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.

Districts of Derbyshire: Erewash

Erewash is a local government district and borough of eastern Derbyshire. It lies to the east of Derby and to the west Nottingham. The borough is home to 112,081 people and the towns of Ikeston and Long Eaton are located here.

Occupation in this area seems to date back to at least the Neolithic. Evidence of this can be seen in finds like this (DENO-37C042). This is an implement of unknown form, it is possibly a chisel, axe or a form of scraper tool. It is made from a fine, dark flint. The flake scars caused by the knapping process is obvious on this example as is the areas of retouch on the outer edge. This example dates from c. 3,500 BC – 2,100 BC.

Neolithic flint implement (DENO-37C042). Copyright: Derby Museums Trust. License: CC BY-SA

Objects of the Bronze Age seem to be a rare occurrence in Erewash, given that only two finds have been recorded from the region on the PAS database. One of these is a very unusual object (LEIC-732185). It seems to be a bridle fitting probably dating to the late Bronze Age, but possibly dating to the Early Medieval period. There is a central strap bar formed of two parts, one upper and one lower. A leather strap would have passed between them. This object also serves to highlight how difficult some objects are to identify and date accurately, due to style and rarity.

Late Bronze Age to Early Medieval Bridle fitting (LEIC-732185). Copyright: Wendy Scott. License: CC BY-SA

Erewash continued to be occupied throughout the Iron Age, as this next object shows (DENO-B0A936). It is an incomplete but beautiful beaded torc that dates from the late Iron Age to early Roman period. The object consists of one terminal and ten beads. The other terminal has broken, and is missing. Each of the ten beads has a raised central plain with a beaded line to each side. It dates from the 1st to 3rd centuries and was found near Ockbrook.

Iron Age Beaded Torc (DENO-B0A936). Copyright: Derby Museums Trust. License: CC BY-SA

The next two objects are interesting pieces and show that even the Romans were partial to to fun and games in Derbyshire! The first is instantly recognisable and is commonly used today (DENO-81AC76). It is a die made of copper alloy and the numbers are in dot form on the surface of each face. The second is a beautiful coloured object (DENO-4AE6C1). It is probably a gaming piece or bead made of a bright blue glass. The front face of this object is domed and the reverse is flat. There appears to be a hole through the centre which seems to be wider at the bottom than the top. Both objects date to the Roman period AD c. 43 – AD 410 .

Roman Die (DENO-81AC76). Copyright: Derby Museums Trust. License: CC BY-SA
Roman blue glass probable gaming piece (DENO-4AE6C1). Copyright: Derby Museums Trust. License: CC BY-SA

During the Early Medieval period, Erewash was a busy place. The town of Ilkeston was founded in the 6th century and seems to have derived it’s name from its supposed founder Elch or Elcha, who was an Anglian chieftain (Elka’s Tun = Elka’s Town). This zoomorphic strap end dates from a few centuries later (DENO-839B93). The strap end has a zoomorphic (or animal) terminal at one end with a wolf, snake or dog head usually depicted. There is a decorated panel with a design of interlocking knotwork in the centre of the object. This is a lovely example and is almost complete. It dates from the 9th Century AD.

Early Medieval Zoomorphic Strap End (DENO-839B93). Copyright: Derby Museums Trust. License: CC BY-SA

Finds from the Medieval period are more common in this region than previous periods. This gold annular brooch is one of the more special items from the area (DENO-1AF752). It has been decorated with a pair of clasped hands on one edge and the pin has a collar at the junction of the loop and shaft. The inscription reads “IOV I: IVIL VOI ONLI”. It appears garbled, but it can be reconstructed as “Love, I will you only”. Which suggests it was given as a gift between lovers. It is a beautiful object with a wonderful and loyal sentiment behind it.

Medieval Gold Annular Brooch (DENO-1AF752). Copyright: Derby Museums Trust. License: CC BY-SA

More finds are discovered in the region of Erewash from the Post Medieval period than are found from any other period. One of these finds is a silver soldino of Doge Leonardo Lorendano of Venice (DENO-2B1DD6). The coin depicts the standing figure of Christ on the obverse (front), with the standing figure of St Mark with the kneeling Doge at his feet on the reverse. This object highlights how interconnected places like Derbyshire, and the rest of the country, were at this time with the rest of Europe. During the 15th and 16th century there was a shortage of English struck halfpennies within the economy of the country, so people began filling the gap with foreign coinage. This is an example of one of the coins they used instead, this coin has a similar weight in silver as an English halfpenny. This coin dates from AD 1501 – AD 1521.

Post Medieval Soldino of Doge Leonardo Lorendano (DENO-2B1DD6). Copyright: Derby Museums Trust. License: CC BY-SA



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.


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.

Meet the Volunteers: Simon

Simon Nicholson. Copyright: Simon Nicholson. License: All Rights Reserved
Simon Nicholson. Copyright: Simon Nicholson. License: All Rights Reserved


Tell us about yourself.

I have been volunteering with the PAS in Derby since November 2015. My background is in adult education; my specialist area is Astronomy.

What does your role involve?

I assist the FLO identifying and recording items brought in by members of the public.

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

I have long been interested in the Roman period, but since volunteering with the PAS I have become interested in a wider range of periods, especially Anglo-Saxon.

Why did you start volunteering for the PAS?

I am recovering from a stroke, and was looking for a positive use of my time. As I have always had an interest in history, working with the PAS sounded very attractive. I support the aims and goals of the PAS, I feel the recording of found objects is an important part of preserving our heritage, and I can appreciate the value of the database as a resource for future research.

What do you enjoy most about volunteering for the PAS?

I enjoy the chance to see and handle ancient objects, and the challenge of identifying artefacts. The variety of objects that come in is amazing.  I find the training provided excellent; I have learned so much.

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

DENO-648944 is a Polden-Hill type Roman brooch.

Roman Polden Hill Brooch
Roman Polden Hill Brooch.(DENO-648944) Copyright: Derby Museums Trust. License CC-BY

I find personal items like brooches very evocative.

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

DENO-D9B7E3 is an Iron Age coin of the Corieltavi tribe.

Iron Age Quarter Stater
Iron Age North Eastern Lindsey Scyphate Quarter Stater (DENO-D987E3)
Copyright Derby Museum Trust. License: CC-BY

Before working on the PAS I had an image of Iron Age Britons as rather primitive, huddled in their woad waiting for the Romans to civilize them! But objects like this, beautifully crafted, demonstrate a sophisticated culture.