged existing narratives and finds that captured the imagination of the whole country.
We kicked things off by laying a theoretical foundation for the day as Lauren Speed (PASt Explorers) explored the nature of objects and storytelling, asking us to ponder why we find these objects so fascinating. What is their power to engage us and why is this important? Some big themes to sum up in a short space but it really comes down to the link between ourselves and our material culture. Objects are a direct and very tangible link to the past. Like people, they have a chronology, biography and life-span. They carry not just the physical marks of their past use but also the meanings and values given to them throughout their life. Storytelling is an engaging and powerful way to unlock this information as it prompts us to look beyond the empirical data and think about the people behind the objects. Who made it and why? Adding some humanity to the way we talk and write about the past is vital for engaging as many people as possible and this is what we’re all about, after all.
Next up, we were treated to some examples of these ideas in practice as Dr. Rhianydd Biebrach (National Museum Wales) introduced us to the Saving Treasures; Telling Stories project. This is a 5 year Heritage Lottery Funded project that is helping local museum to acquire treasure finds for their collections and provides funding for local community archaeology projects to help people tell the stories of their local areas. Lots of examples were discussed but the story of the Trevethin Hoard probably best demonstrates the impact of the project. This is a hoard of Bronze Age axe- and spearheads found by a local detectorist. With the help of the Saving Treasures project, the hoard was acquired by Pontypool Museum where it is now on display. As well as being important archaeologically, the hoard has had a significant impact locally in an area more known for its industrial history. In fact, Bronze Age activity was previously unknown in this area and so the hoard is a source of immense local pride.
From new local stories, we moved onto the long-established narrative of Boudica and the Iceni uprising as Natasha Harlow (PAS volunteer, Nottinghamshire) revealed some of the results of her doctoral research into personal belongings recorded on the PAS database. We have plenty of images and stories of Boudica but archaeological evidence is lacking – her ‘costly’ chariot burial has yet to be found and the finds we have don’t support the image of Boudica passed down to us by classical writers. The ‘Iceni war of independence’ has left us a trail of destruction and hoards but not the harrying with fire and sword described by Tacitus. Instead, small finds recorded on the PAS database point to continuity in settlement and material culture in Iceni territory. Densities of brooch finds suggest manufacturing and workshop sites that continue through the revolt period, whilst the appearance of Latin text on votive items show an adoption of certain incoming beliefs mixed with old practices. What we seem to have is a story of resistance, selectivity and connectivity during the Iron Age to Roman transition. And what of Boudica herself – real-life warrior queen or an invention of Roman propaganda? For now, the answer depends on which story you prefer.
We rounded off the morning session with a surprising story from a field that wasn’t meant to have anything in it, as Dominic Shelley (PAS self-recorder, Cambridgeshire) showed us the find of a lifetime. After a quick scene-setting canter through the Dark Ages, we were quite aware that this sleepy corner of Cambridgeshire was pretty quiet during this period of history. Nevertheless, Dominic went out, permissions granted and detector in hand, to explore a local field and happened across an unexpected find: an early medieval gold Visigothic tremissis, minted in Spain and in very fine condition, just slightly worn. So not just unusual but hardly used. What then is the story behind this coin? It would have been worth a lot to its owner – 3 tremisses would buy you 70 litres of olive oil or 67 litres of wine, and if you stole a cow you’d be fined 2 tremisses. Is it evidence of a wealthy Visigoth living in Cambridgeshire? Probably not, but it does represent an interesting story. Somebody was bringing this coinage into the area and beyond, as shown by similar finds recorded on the PAS database. It does show us that Britain was not isolated in the 6th and 7th centuries and it is also a good example of how PAS finds are helping to change long-established ideas and stories. Previously it was believed that these coins had a purely symbolic function because they were known only from burials – money to pay the ferryman in the afterlife. Thanks to the PAS and finders recording their finds, we now have examples of these coins from non-burial contexts and can show another side of the story; that these coins were part of the economy too.
So a jam-packed morning! After a chance to see the fabulous tremissis in the flesh, we broke for lunch, and this is where I will pause this post. Join us next time for part 2.
Just under two weeks to go until the PASt Explorers conference 2017 is underway! This year it takes place at National Museum Cardiff and the theme is Telling Tales. Over 1.3 million objects have been recorded onto the Portable Antiquities Scheme database and within each object is a potential tale from our past. The conference will celebrate and share some of these stories, from tales of discovery to the ways in which PAS data is being used to unlock our shared history.
If you haven’t got your free tickets yet, there’s still time to sign up. Just go to our Eventbrite page here.
Here is a list of speakers and their talks:
Lauren Speed, PASt Explorers Outreach Officer – Objects and story-telling