Wil has been involved with the PAS since 2014, first as a volunteer and later as the Finds Liaison Officer for Devon and now Wiltshire. Here he tells us about is background and how he got started in archaeology.
How and why did I get started in archaeology?
Compared to other FLOs my biography is going to be rather short – FLO-dom has been my first proper job out of university, through a combination of luck and probably stubbornness too. Growing up, I had always wanted to be a vet; right up to the point when I did work experience at a vet’s surgery and spent a few weeks carrying dead animals out to the freezer and cleaning up the clippings from a Shih Tzu’s calcite encrusted teeth. After that, there was a rapid evaluation of my life plan. I knew I liked history, didn’t like talking to people and didn’t like sitting at a desk. Obviously then, a desk job with “liaison” in the title was the one for me.
I became involved with the PAS in 2014, as a second year student at the University of Bristol. At the time I was helping to create museum exhibits on the Berkeley Castle excavations and was desperately trying to figure out a dissertation topic in which I could incorporate the Anglo-Saxon archaeology and finds from the site. I ended up doing a review of the economy and settlement hierarchies in early medieval Gloucestershire, a study which incorporated PAS data, so in return for answering my endless questions I started volunteering for Kurt Adams, the FLO for Gloucestershire and Bristol.
Following my graduation in 2015, I worked on a freelance basis for the university creating a catalogue of a recently acquired bequest of classical antiquities; I helped prepare the finds and archives of the recently defunct Bristol and Region Archaeology Services for deposition in the museum; I catalogued a massive pile of Roman tile in the dank tunnels below the Roman Baths; I created a small display on the “Early Medieval History and Archaeology of Bath”; I helped out at my local museum and heard some wonderfully depressing recordings taken in the 1980s of people remembering when the local coal mining and shoe industries died; and I continued my volunteering with PAS. On the weekends I sold laptops at John Lewis where I was told I didn’t smile enough.
On the first working day of 2017 I started an internship with the Portable Antiquities Scheme in Somerset, working with Laura Burnett. Presumably they liked me, as when South West Heritage Trust took over the running of the Devon post three months later, they appointed me as FLO for Devon and Somerset. This post saw me continue to work alongside Laura (a brilliant FLO) but based in The Royal Albert Memorial Museum in Exeter, as we attempted to cover both counties. Although Devon quickly became my baby, one where I counted every piece of early medieval evidence as a personal victory. Also, Exmoor is lush, so I was pretty happy. During this time, I also completed a Post-graduate Diploma in Museum Studies with the University of Leicester.
About 18 months passed and my girlfriend got a job in London, so when the Wiltshire FLO job was advertised I went for it. I now get a very different selection of finds (I hadn’t really missed the Roman coins on which I cut my teeth in Gloucestershire and were, blissfully, relatively rare in Devon), and whilst I do miss Devon, I have been able to work with some fantastic archaeologists, record some amazing finds and play with a range of toys. Over the course of about five years, I have recorded around 3000 finds. These have ranged from Palaeolithic handaxes to hoards of late Roman pewter and post-medieval book clasps.
What period of the past most interests me?
I got my first excavation experience on community digs at Roman villas around Gloucestershire, followed by Bristol’s early medieval to post-medieval Berkeley Castle excavations where I did considerable work with the small finds, as I mentioned above. Since then I have helped excavate Mesolithic sites up on Exmoor and dug with Historic England at Low Ham Roman Villa in Somerset. My favourite period is the ‘late Antique’: the period spanning the end of the Roman period and the initial centuries of the early medieval period i.e. the the years either side of AD400, particularly in the Celtic west of the country. A period of enormous change which would have seen people’s conceptions of who they were and how they fit into the wider European picture change completely within a few generations. I also can’t help but apply some of the romance of the fall of Constantinople to the transformation of Roman Britain. Unfortunately, I don’t get to work with material from this period all that often!
Six finds from the PAS database and why I like them
DEV-577913 – a Bronze Age palstave found in Codford, Wiltshire
A Middle Bronze Age palstave, probably dating to c.1500-1100BC. This tiny palstave is about the size of a modern house key. It was probably used as a wood-working tool for finer work – it’s still really cute though.
DEV-F52327 – an Iron Age to Roman brooch found in East Devon
An example of an Iron Age to Roman copper-alloy applied hook brooch dating to c. AD20-100. This type of brooch is largely concentrated in the south west, particularly in Dorset and Somerset. However, what I like about this example is how amazingly weird its construction is. The catch-plate appears to be made from a separate sheet of copper-alloy fitted into a slot, and I still have no idea how the mechanism at the head would have worked.
SOM-9E34D4 – an early medieval strap slide found in North Dorset
An early medieval silver gilt strap slide, dating to c. AD900-1050. I have always enjoyed attempting to read the intricate designs of the later early medieval period, and in addition to being plain shiny, this is a rare find of a strap slide in Britain, which are more typical on the continent.
DEV-8934F8 – an early medieval stirrup strap mount found in Torridge, Devon
More early medieval stuff, but this time a lot less aesthetically pleasing. This time it is a stirrup strap mount dating to c. AD1000-1100. It was found in the area of the Cornwall-Devon border, precisely where it shouldn’t have been, based on their normal distribution.
SOM-AF4DD6 – a Roman nail cleaner found in South Somerset
A late Roman copper-alloy nail cleaner-strap end, probably dating to c. AD250-410. In addition to being actual late Roman stuff, this is another one where I have always enjoyed the fineness of its punched decoration.
WILT-80706D – a mystery object found in the Test Valley area of Hampshire
This is one of those objects that is interesting precisely because I’m not sure what it is, and nor is anyone I’ve shown it to. It is probably later Iron Age or Roman and I have suggested that it is the handle of a razor or similar toilet article.