PASt Explorers Conference 2019

A selection of finds recorded by PASt Explorers volunteers.

This year is the final year of the PASt Explorers project. Generously supported by The National Lottery Heritage Fund, the PASt Explorers project has, for the last 5 years, championed finds recording in the local community. By providing opportunity, training and support, we have involved hundreds of volunteers in communities across England and Wales in the archaeology of their local area, recording finds and sharing the knowledge to help shape our understanding of the past.

Join us to celebrate the work of the PASt Explorers project, supported by The National Lottery Heritage Fund, with a series of talks looking at what the project has achieved, how this work is being used to inform our knowledge of the past, and the vast potential for future projects.

The conference will be followed by a drinks reception with stand-up comedy from Paul Duncan McGarrity, the man behind the brilliant Ask An Archaeologist podcast series.

The conference is taking place at The British Museum on Friday 21st June 2019. It is free to attend but booking is essential. To book a place please visit: or call 0207 323 8293. The conference is fully catered and PAS volunteers may claim their travel expenses back, subject to our expenses policy (please contact us for details).

We look forward to seeing you in June!

Logo of The National Lottery Heritage Fund

Half Term Heraldry

This half term, we took some inspiration from the many heraldic harness pendants recorded on the database and invited the children of Dorset to make their own coat of arms.

A selection of harness pendants recorded on the PAS Database.
From left to right: GLO-D4734B, WREX-6511C4, WILT-C890F3, WMID-28A0B3, KENT-B2C417 and YORYM-2DD34E. (Image: Portable Antiquities Scheme, Licence CC-BY 2.0)

People have always found various ways of identifying and distinguishing themselves from others. They often use symbols and other devices to represent themselves. In the medieval period, these developed into a formal system which became known as heraldry. Only one person could use each combination of colours and symbols, so it was easy to identify them at a tournament or on the battlefield.

Heraldry is a great subject to build a craft activity around because it is colourful, it is creative and it has a rich vocabulary to explore. It is also surprisingly complicated! So the first challenge was to work out what was feasible to include in a drop-in activity session.

Image showing a table with coloured paper shields for a craft activity.
Heraldry activity set up and ready to go at Priest’s House Museum in Wimborne Minster, Dorset. (Copyright: Portable Antiquities Scheme, Licence: CC-BY 2.0).

We decided to focus on tinctures (colours), divisions, and basic charges (symbols), leaving the likes of ordinaries, furs, attitudes, supports and crests for another day!

We provided ready-made shields in six heraldic colours: Gules (red), Vert (green), Azure (blue), Purpure (purple), Sable (black), and Or (gold/yellow). These could then be supplemented with a pre-cut division and then finished off with one or more charges. We provided a selection of ready-made charges for colouring-in but there was also the option to design your own charge. An information sheet with instructions, further information and handy hints was also provided and Dorset Finds Liaison Officer Ciorstaidh also brought along her excellent Ladybird Book of Heraldry!

Three steps to making your own coat of arms: pick a background and a division (if desired); pick a charge; create your design! (Copyright: Portable Antiquities Scheme, Licence: CC-BY 2.0)

Armed with glue and colouring pencils, the kids (and some of the adults too) let their imaginations go wild. We had shields with everything from unicorns and dragons, to dinosaurs and even a chicken nugget!

A selection of the wonderful creations from the sessions in Priest’s House Museum (Wimborne Minster) and Sherborne Museum. (Copyright: Portable Antiquities Scheme, Licence: CC-BY 2.0)

As mentioned above, this activity was simplified for use in a drop-in session. For a longer session or even an extended project, more detail and discussion could be added. For example, as well as divisions, you could introduce the concept of ordinaries to vary the background field. You could also add more examples of charges and talk about the different attitudes (poses) of the creatures. For older children and adult groups, there are also discussions to be had around the concepts of identity and how we choose to represent ourselves.

With thanks to our Dorset Finds Liaison Officer Ciorstaidh and her PASt Explorers volunteers for facilitating the activities, and to our hosts at Priest’s House Museum and Sherborne Museum.

Spooky Stashes

It’s Halloween so it’s time to delve into the Database to see what spooky finds dwell within. This year we thought we’d focus on ‘spooky stashes’. These are items that have been deliberately hidden away, often to ward off evil forces. This practice was prevalent in the 16th and 17th centuries, with items typically being incorporated into the structure of houses – usually in a floor or wall. Here are 5 examples of concealed caches from the PAS database (click on the links to see the full database record):


This odd collection of items was found hidden in the floor socket of a partition wall of a house in Shropshire. The shape of the clay pipe bowl dates the assemblage to the 17th century.


This sun dial, dated to 1652, was found buried in the rammed earth floor of a thatched house in Suffolk.


This shoe and assorted items, including pebbles and clay pipe stems, was found concealed in the cob-wall above a doorway in a house in Topsham, Devon. The practice of concealing shoes within the structure of a house was widespread in the 16th and 17th centuries when it was believed they could ward off evil spirits and bad luck.


In the case of this shoe, found within the wall of a 17th century Lancashire house, the concealment probably relates to a Lancashire folk tradition where a child’s shoe was hidden to prevent the child being swapped for a fairy child.


Fabric mask found hidden in a wall.

Perhaps the strangest item on the database, this velvet ‘visard’ mask was found concealed within the wall of a 16th century stone building in Northamptonshire. It is thought that the original use was either to shield a gentlewoman’s face from the sun at a time when a tan was highly unfashionable in high society, or to ward off would-be attackers should a lady be out and about alone. The mask’s concealment in a wall is more unusual – whilst the practice of hiding things was quite commonplace, this is the only known example of a mask being used in this way. In hiding it away, the original owner has ensured its preservation as these masks rarely survive otherwise.

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

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!




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.




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.



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.




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

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.

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.

Roundup of the PASt Explorers Conference 2015

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.

Audience in the BP Lecture Theatre
Audience in the BP Lecture Theatre. Copyright: Portable Antiquities Scheme. Licence: CC-BY.

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.

Margaret (volunteer) speaking at PASt Explorers conference
Margaret (PAS volunteer). Copyright: Portable Antiquities Scheme. Licence: CC-BY.

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.

Morning panel discussion
Morning panel discussion. Copyright: Portable Antiquities Scheme. Licence: CC-BY.

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.

Sara (HLF) speaking at the PASt Explorers conference
Sara Crofts (Heritage Lottery Fund). Copyright: Portable Antiquities Scheme. Licence: CC-BY.

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.

Afternoon panel discussion
Afternoon panel discussion. Copyright: Portable Antiquities Scheme. Licence: CC-BY.

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.

Tweets using #pastexplorers
Tweets using #pastexplorers. URL:

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: 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.

Launch of the County Pages

A warm welcome to the Portable Antiquities Scheme’s (PAS) new website, the County Pages, developed as part of the Heritage Lottery Funded PASt Explorers initiative. PASt Explorers is a five-year project to recruit and train volunteers from local communities to record finds found by members of the public. The County Pages is intended to be one of the primary means of disseminating information about, and generated by, those involved in PASt Explorers, and will provide a central source of information on the historical environment and finds work in local areas, informing new audiences and encouraging them to get actively involved in their local heritage.

The front page of the County Pages has a news feed updated by the PASt Explorers project staff, and links to finds and recording guides and other learning resources that will help people better understand their local heritage. The front page also acts as a portal to individual sets of County Pages for each county in England, and one set for the country of Wales.

The content for each set of County Pages will be generated by members of the Community Finds Recording Teams (CFRT) of PAS volunteers alongside their local Finds Liaison Officer. The Pages will contain background information and case studies in the form of blogs, features about finds and general research. This information will be created and updated by the CFRT and their local FLO, with guidance and input from the PASt Explorers Outreach and Project Officers. In time, there will also be links to finds guides, recording guides and other learning resources; archaeological and historical information and contact for local areas; and web-links to other related sites.

The first county sub-site to be launched is Leicestershire, where the pilot recruitment and training programmes for PASt Explorers took place in 2013. The other counties will be gradually rolled out. The County Pages will continue to develop throughout the PASt Explorers project, and we welcome feedback on user experience and suggestions for new contents and features.

We hope you enjoy exploring the County Pages and discovering more about the work of the Portable Antiquities Scheme, its Finds Liaison Officers and volunteers, and the finds they record.