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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.