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!

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.

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.

 

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.