New PAS Cymru website goes live!

Medieval silver brooch fashioned from a groat of  King Edward I (NMGW-45F745).
Medieval silver brooch found in Pembrokeshire and acquired by NMGW. Licence: CC-BY

The new website for the Portable Antiquities Scheme in Wales (PAS Cymru) has launched. As well as providing a wealth of information about the Scheme in Wales and how to report your finds, you can also follow their fantastic blog and find out more about the Saving Treasures; Telling Stories project. Bendigedig!

Rutland County Pages launched!

We’re pleased to announce the launch of our Rutland County Pages. Rutland is our smallest county but it is packed with archaeology, from the Upper Palaeolithic hyena den to coin hoards from the civil war. Learn more about visiting Rutland’s heritage sites or explore archaeological finds from Rutland reported to the Portable Antiquities Scheme.

Wendy Scott is the Finds Liaison Officer for Rutland. She is supported by a fantastic team of volunteers and student placements who photograph and record finds, carry out research and much more. Read more about the team here.

Watch this space for more blog posts about volunteering, finds, events and more from Rutland.

Early medieval silver strap-end with animal decoration
Early medieval silver strap-end with animal decoration

Gunpowder, treason and plot

It’s Bonfire Night tomorrow so we’ve uncovered 5 fabulous finds from the PAS database to help you remember, remember, the 5th November!

 

Silver Sixpence of James I (LEIC-0ED383)

Silver sixpence of James I, dated 1605.

Dated 1605, the year of the Gunpowder Plot, this is a particularly fine example of a James I sixpence. It has the Royal Coat of Arms on one side and the crowned bust of the almost-unfortunate King on the other. As well as the Gunpowder Plot, James I had to contend with two earlier plots against him, despite having a more moderate attitude towards Catholics than his predecessor.

 

Decade Ring (LON-F30014)

Post-medieval gold decade ring.

Although James I was reasonably tolerant towards Catholics in his early reign, recusancy – or the refusal to take part in Anglican worship – was still a punishable crime. In some cases, adherence to Catholicism resulted in the death penalty. Decade rings like this one were a discreet way for Catholics to practice their faith. The ten ‘bumps’ on the ring represent the ten prayers that make up the Rosary and were used to keep count of the number of Hail Marys said.

 

Powder Measure (HAMP2710)

Post-medieval lead-alloy powder measure

Lead-alloy powder chargers like this one were used to measure the appropriate amount of gunpowder for loading into a musket. Guy Fawkes was an experienced soldier who fought for Spain in a number of conflicts. It is thought that he gained his knowledge of gunpowder and explosives from his time as a solider and he may well have used a powder measure like this one during his service.

 

Pilgrim Badge (LON-6FABC6)

Late medieval pilgrim badge in the shape of a Catherine Wheel.

This medieval pilgrim badge is in the shape of a Catherine Wheel. According to Christian tradition, Catherine of Alexandria (later St. Catherine) was condemned to torture upon a spiked ‘breaking wheel’. However, when she touched the wheel it flew into pieces. Subsequently, such devices became known as Catherine Wheels and it is from this that the popular firework gets its name.

 

Hedgehog Belt Mount (LEIC-E45175)

Medieval belt mount in the shape of a hedgehog.

This medieval belt mount is in the shape of a hedgehog. Such mounts were used to decorate leather belts and came in a wide range of shapes and styles. The humble hedgehog might seem an odd decorative choice but they do appear in many medieval manuscripts and even on some coats of arms. And remember, if you’re having a bonfire tomorrow, don’t forget to check inside for hedgehogs before you light it!

Devilish Discoveries and Frightening Finds

In the spirit of Halloween (pun intended), we’ve delved into the database for some of our more ‘spooky’ finds. From superstitious shoes to ghoulish jewellery, we’ve pulled together six of our best supernatural-themed items for your eerie enjoyment. Read on… if you dare!

 

PIPE TAMPER (DENO-OC6CC4)

 

Tampers like this one have a flat end for tamping down tobacco in the bowl of the pipe. It could also be used for crushing the ash to make relighting easier. This little devil has a fearsome pair of horns and is holding his leg across the knee in the style of the Lincoln Imp.

 

WITCH BOTTLE (LIN-49FC12)

 

Post-medieval witch bottle with contents

Witch bottles were prevalent across England from the 17th century, especially in East Anglia where superstition and belief in witches was strong. These bottles were supposed to protect against evil spirits and spells directed at the supposed victim. The bottles contained items like hair, nail clippings, pins, needles and sometimes even the urine of the intended victim. It was then often buried in a fireplace, under the floor or plastered into the wall, its power remaining active for as long as it remained hidden. Early witch bottles were of the Bellarmine jug type whereas later examples like this were glass.

CHILD’S SHOE (LANCUM-76D192)

 

Post-medieval child's clog

This child’s clog was discovered hidden within the fabric of a wall. Much like the witch bottles, the practice of placing a shoe within the structure of a house was once widespread, particularly in the 16th and 17th centuries. It is thought they were either to ward off evil spirits or to deflect curses. Given the fact that this one is a child’s shoe, it most likely relates to a Lancashire tradition of hiding the shoes to prevent the child being swapped for a fairy child.

 

MEMENTO MORI (DENO-D3E954 and LIN-5AF0C0)

 

Gold ring with skull image

Seal matrix depicting a skeleton

These objects, with their skeletal imagery, are both examples of memento mori. In Christian tradition, these were used to emphasise the emptiness and fleetingness of earthly pleasures, and as reminder to focus one’s thoughts on the prospect of the afterlife. Small, portable items such as these two examples were often carried by individuals as a reminder of their own mortality. With its skeleton and hourglass symbol, the seal matrix really emphasises the message of death and passing time.

 

FOSSILISED OYSTER SHELL (SWYOR-96E960)

 

Fossilised oyster shell

The common name for these extinct oysters is “Devil’s toenails”. This wonderfully graphic name is due to their gnarled, curved shape and people once believed they were made as the Devil clipped his toenails. There used to be a common belief that carrying one of these fossils could prevent rheumatism so they often crop up in archaeological contexts.

Introducing Lauren Speed

Hello! Just thought I’d take a moment to introduce myself. My name is Lauren and I am the new Outreach Officer for the PASt Explorers project. I’m based at the Central Unit in the British Museum but you’ll see plenty of me out and about at the training sessions and other outreach events! In the meantime, if you’ve got any questions about the project please don’t hesitate to get in touch. I’m really excited to be involved in PASt Explorers and look forward to hearing from (and hopefully meeting) you over the course of the project.

20,000 Self-recorded Database Records

A landmark has been reached this week with the addition of the 20,000th record on the PAS database recorded under a PUBLIC- prefix.  The facility to record your own finds directly onto the PAS database has been around since March 2010, and to have reached this total in just over six years is remarkable. I would like to use this post to thank the hundreds of volunteers who collectively have contributed to achieving this total. I hope that you are enjoying some of the training and support offered by the PASt Explorers project since we began in late 2014!

Medieval to post-medieval pilgrim badge depicting St George and the dragon
Medieval to post-medieval pilgrim badge depicting St George and the dragon (PUBLIC-48C99B). Copyright: The Portable Antiquities Scheme. License: CC-BY

Although many volunteers support their Finds Liaison Officers in the reporting of their own finds, many others have helped out on specific projects. Among these projects, the Clodgy Moor Environs Lithic Recording Project in West Cornwall accounts for much of the stunning total of Mesolithic and Neolithic flints recorded by PUBLIC recorders.  More recently, a trio of self-recorders have been helping London FLO Kate Sumnall to document the findings of this year’s Greenwich Foreshore Survey, organised by Historic England on a Scheduled Ancient Monument in their care. Amongst the 100 or so finds recovered this year is this stunningly delicate foil pilgrim badge depicting St George and the dragon (PUBLIC-48C99B), while many  other discoveries “reflected the everyday life of the area”, Kate reports.

And so to the 20,000th record itself. As things stand it is a sixpence of Elizabeth I, which is just the sort of record which really helps the FLOs with their huge workloads. Why not take a look at some of the records being created by our volunteers; a proportion are still being worked on and will be available for viewing in the future. If you would like to be involved yourself please get in touch with your local FLO to find out more.

 

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.

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.