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:

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: 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.

‘Beyond the Vale of York’ conference – Saturday 11th July, York

On Saturday 11th July a fascinating day conference on coin hoarding will take place in York.  The joint meeting of the Royal Numismatic Society and the British Numismatic Society will discuss hoarding from the Iron Age all the way through to the Stuart kings of the 17th century.  Proceedings will start at 10.20am at the Yorkshire Museum: booking is essential; the event is free, though admission to the museum will apply.

Vale of York hoard
SWYOR-AECB53: Vale of York hoard
Copyright: British Museum.
Licence: CC-BY.

The list of speakers forms a veritable roll call of Portable Antiquities Scheme volunteers, supporters and staff.  Amongst others, Andrew Woods, former Suffolk Finds Liaison Officer, will be discussing recent research on the Vale of York hoard (SWYOR-AECB53), recently returned to York.  Meanwhile, Eleanor Ghey, former Buckinghamshire and London Finds Liaison Assistant, will be talking about her recent work on hoarding in Roman Britain.  There will also be contributions from current volunteers Carl Savage (Lancashire and Cumbria) and Rachel Cubitt (North and East Yorkshire).  For a full list of speakers see the programme.

The phenomenon of hoarding still prompts so many questions, including: Why were hoards deposited? Where were they deposited?  Why were so many left unrecovered? How did all of these aspects change through time?  This conference promises to be an insight into all of these questions, ones evidently close to the hearts of PAS alumnae and volunteers alike!

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.

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.