Making History

PAS reaches 1.5 million milestone!

The 1.5 millionth archaeological object discovered by the public has been recorded on the Portable Antiquities Scheme database this week. The find – a medieval papal bulla – is the latest in a long line of objects recorded that are helping to transform our understanding of life through time on the British Isles.

The British Museum’s Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) was first set up in 1997 so that archaeological objects found by the public can be recorded to help advance our knowledge of past. All the discoveries on the PAS database since its inception 23 years ago have been made by members of the public. Most of them are found buried in the ground by metal detectorists, but people also make discoveries whilst gardening, carrying out building renovations or simply taking a walk.

Medieval papal bulla (seal) of Pope Innocent IV, dating to 25th June 1243 – 7th December 1254. Discovered in Shropshire and recorded by Finds Liaison Officer Peter Reavill, this is the object that took us over the 1.5 million mark. Record ID is HESH-6359C4 (Copyright: Portable Antiquities Scheme, Licence: CC-BY).

Thanks to the public’s efforts, including those made through responsible metal-detecting, our understanding of past communities living in Britain over thousands of years has radically improved. Many individual finds have transformed what we know almost overnight and have become some of the most famous historical objects in the UK, such as the gold treasures of the Staffordshire Hoard. A number of discoveries are so important to the history of the life in Britain that they have been acquired or displayed by museums for the public to enjoy. But all the information recorded on the PAS database is freely available to anyone, and is used by students, scholars, researchers and the public alike.

To celebrate this important milestone, the British Museum with BBC History Magazine today also reveal 10 discoveries by the public and recorded on the PAS which experts have judged to have most transformed our knowledge of the past. These include a silver-gilt badge in the shape of a Boar found near the site of King Richard III’s death in battle, and the discovery of thousands of Roman ‘grots’ – worn-down coins – which has reshaped our understanding of Roman Britain. The full list can be seen in this month’s edition of BBC History magazine.

The silver-gilt livery badge in the shape of a boar – the emblem of Richard III. Record ID is LEIC-A6C834 (Copyright: Leicestershire County Council, Licence: CC-BY).

There is a large diversity amongst the 1.5 million discoveries. They range in size from vast coin hoards – the biggest was the Frome Hoard of 52,500 coins – to one-of-a-kind single pieces such as the 3,500-year-old Ringlemere Cup. The oldest items include prehistoric-worked flint from 700,000 years ago; the youngest include 20th-century military badges. Recorded finds include arrowheads, axes, beads, brooches, buckles, coins, combs, finger-rings, gaming pieces, knives, sculpture, spindle whorls, tokens and vervels.

A small selection of the 1.5 million objects recorded onto the PAS database. There’s something from every county in this picture – see if you can recognise any!

Every single one adds an important piece to the jigsaw puzzle of the past so we encourage you to report your finds if you do discover something – you are helping to transform our understanding of the past. You can find your nearest Finds Liaison Officer on our contacts page. If you find something, let them know! If you are interested in what has been discovered in your area, check out the County Pages or have a look at this database search and use the filters on the right hand side. Happy exploring!