Spring 2021- Finds Days Return

Hello!

It’s been a long dark lonely winter for Devon PAS- thank you so much to all the finders who have reached out, been in touch, reported Treasure finds and shown me non Treasure finds for digital recording during this period. 

I’m really pleased to be able to accept appointments once again, now that museums have reopened today. For the moment, weekday appointments are restricted to Wednesday at the Somerset Heritage Centre in Taunton. I hope to be back in RAMM in the autumn, but in the mean time am planning some outdoor events at RAMM for Exeter based finders. These appointments are currently limited to those with Treasure to collect or to hand in, due to the ongoing Treasure backlog created by lockdowns. To get an appointment, please email me on finds@swheritage.org.uk 

I also have a new programme of Finds Days in the works. The plan is that the first Saturday of every month will find me in a museum in a region of the county- north, central, and south. These will then alternate, so you should be able to get an appointment in your part of Devon every 12 weeks, even if not in the same museum. 

The first of these days is at the Museum of North Devon in Barnstaple on the 3rd June, and appointments are available between 11:00 and last appointment of 13:40. Again, to get an appointment, please email me on finds@swheritage.org.uk. You can book direct with the Museum, but I need to know you are coming well in advance to make sure your finds are ready for you!

This is followed by Torquay Museum on the 5th July,  and RAMM in Exeter (outdoors!) on the 7th August, and the Cookworthy Museum in Kingsbridge on the 4th September. 

There are some simple rules to follow for your and my safety- regardless of your vaccination status, please wear a mask for your appointment. I will wear gloves and mask, and will disinfect all surfaces and change my gloves between appointments. 

To try and manage the number of finds coming in (a nice problem to have), I will be restricting intake to 10 finds per person excluding Treasure. Please have your finds bags prepared with grid references or what3words to make your appointment as straightforward as possible. 

I am so looking forward to seeing you (and your finds, of course), and if you have any questions please do just reach out and send me an email to the finds@swheritage.org.uk address. 

2020 in review

2020 has unsurprisingly been a somewhat challenging year for the Portable Antiquities Scheme in Devon. It’s been nonetheless full of fascinating finds and new ideas about them, and about the county’s past. The year began on a high, after a near record year for finds recording in Devon in 2019, with 1540 objects being recorded in 962 records. This was thanks to wonderful volunteer recorders working together with the FLO to record objects from across the South West and further afield,  but the total for Devon alone as a county was 663 records representing 1178 objects.

The challenges of COVID-19 will be reflected in the statistics for 2020, but nonetheless a large number of finds have been recorded, often using innovative methods. Finders have been extremely supportive of new systems of remote recording, providing not only object measurements but also photographs that can be edited and adapted by the FLO to be near the quality expected for the PAS database. A really good example of this is DEV-B86EBD, an interesting miniature Early Bronze Age flat axehead from near Colyton which was recorded this way just after the strict lockdown ended.

Of course, during January-March the FLO was able to run the usual series of Finds Days and visits to Metal Detecting Club meetings across the county, and was able to take in a large selection of Finds that were recorded in the following months. The patience and understanding of finders while waiting for these objects to be returned is hugely appreciated, particularly when some of the objects are extremely beautiful and rare examples. One such is this medieval coin from near Abbotskerswell, a gold salute d’or of the first reign of Henry VI (AD 1420-1461), recorded as DEV-F9F085, minted at Auxerre with a distinctive “fer de moulin” initial mark.

The lockdown period brought with it some unexpected discoveries, as many families turned to home education, and many people began working on their homes and gardens and making unexpected archaeological discoveries! A number of discoveries of post medieval ceramics in roof spaces have been reported, but one particularly pleasing object is this 19th or early 20th century magnifying glass, found by two children in their garden to the north of Exeter, and recorded as DEV-922FCA. While it is a little later than the PAS would usually record, it is such a delightful example, in such good condition and with two enthusiastic young finders, that it certainly merits recording as a piece of modern archaeology.

In September Finds Day events began again in some new venues and largely out of doors, prioritising the return of finds, but also taking in discoveries made by finders through the year. One of the stand out artefacts to be brought in for recording during this period was this medieval harness mount in copper alloy and red enamel, which featured a porcupine as a heraldic device, and was found near Clyst Honiton. The device itself is charmingly rendered, and is associated with two possible Devon families who incorporated a porcupine or urchin (hedgehog) into their family crests. It was recorded as DEV-0DD67C.

Plans are in place for Finds Days to resume once more in 2021, and a Finds Day at the newly opened Box in Plymouth is a particularly exciting prospect to look forward to. Devon finds are also getting an airing to a nationwide audience via the new podcast of the PAS, PAStCast, which is presented by the Durham and Devon FLOs and can be found on most podcast hosts.

Whether in person or via email, please do contact your FLO if you make any finds in your home or garden, or while out fieldwalking. Lockdown or no lockdown, we are very happy to hear from you and will always do our best to help identify and record your objects.

1.5 million finds!

Hurrah!

Huge congratulations to all of those involved in reaching this wonderful milestone for the scheme, to all the finders, volunteers and staff who have worked together for this great achievement. 

I really enjoyed the wonderful patchwork of finds from across the country that was put together to celebrate. If you’re looking for Devon, you can find us in the top right hand corner of that image. I thought I would do a short blog featuring one of the finds pictured there- such is the richness of the database that I hadn’t come across it before. 

DEV-C6D8F7 (https://finds.org.uk/database/artefacts/record/id/874997) is a harness pendant, one of my favourite classes of finds at the best of times. I really love the connection to individuals, and the clear idea they give of the visual richness of horse tack during the medieval period. This example, with its cusped border, is thought to be associated with Spain, based on a similar example from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The record is exemplary and restrained, but here on the blog I can be more speculative. You might wonder what a Spanish object of the 14th century was doing in Devon?

Well, I wonder if it was connected with the journey of Constance of Castile, a princess from Spain who married into the English Royal Family long before the more famous Catalina of Aragon. Constance and her new husband, John of Gaunt, returned from celebrating their 1371 marriage in English territories near Bordeaux, and landed at Fowey in Cornwall in late September. After what seems to have been a stormy autumn crossing, they travelled by land through Cornwall into Devon, staying at Plympton Priory to recover from the sea journey (Weir 2011: 98). They then headed northwards to make offerings at Exeter Cathedral and onwards to Kingston Lacy in Dorset, where they spent Christmas. They are described as travelling with an appropriate escort of Castilian knights and ladies. Could one of their horses have shed this pendant?

Constance and John did not go on to have a successful marriage in political terms- he never managed to pursue her claim to the throne of Castile, although their daughter did resolve the issue by marrying the rival heir, Enrique III. After Constance died in 1394, John married his longstanding mistress Katherine Swynford, with whom he had had four children while married to the Castilian princess. It seems unlikely that their marriage was a success in personal terms either! 

This find really sums up the magic of PAS for me. Found, reported, researched, published. It has a possible connection with an important event in medieval history, and a fascinating opportunity to think about the lives and feelings of those involved. It’s beautiful to look at, and it sparks all sorts of fantastic conversations about Devon’s past, and its people- whether passing through as part of a cavalcade or living their lives here. 

Here’s to the next milestone, bring on 2 million!

Reference:

Weir, A. 2011. Katherine Swynford: The Story of John of Gaunt and his Scandalous Duchess. London: Random House.

Volunteers’ Week: Thank you Devon Volunteers!

I have been very lucky with all the wonderful volunteers who have helped me since taking on the Devon role. They all have brilliant skills and all have contributed hugely to the success of PAS in the county. Whether it’s going through bags of flint, poring over photos, recording objects or editing images, thank you all of you. 

I am very fortunate to have Julia Hopkin currently volunteering with me. To celebrate National Volunteering Week, I’ve asked her a couple of questions about her love for archaeology and favourite finds. 

What sparked your interest in archaeology?

I was lucky to have access to fantastic books and museums that made me love archaeology when I was young, and I’ll never forget the excitement of finding a complete 17th century pipe bowl when I was 12 and taking it to show my local museum. While I’ve been studying, I’ve kept coming back to archaeology – I love that you’re always learning. My recent studies in experimental archaeology, as well as being lots of fun, have fundamentally changed how I view the past, inspired me to continue researching from as many angles as possible, and encouraged me to focus on engaging the public in heritage – and working with PAS is a great opportunity for doing both!

What do you enjoy most about working with PAS?

I love being able to work hands-on with finds, and my favourite thing about PAS finds is that many of them are small, everyday items. Coins and buttons and bits of cooking pot are often overlooked, but were still important for the people who used them, and they can tell us so much about people’s lives. It’s also great to know that I’m helping members of the public get involved in archaeology – metal detectorists and local finders make such an important contribution to the archaeological record, and there’s something very special about recording their finds.

What’s your favourite object you’ve recorded?

Earlier in the year I recorded a Roman folding knife with an openwork handle shaped like a hunting dog chasing a hare (DEV-8DA53D). It’s a really lovely piece of work, and I should think it was very special to its owner – although it was a tricky object to describe for the database! I’ve always loved that the Romans had folding knives after seeing one in a museum years ago, and seeing one ‘in the wild’ was very exciting, especially such a beautiful example.

What do you hope to do with the experiences you’ve gained?

I hope to continue my career in archaeology, and working with PAS has given me a fantastic range of experiences and skills. It’s made me realize how much I’d love to continue doing finds work, either through PAS, commercial archaeology, or museums, and my new artefact description skills will be invaluable for experimental research as well. I really can’t thank PAS enough for the opportunity!

Thank you Julia!

Julia is too modest to mention this, but she is incredibly talented at making reconstructions of fabrics and other items. You can explore her marvellous creations by searching for wanderingweft on Facebook or Instagram. Give her a follow!

Devon COVID-19 update

Hello lovely finders!

In common with the rest of PAS, at present I am unable to meet with you to take in finds due to the COVID-19 restrictions. 

If you have a Treasure find, this still needs to be reported to me via email: finds@swheritage.org.uk 

You need to provide me with your name and address, the landowner’s name and address, and the findspot, plus an image of your find. I can then make the initial report to the coroner in good order, and we can arrange to meet when restrictions lift to take the find in. 

If you are waiting for your finds to be returned to you, please don’t worry- I am working away at finds taken in earlier in the year, and your finds are safe and secure. I will run a series of events and return objects to as many of you as I can when things return to normal, and my usual club visits will resume for others. Keep an eye on the database to see when your finds pop up as recorded. 

I am working away at home, there is plenty to do! In addition to recording finds taken in already and Treasure reports there are lots of old Devon records that need some love and attention, blog posts to write, and plenty of other bits and pieces to work on.

Take care of yourselves, remember that sadly detecting doesn’t count as your daily government sanctioned exercise, and I look forward to seeing you soon. 

It’s the little things

Yesterday, I recorded this tiny coin, DEV-10B247– it’s a cut penny, meaning that it was cut from a larger, higher value coin, for ease of use. We get lots of cut coins, and they can be absolutely miniscule! This can make them tricky to identify clearly, especially when large parts of the legend (the text around the outside) are missing. 

However, in this case, I was really lucky. If you look at the image closely you can see the legend very clearly. It reads VS.DEV. And boom! There you have your coin identification. 

The legend POSUI DEVM ADIVTOREM MEVM is something of a motto for the Tudor family, and it appears on everyone’s coins, after it was re-introduced under Henry VII. It had been found on earlier coins, going back to Edward III, but the Tudor version was designed by an artist from Antwerp called Alexander von Brugsal, and it means “I have made God my aide.” 

But there is only one Tudor ruler who adapted the motto to reflect their partnership with their consort. It’s not the much married Henry VIII, but his daughter, Mary. She changed the motto to the first person plural, stating that she and her husband, Philip of Spain, had made God THEIR aide. That’s what those two little letters signify- they are the last two letters of POSIMVS, the first word in her version of the legend. So this coin is cut from a groat of Philip and Mary. 

Philip and Mary only reigned together for four years (some would say thankfully, given her famously “bloody” suppression of Protestant religion), but Mary adapted her coinage significantly to incorporate her husband’s image and presence. On her shillings, like this one, they face one another, an intimate portrait of a royal couple in your pocket or purse, which was much remarked upon.

SOM-A50924, shilling of Philip and Mary

Having made such huge changes and efforts to incorporate her husband’s image and proclaim the importance of this relationship, it must have been bitter when the marriage went sour. Philip was unfaithful and ruthlessly manipulated Mary to get funds for his wars in the Netherlands. She endured two false pregnancies which are now thought to have been manifestations of the cancer that killed her. When she died, he was far away in Brussels, but his face and her allegiance to him were right there on her coins.