Meet the Finds Liaison Assistant: Phil Hughes

Phil Hughes standing on top of Silbury Hill, Wiltshire, the largest prehistoric mound in Europe. Copyright Phil Hughes. All rights reserved.

Tell us about yourself.

I am a Finds Liaison Assistant for Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire, having started this role in December 2017. I am assisting Alastair Willis, the Finds Liaison Officer for Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire, for three days per week for six months on a placement as part of my doctoral research, being undertaken at the University of Leicester.

I have an undergraduate degree in Ancient History & Archaeology and a Masters degree in Roman Archaeology. My PhD research investigates Romano-British engagement with the prehistoric past in the East Midlands and the South-East of England with a focus on place and objects. In between completing my Masters degree and embarking on doctoral research, I worked as a field archaeologist excavating rural and urban sites from the Palaeolithic to the Medieval period.

In my spare time I can be found tripping over my own feet whilst attempting to play football, and plotting my next unorthodox soup recipe.

What does your role involve?

My role involves recording archaeological finds brought to the PAS by detectorists and members of the public at finds days and metal detectorist club meetings. In order to do this, I research the objects, photograph them, and produce clear edited images. I input the information about each object on the Portable Antiquities Scheme database so that it can be accessed by members of the public. I also ensure that finds identified as treasure are processed correctly in accordance with the Treasure Act.

What area of history/archaeology are you most interested in?

My main interest has always been in ancient Roman history and the archaeology of the Roman world, with an emphasis on Britain in the Roman Empire, investigating questions of continuity and change. More recently, I have developed an interest in British prehistory, and am able to combine the two as part of my doctoral research by investigating how material things of the past are always present, relevant and acting in a later period.

Why did you start working for the PAS?

Whilst I’ve always loved thinking abstractly about the past, and in trying to dig a giant a hole as quickly as possible, the main allure of archaeology has always resided in small finds for me. Since its inception, the PAS has transformed the information that is available to archaeologists and members of the public, giving us greater knowledge of the distribution of finds and the location of archaeological sites. Consequently, I really wanted to get involved to help cultivate the very positive relationships between these communities that the PAS has fostered and, of course, handle, deal with and think about the objects themselves!

What do you enjoy most about working for the PAS?

Most definitely the opportunity to broaden my horizons about the material culture of the British past. Whilst we all have our own favourite periods of the past and object types, I really enjoy researching objects I know nothing about from time periods I know little about. The other day I was examining and recording a post-medieval jetton, sending me down a welcome and unexpected rabbit hole of new knowledge.

What is the most exciting find from Derbyshire you have recorded so far?

Recently, I recorded a broken late pre-Roman Iron Age lip-shaped harness fitting made of copper alloy with red enamel (DENO-F5C2D6). Harness fittings, attached to chariots drawn by ponies, emerged in the 3rd century BCE and it is remarkable to think about how little these objects have changed through to the present day!

Late Iron Age Harness Fitting, from Foston & Scropton
Late Iron Age Harness Fitting, from Foston & Scropton (DENO-F5C2D6). Copyright: Derby Museums Trust. Licence: CC BY.

What is your favourite object recorded on the Portable Antiquities Scheme database from Derbyshire?

Despite being a Romanist, with access to a plethora of metal items including an abundance of coinage, I retain a deep fascination for prehistoric flint tools, a legacy of charismatic teachers and excavation opportunities when I was a field archaeologist! DENO-60CCE4 is a beautiful Neolithic polished axehead unearthed in 2015/2016. It’s striking colouration, with tints of grey, beige and orange-brown transfixes. Whilst stone tool technological industries served functional purposes in prehistory in the hunting and preparation of game, by the Neolithic period the prevalence of polished tools served a clear dual purpose. Whilst polishing would increase the intrinsic strength of the axe, useful for the clearance of woods to make room for sedentary agricultural societies, their highly polished finish indicates social prestige and value as exchangeable objects. Further, they are frequently found in burial mounds indicating they were venerable objects infused with ritual significance.

Neolithic Polished Axehead, from Mort (DENO-60CCE4). Copyright: Derby Museums Trust. Licence: CC BY.

Vikings in South Derbyshire

Most people with an interest in archaeology, or who have been watching ‘The Last Kingdom’ on the telly, will have heard of the Viking Great Heathen Army which ravaged England in the ninth century. Fewer people may know that the Army overwintered in South Derbyshire, at Repton, in A.D. 873-4. It is unlikely that all the Vikings will have stayed in the camp all winter, as foraging parties would have been sent up and down the river Trent, and they will have wanted to keep an eye on the approaches to Repton to warn of any possible attacks.

One of the sites which I have been metal detecting on is a few miles upstream from Repton, on the opposite side of the river from the Anglo-Saxon site at Catholme, near to a place where the river is shallow enough to be forded, and from which there are good views of the Roman road where it crosses the river at Wychnor Bridge, and from which, on a clear day, you can see Tamworth. These factors would make it a good place for lookouts to be stationed.

So might this 8th century Arabic coin (PUBLIC-458D27) that I found on the site have been dropped by one of Ivar the Boneless’s lads?

Dirham of the Umayyads dating to AD 741-742
Dirham of the Umayyads dating to AD 741-742 (PUBLIC-458D27). Copyright: Roger Thomas. License: CC BY.

 

I’d like to think so.

The coin is currently on display in Derbyshire Unearthed, an exhibition at Derby Museum and Art Gallery about Treasure and the Portable Antiquities Scheme.

Derbyshire Unearthed: 20 Years of Treasure and the PAS

Derbyshire Unearthed is an exhibition at Derby Museum and Art Gallery celebrating the 20th anniversary of the implementation of the Treasure Act 1996 on 24th September 1997 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and the founding of the Portable Antiquities Scheme. The exhibition is in two parts. Part 1: Artefacts runs from 23rd September 2017 to 4th February 2018. Part 2: Coins and coin hoards will run from 10th February 2018 to 22nd April 2018.

Rick Tailby, Facilitator and Technician at Derby Museums, planning the layout for the objects before mounting them.
Rick Tailby, Facilitator and Technician at Derby Museums, planning the layout for the objects before mounting them. Copyright: Derby Museums Trust. License: All rights reserved.

 

Jonathan Wallis, Head of Museum and Museum and Art Gallery Development at Derby Museums, mounting some of the Treasure objects.
Jonathan Wallis, Head of Museum and Museum and Art Gallery Development at Derby Museums, mounting some of the Treasure objects. Copyright: Derby Museums Trust. License: All rights reserved.

The exhibition forms part of the national ‘20 Years of Treasure‘ celebrations organised in partnership with the British Museum. It features fascinating Treasure objects from Derby Museums’ collection as well as non-Treasure that have been lent or donated by their finders. Here are a few of the highlights:

Saxon gold buckle plate (DENO-459ADD)

Saxon gold buckle plate (DENO-459ADD) Copyright: Derby Museums Trust License: CC-BY
Saxon gold buckle plate (DENO-459ADD). Copyright: Derby Museums Trust.  License: CC-BY.

Viking silver ingot (WMID-9F9B50)

Viking silver ingot (WMID-9F9B50). Copyright: Derby Museums Trust. License: CC-BY.
Viking silver ingot (WMID-9F9B50). Copyright: Derby Museums Trust. License: CC-BY.

Medieval silver pendant with reused Roman carnelian intaglio (DENO-5D69B7)

Medieval silver pendant with reused Roman carnelian intaglio (DENO-5D69B7). Copyright: Derby Museums Trust. License: CC-BY.
Medieval silver pendant with reused Roman carnelian intaglio (DENO-5D69B7). Copyright: Derby Museums Trust. License: CC-BY.

Medieval gold brooch (DENO-1AF752)

Medieval gold brooch. Copyright: Derby Museums Trust. License: CC-BY.
Medieval gold brooch (DENO-1AF752). Copyright: Derby Museums Trust. License: CC-BY.

Medieval to post-medieval silver “hawking” bell (DENO-127662)

Medieval to post-medieval silver 'hawking' bell. Copyright: Derby Museums Trust. License: CC-BY.
Medieval to post-medieval silver ‘hawking’ bell (DENO-127662). Copyright: Derby Museums Trust. License: CC-BY.

Post-medieval silver pendant (DENO-E6E8D8)

Post-medieval silver pendant. Copyright: Derby Museums Trust. License: CC-BY.
Post-medieval silver pendant (DENO-E6E8D8). Copyright: Derby Museums Trust. License: CC-BY.

Post-medieval gold finger ring (DENO-756EB2)

Post-medieval gold finger ring (DENO-756EB2). Copyright: Derby Museums Trust. License: CC-BY.
Post-medieval gold finger ring (DENO-756EB2). Copyright: Derby Museums Trust. License: CC-BY.

 

Meet the Volunteers: Susheela

Susheela teaching young minds about archaeology.
Susheela teaching young minds about archaeology. Copyright: Susheela Burford. License: all rights reserved.

Tell us about yourself.

I have been a volunteer for the Portable Antiquities Scheme in Derbyshire since November 2016. I am also volunteering with the PAS in Lincolnshire and Shropshire as of November 2016. I completed my PhD in Archaeology at UCL in 2015 as well as having a baby! Since returning from maternity leave and leaving my previous job at the Museum of London I am attempting to gain as much experience with the PAS as I can to hopefully enable me to work for the Scheme one day.

What does your role involve?

Volunteering for the PAS involves me helping to identify objects found by members of the public, photograph and record them on the database under the supervision of Alastair, the Finds Liaison Officer for Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire. Other duties as a volunteer include posting information about the PAS in Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire on social media, attending training as and when required at different venues around the country and assisting at outreach events run through the various Derby Museum sites.

What area of history/archeology are you most interested in?

I have a love for all things archaeological and historical and thoroughly enjoy researching and learning about new subjects, objects and time periods. However, I am most interested in the Iron Age and Roman periods with my PhD research re-examining archaeological evidence of structured deposition from a number of different sites across the UK, specifically looking at possible interpretations of ritual deposition in both watery and dry contexts.

Why did you start working for the PAS?

The PAS combines everything I love about archaeology and heritage: working with finds, research, and meeting with and talking to a wide variety of people about archaeology. As a volunteer I would like to make whatever contribution I can to furthering the understanding and research of archaeology and our own cultural heritage, be it through helping to identify finds, or talking to people at events who would not otherwise have known about the PAS. It is such a fantastic Scheme that anyone can get involved with and because so many people do get involved, what they find contributes to our wider understanding of our past and constantly changes what we think we know and understand about our own history, which I find incredibly exciting.

What do you enjoy most about volunteering for the PAS?

Identifying the finds and researching new finds I have never come across before.

What is the most exciting find from Derbyshire you have recorded so far?

None yet but let me get back to you!

What is your favourite find from Derbyshire that has been recorded on the PAS database and why?

I love the beautiful zoomorphic interlace decoration on this Early Medieval sword pommel mount shown below (record no: WMID-2FF927). The workmanship on this one piece makes you wonder what the rest of the sword looked like.

Early Medieval sword pommel.
Early Medieval sword pommel (WMID-2FF927). Copyright: Derby Museums Trust. License: CC BY.

 

50 Finds From Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire

Alastair Willis’ new book ’50 Finds from Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire: Objects from the Portable Antiquities Scheme’ has just been published. The book demonstrates the region’s importance within the country and its links with the outside world. It includes some of the most spectacular finds from the two counties, including the famous Newark Torc and the Ashbourne Hoard, but also some less well-known objects that are just as important for our understanding of the past. Many of these objects are on display in local and national museums. The book is available in local museum shops, from Amberley Publishing or from Alastair at events.

book-cover

 

The counties of Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire are an area of transition between the north-west and the south-east, highland and lowland, pasture and arable, rural and urban. These geographical divides shaped ancient tribal boundaries and continued to act as a border after the Roman conquest of southern Britain. The Trent and its tributaries were important trade routes linking the area with other parts of Britain and the wider world. Many settlements, including the important towns of Nottingham, Newark and Derby, sprang up on their banks during the Roman and medieval periods. Consequently, the finds from the area are diverse and reflect influences from different parts of the country and beyond.

 

The objects in this book were found by members of the public and have been recorded by the Portable Antiquities Scheme. They provide us with an insight into the lives of our ancestors, the people who lived and worked in these two counties, the people who did not make it into the history books. The objects span a period of at least 180,000 years and represent the whole spectrum of society, from the hand axe of a hunter-gatherer to the neck torc of an Iron Age chieftain to a token halfpenny of a seventeenth-century coal miner.

Districts of Derbyshire: Amber Valley

Amber Valley is a government district and borough of Derbyshire, situated in the heart of the county. Amber Valley takes its name from the River Amber, a tributary of the River Derwent. It is a semi-rural area, which is home to the towns of Belper, Alfreton, Heanor and Ripley, as well as a number of villages including Duffield, Heage and Swanick.

The Amber Valley area has been inhabited by humans from the Stone Age. This Mesolithic flint flake (DENO-AFA6D5) dates from around 8,300 years ago, at a time when nomadic tribes roamed the tundra as hunter-gatherers, and was found near the village of Mackworth.

Mesolithic Lithic Implement
Mesolithic flint blade (DENO-AFA6D5). Copyright: Derby Museums Trust. License: CC BY-SA

During the Iron Age, south-central Britain was incorporated into trading links with the Continent, and this sculpture from near Duffield (DENO-B69D3A) suggests that such connections may have influenced Iron Age Britons as far north as Derbyshire. The carvings on each of the faces closely resemble those found on the ‘Kermaria Stone’, a contemporary pillar stone from Finistere in Western Brittany.

Iron Age 'Pillar Stone' or Stele
Iron Age ‘pillar stone’ or stele (DENO-B69D3A). Copyright: Derby Museums Trust. License: CC BY.

Before the Roman invasion of Britain in AD 43, most of the East Midlands was inhabited by a tribe known as the Corieltavi. Amber Valley is situated just outside the area that is traditionally associated with the Corieltavi, but this gold quarter-starter (DENO-D9B7E3), dating to c.60-c.30 BC, was found in Belper. It suggests that Corieltavi territory may have extend further than is traditionally thought or it could indicate that there was trade between the Corieltavi and their neighbours. This is the second most westerly recorded coin of its type, but other Corieltavi coins have been discovered as far away as Wales.

Iron Age Quarter Stater
Iron Age North Eastern Lindsey Scyphate Quarter Stater (DENO-D9B7E3). Copyright Derby City Council. License: CC BY

When the Roman Empire teetered on the brink of collapse during the Crisis of the Third Century, Britain was thrown into turmoil and two coin hoards from Amber Valley offer a glimpse into the fragmenting power structures of the time. One hoard from near Ripley (DENO-658F16consists of three silver ‘radiates’, a denomination introduced in the 3rd century AD. The ‘radiate’ may originally have introduced as a double-denarius, but only weighed one and a half denarii. The decline of the Empire at this time is marked by the rapid debasement of the coinage, as the silver content in ‘radiates’- around 50% in c.238 – was reduced to as little as 1% by the end of the century, with copper-alloy becoming the primary material. In some cases the lack of financial sustainability drove people to take matters into their own hands; in the Amber Valley Hoard (DENO-A6AE06), all but four of the 3631 coins are ‘barbarous radiates’ – locally produced coins intended to fill a gap in the supply of official coins to Britain.

Radiate coin hoard from Ripley
Radiate coin hoard from Ripley (DENO-658F16). Copyright: Derby Museums Trust. License: CC BY-SA
Roman Coin Hoard
The Amber Valley Hoard (DENO-658F16). Copyright: The British Museum. License: CC BY-SA.

Found in Hazelwood, DENO-90F223 is one of many examples of medieval coins uncovered in Amber Valley. This silver penny dates to the period AD c.1280-c.1282, during the reign of King Edward I. At this time, Hazelwood was one of the numerous towns and villages that formed Duffield Frith, an area of Derbyshire which had become part of the Duchy of Lancaster in 1266 and been appointed a Royal Forest in 1285. King Edward I hunted in the forest personally between AD 1290 and 1293.

Silver Medieval Penny of Edward I.
Silver medieval penny of Edward I (DENO-90F223). Copyright: The Portable Antiquities Scheme. License: CC BY-SA.

Belper is known for being one of the earliest mill towns, home to the world’s second-oldest water-powered cotton mill. But before the Industrial Revolution, the spinning of textiles was carried out by hand. The use of a spindle whorl, such as the one found in LVPL-D80A36, was a crucial part of this earlier process, as it could increase and maintain the spin of the spindle. Whilst this particular one is made of lead-alloy, spindle whorls were common throughout the world and so could be crafted from a variety of local materials, including chalk, limestone, antler and even coral! 

Medieval Spindle Whorl
Medieval lead-alloy spindle whorl (LVPL-D80A36). Copyright: National Museums Liverpool. License: CC BY-SA.

Just as the driving force of the Industrial Revolution grew from such towns as Belper, then so do objects discarded by Britain’s declining industries in the competitive modern age find their way back to Amber Valley. This lead-alloy seal matrix (DENO-3BFC06), found in Holbrook, from the Crane Foundry in Wolverhampton, is one such example. This seal matrix dates anywhere from 1847, when the foundry registered its own trademark, to 2006, when the company went into liquidation. Objects like these prove that, thousands of years after the first settlers made their home among the hills of Amber Valley, its people are still leaving behind little pieces of history for future generations to find.

Crane Foundry Seal Matrix
Post-medieval to modern seal matrix of the Crane Foundry, Wolverhampton (DENO-3BFC06). Copyright: Derby Museums Trust. License: CC BY.

Simon Goes In Search Of Medieval Buckles

The idea for this project came from a speculative suggestion made by Dr Helen Geake during PAS training on common medieval finds. Discussing the difficulties of accurately dating buckles and other detectorists finds without a conventional archaeological context, Dr Geake raised the possibility of comparing finds with images on memorial effigies and brasses of known obituary date.

As I regularly go walking in the Derbyshire Peak, and was aware that many churches in the area had good quality medieval and post-medieval memorials (due to the availability of alabaster from the Chellaston mines and quarries), I decided to visit as many memorials as possible and photograph them with a view to comparing buckles and fittings with examples on the PAS database.

An initial consideration was the issue of whether fittings depicted on memorials were a) authentic and b) sufficiently detailed to enable recognition. Resources such as the Victorian and Albert Museum and the Church Monuments Society suggested this was indeed the case, and in fact there are precedents for this type of comparison project; for example, in compiling the London Museum Medieval Catalogue (1940) Ward-Perkins used Brasses and Memorials extensively to obtain dates.

The project is still in its early stages, but results so far are promising. The effigies of Sir Robert Frances, Earl of Formark, at St Wystan’s Church in Repton, and John de la Pole at Radbourne Parish Church, both 15th Century, have yielded quite detailed straps and fittings (allowing for the centuries of wear, damage and graffiti!). The effigies are life sized, allowing measurements to be taken with reasonable confidence. Although, in the case of buckles, the strap-bar and pin are mostly obscured by the strap, the frame is usually quite distinct.

Image showing a buckle on the armoured foot of a medieval knight depicted in a tomb effigy.
Buckles on the foot of a tomb effigy of John de la Pole at Radbourne Parish Church. Copyright: Simon Nicholson. License: CC-BY.

A Cannon SX160 IS camera was used to take 16mpx images in JPEG format. After some experimentation it was found that by adding a layer in Photoshop and applying a sketch filter, then reducing the opacity of the new layer, edges could be enhanced without significantly altering the overall image, this enabled the frame shape to be compared with catalogues and examples on the PAS database. For example, John de la Pole is wearing several distinctive double-loop trapezoidal buckles with pointed ends to the frames. Similar shaped frames are described in Whitehead (p.82), but with the additional feature of rounded knobs at either end of the strap-bar, which are absent on the de la Pole buckles (Whitehead ascribes a 17th Century date to this design). Examples can be found on the PAS database; e.g. PUBLIC-861B43, NLM-C50B52, SUSS-156CF6.

I hope to visit more churches over the coming months and compile a more substantial collection of images for comparison.

Image of a four buckles depicted on a medieval tomb effigy.
Close up of buckles on a medieval tomb effigy of John de la Pole at Radbourne Parish Church. Copyright: Simon Nicholson. License: CC-BY