Since the Portable Antiquities Scheme began, over 1.3 million objects have been recorded on the Database. But what happens to the information once an object has been recorded? What does it all mean?
There are currently over 600 registered research projects using PAS data, from largescale AHRC-funded efforts to A-level projects, desk-based assessments, magazine articles and more.
The PASt Explorers conference 2018 will explore some of the many ways in which the PAS data is being used. From broad narratives to local research projects, it will celebrate how the work of our volunteers and self-recorders is helping to shape our understanding of the past.
The conference is at The Key Theatre in Peterborough on the 13th September 2018.
The conference is free to attend but booking is essential. Please book through our Eventbrite page: https://bit.ly/2uZckcF or call 0207 323 8293 to book a place. Lunch is provided and PAS volunteers can claim back their travel, subject to the PASt Explorers Expenses Policy (please contact us for further information).
11:00 The Importance of Research, Andrew Rogerson (Norfolk Museums Service)
11:30 Iron Age Hoards on the PAS Database, Rachel Wilkinson (British Museum)
12:00 Bridge over troubled water? Interpreting the Romano-British finds from the River Tees at Piercebridge, Philippa Walton (University of Reading)
12:30 Lunch and workshops
14:00 Disc-on-pin buckles: using the PAS database for personal research, Tom Redmayne (PAS)
14:30 PAS finds in the north-east, Des Murphy (PAS)
15:30 Small finds, bigger picture: recovering lost meaning in late medieval England, Malcolm Jones (PAS)
As well as talks, this year we have a series of mini-workshops taking place over an extended lunch-break. These include searching the database for research, improving your object descriptions, and looking after your finds.
So why not join us in September and take a look at The Bigger Picture.
PASt Explorers is a five-year project funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.