The Portable Antiquities Scheme Co. Durham 2017

Durham Archaeology Magazine 2018

The Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) is a national scheme, run by The British Museum in partnership with local host organisations, and comprising a network of Finds Liaison Officers (FLO’s) spread across England and Wales. The PAS in Durham is hosted in the Archaeology Section of Durham County Council, and provides coverage for Durham, Darlington and Teesside. The objective of the PAS is to advance archaeological knowledge through engagement with local people, and the recording of artefacts they find on an open access online database ( We also assist with the facilitation of the Treasure Act (1996), by researching and reporting artefacts that meet the criteria to the Coroner.

The finds we record vary from the very rare (see the Roman Diploma, elsewhere in this volume [see:]), to the more vernacular, but each is important in its own right as part of our shared local heritage. Over the past year finders living in the Co. Durham, Darlington and Teesside areas reported over 400 individual finds to the PAS office in Durham, of which 14 were Treasure cases. Many of these objects were recovered from Co. Durham, and a selection of noteworthy finds are presented below.

Figure 1

Avid readers may recall the Bronze Age hoard (comprising spearheads, axes and swords) recovered from the Upper Pennines and reported in this publication two years ago [see:]. Just over a year later the finders came across a second hoard just a little way from the original findspot (Figure 2) Again dating to the late ‘Ewart Park’ phase of the Bronze Age (c.900-800 cal BC), the hoard comprised nearly 40 individual objects, including several spearheads and socketed axeheads. The preservation conditions on the moor are such that fragments of hafted wood were recovered from one of the axeheads; these fragments are currently being analysed by the British Museum.

Figure 2

The material recovered from the 2016 hoard is entirely consistent, in terms of both typology and condition, with both that of 2015 and an even earlier hoard, also recovered from the same general location in 1980. This latter huge hoard (no in Co. Durham Archaeological Archives) comprised over 100 similar objects, and included fragments of a copper ingot. Whilst research regarding the significance and context of all the hoards recorded from this area is ongoing, it is clear that this part of the Greta Valley appears to have had a very special significance in the Late Bronze Age (Brendan O’Connor, pers. comm.). Archaeological remains dating from the Mesolithic into the Modern period dot the route of the A66, showing that the course of the Stainmore Pass across the Pennines has been an important trading route for centuries (Robinson 1993). The presence of these Bronze Age hoards in a relatively confined area would appear to indicate complicated trading practices involving the burial and intended retrieval of scrap metal and raw materials, perhaps by individuals or even by organised groups of smiths and traders.

Figure 3

Metalwork artefacts from later prehistory, whilst not unusual from other parts of the country, are relatively rare finds in Co. Durham. Thus even small items, such as this late Iron Age copper alloy looped toggle (Figure 3) recovered from near Bishop Auckland, have local significance in terms of adding to the archaeological archive of our region. Looped toggles (dating from c. c350BC -100AD) appear to have been an antecedent of button and loop fasteners, probably used both to fasten clothing and on harnesses, and are found all over the England and Wales.

Figure 4

By contrast, Dragonesque Brooches (dating from c.AD 50 – 200) have a particular distribution through eastern England, with a distinct concentration around northern Lincolnshire, North and East Yorkshire and spreading into the North-East. The Dragonesque brooch illustrated here (Figures 1 and 4) conforms to this distribution, and was found not far from Dere Street in the same general area as the looped toggle in what may be regarded as the wider hinterland of Binchester Roman Fort. This is a particularly fine example of this brooch type, comprising an incomplete concave curvilinear plate with an S-shape abstract zoomorphic form, with turned in heads at each end. Rather unusually, the brooch is coated in what appears to be a polished black lacquer (‘black coated’) and is variously inlaid with scrolls and pointed ellipses containing red, white and blue enamel decoration.

Dragonesque brooches are a hybrid form of material culture and art: the ‘plate’ brooch type and, to an extent, the mapped distribution reflects newer Roman influences of the 1st and 2nd centuries; however, the stylistic the form and inlaid enamel decoration are firmly rooted in the artistic traditions of the Iron Age. As an example of how valuable data generated by the PAS can be, a study of Dragonesques was undertaken, integrating the many recent discoveries recorded on the PAS database with a view to revising the typology and spatial distribution of the brooches, and also examining their cultural significance. As Fraser (2010, 95) stated: “One great asset of the PAS data is in providing a much bigger sample for studying the distribution”. There had previously been some discussion as to whether the brooches predominately occurred in military or native contexts, or perhaps both (Allason-Jones & Miket 1984, 114; Bayley and Butcher 2004, 171). As noted above, the majority have been found in the area of what Feacham (1951, 34) rather imperially termed “the northern part of civilized Britain”, often in and around vici. The results of Fraser’s (2010, 102) detailed study found that whilst the brooches were indeed found in both contexts, the overly simplistic binary distribution model of military/rural findspots was unsurprisingly more nuanced. In breaking down the types of Dragonesques found (using both PAS and non-PAS data), it was identified that enamelled types are markedly more common on military sites than their non-enamelled counterparts, indicating “subtle patterns of preference” in the ongoing “processes and negotiations involved in becoming Romano-British” (ibid., 101). As Fraser (ibid., 102) states “The humble dragonesque clearly has much still to tell”: ensuring that the PAS continues to work with finders to record such fantastic examples as that described above, can only aid in this continuing social exploration of the early Roman period in Northern Britain. Indeed, it is noteworthy that more than 125 further such brooches have been identified and recorded with the PAS since the completion of Fraser’s (2010) study.

Figure 5

Assisting in the recording and reporting of finds which meet the Treasure criteria is an important part of an FLO’s role. This includes any objects made of either gold or silver (but not single coins; see below). The incomplete gold finger ring featured in Figure 5 was found within sight of the Roman fort of Vinovia at Binchester (but importantly outside the Scheduled Area!) early last year. After reporting the find to the coroner, we began the task of identifying and recording the ring. Whilst much of the hoop of the ring is missing, fragments of the foliate openwork (opus interrasile) shoulders were remaining, as was the white glass-paste intaglio within an ovate box setting. Although the intaglio was in a fragile state, an impression was taken revealing a depiction of the goddess Victory, with right leg raised and crossed behind the left, and holding a sceptre in the right hand (Figure 6). Whilst Victory was commonly featured on differing objects throughout the Roman period, as a technique openwork or opus interrasile only became common from around the 3rd century. The identification of a number of similar parallels aided in the dating of this ring to between AD 200-300. Previous volumes of this publication have detailed the extensive physical and material archaeological remains that have been excavated and found to date to this period when the fort was rebuilt to house the Ala Vettonum (the five-hundred strong cavalry regiment), as the civilian settlement continued to prosper. Any indications that this ring may have fallen from the hand of a Decurion (Roman cavalry officer) during exercises across the river are, of course, entirely speculative! Nevertheless, as the ring met the required criteria and was declared ‘Treasure’ at a Coroner’s inquest, local museums were given the opportunity to acquire it for their collections. The ring was purchased by Durham University Archaeology Museum, and will hopefully go on display later this year.

Figure 6

Whilst single coins of precious metal do not qualify as Treasure, two or more gold or silver coins (or 10 if they are made from other metal) are designated as a ‘Hoard’, and are thus Treasure finds. Similarly, assemblages of prehistoric metalwork (such as those cited above) also designated under Treasure legislation as ‘Hoards’. The Code of Practice for Responsible Metal Detecting in England and Wales (2017) makes it clear that metal-detector users should ‘stop digging’ and seek ‘expert [archaeological] help’ if they ‘discover something below the ploughsoil, or a concentration of finds or unusual material…’. Usually this will be a hoard (commonly prehistoric or Roman) or a burial (often early medieval). There have been several cases elsewhere in the country where finders have not stopped and caused damage to archaeology (Lewis 2018). We were very pleased then, when a finder contacted the PAS office in Durham in early 2017 to report that he had identified a hoard of medieval silver coins (Figure 7). The detectorists had partially excavated the coins from the topsoil, but had become wary of disturbing underlying archaeological remains. Together with Lauren Pratt, Senior Archaeologist at Durham County Council, I visited the site and we archaeologically excavated the remaining coins and dug a small trench to understand the nature of the deposits within which the hoard had been buried.

Figure 7

The coins were recovered from an arable field that sloped gently to the west, at a depth of between 0.05m and 0.4m. The small trench, measuring c.1.5m north/south by 0.5m east/west was excavated over the area the where the main concentration of coins were identified. The coins were found solely within the topsoil deposits, which overlay a thin layer of clayey rubble (c.0.1m thick), which in turn overlay the natural clay subsoil. Whilst most coins were recovered from the concentrated area described above, a number were identified up to 10m to the west, indicating that hoard was dispersed, mostly likely by modern ploughing. It is likely that the hoard was deposited during a single episode in an organic container, possibly a bag or purse that has since disintegrated. No pottery sherds or other related finds were identified.

In total 48 silver pennies were recovered, including two Scottish coins of Alexander III’s Second Coinage (c.1280-86) and a single continental Guy of Dampierre sterling imitation or ‘pollard’. The majority of the hoard was made up of 45 silver pennies of the type introduced by Edward I (r. 1272-1307) in 1279 and continued through the reigns of Edward II (1307-27) into the 1330s, in the early years of Edward III (1327-1377). The silver coinage of England was struck to what would become known as the sterling standard, over 90% fine metal; this standard was followed in Scotland at this time and the great majority of sterlings of Gui de Dampierre were 80-90% fine. The coins from the hoard were good silver and were likely in circulation together. As a group they represent a selected body of material, particularly as the lesser denominations of halfpenny and farthing were not present.

Figure 8

Whilst the majority of the English coins within this hoard were minted in London and Canterbury, several from mints in Bury St Edmonds, York, and a single example from Newcastle, were also identified. Of particular local interest however, were the two rare Edward III coins with the reverse legend ‘CIVITAS DUNELMI’ (‘City of Durham’) and a small crown at the centre of the long cross patteé (Figures 8 and 9). These latter details indicate that the coins were produced in the ecclesiastical mint here in Durham City between 1327-35, probably during the later reign of Bishop Lewis de Beaumont (1318-33). The Bishop of Durham operated a mint at various times in Durham City, from the late eleventh century under Bishop William of St Calais (1080-96) to final closure in 1541 (Allen 1999, 1). Toward the end of the Bishop Beaumont’s tenure of the see the mint was briefly closed, only reopening some 20 years later following reform of the coinage in 1351 (ibid., 2). The mint where the coins discovered at Lanchester were probably struck was probably located in the area now known as ‘Moneyer’s Garth’. Located in the north-east corner of Palace Green, and a particular favourite of tourists due to the red telephone and letter boxes, the current building and yard dates from the 19th century; however, it is here that Italian mint-masters, and later London merchants and local moneyers, were striking coins between the late 13th and early 15th centuries (ibid., 53). It is very fitting then that these Durham minted coins (and the remainder of the hoard) have been acquired by Durham University Archaeology Museum, and will soon be housed on the other side of Palace Green, just yards from where they were struck nearly 700 years ago. 

Figure 9

The official guidance given by the PAS states that while we will record ALL objects dating from the 17th century and earlier, we are more selective with artefacts dating from c.1700 to the present day. This is simply due to the sheer number of objects that survive following the introduction of mass production of material culture, and thus the limited value they have in terms of adding to archaeological knowledge. However, it is important that finders show us all they find, as exceptions are frequently made for artefacts that have compelling social or cultural value, particularly those objects that are regionally or locally significant. The medallion featured in Figure 10 fulfils all the latter criteria.

Figure 10

In early 2016 a local metal detectorist, who detects in and around Durham City and works closely with the PAS, found a small silver star from a 19th Century medal. Feeling sure that more of the medal must be nearby, the detectorist returned to the fields near Shincliffe village a year later, and remarkably managed to locate the larger copper-alloy ‘backing’ star. Examination of the medallion identified it as part of an 1843 Gwailor Campaign medal.

The Gwailor Star was awarded by the Honourable East India Company to British Army soldiers who took part in the Gwailor Campaign. The latter was undertaken due to rising tensions following the death of the British-approved Maharaja of Gwalior. However, fervent attempts at regaining independence from the British Empire were unsuccessful: the inscription on this medal indicates it to have been awarded to a soldier who took part in the Battle of Punniar, India, December 29th 1843, one of the two battles fought that day (the other being Maharajpoor) that ended the short-lived colonial rebellion.

The reverse of the copper-alloy part of the medallion was usually inscribed with the soldier’s personal details and with whom they served. The condition of this component of the medallion is such that the word ‘Royal’ is the only part of the inscription decipherable. However, the only regiment known to have taken part in the campaign with royal in their title was the 9th (or Queen’s Royal) Lancers:

Figure 10a

“In 1842 the 9th were sent to India and in 1843 they took part in the campaign against the Mahratta State of Gwalior. They were awarded the honour ‘Punniar’ and the men present at the battle received bronze stars made from the metal of the captured Mahratta guns.“ (

This is the first and only such campaign medal to be recorded on the PAS database, and it is currently on display in the Archaeology Gallery in Durham University Archaeology Museum (Palace Green, Durham City) as part of the exhibition ‘Everyone’s History’ (see below). It is hoped that specialist photography of the reverse of the medal may reveal more of the inscription, perhaps even the details of the individual to whom the medal was originally presented.

This year, 2018, marks an important anniversary for PAS. The scheme has now been running nationally, including here in the North-East, for 15 years. During that time over 1.3 million artefacts found in England and Wales have been recorded on our database, providing data for researchers that would not otherwise have been available, and underpinning research (such as that shown above) that is instrumental in advancing archaeological knowledge. Key to this, the core aim of the PAS, is the outreach work that we do, strengthening links between local communities, museums, and amateur and professional archaeologists. Here in Durham we have built strong relationships with a number of local individuals and metal detecting groups, working closely with them to record the artefacts they find and to provide assistance and information to facilitate best practice. Over the next year we hope to continue to build on this, and we welcome any new finders to get involved and get in touch with us using the contact details on the reverse of this publication. In particular this year we have worked closely with a number of metal detectorists and Durham University Archaeology Museum to jointly organise an exhibition to celebrate both the 15th anniversary of the PAS and last year’s 20th anniversary of the implementation of the 1996 Treasure Act. The exhibition features some very special finds discovered by local detectorists (and generously loaned to the museum) not normally seen by members of the public, and also highlights some of the objects that have been acquired through the Treasure Act including, for the first time, one of the Bronze Age hoards discussed above. The exhibition will run until the end of May 2018, and entry is free!

We have several events planned for later this year, including a day of talks and presentations based around the ‘Everyone’s History’ exhibition (12th May). We will also be hosting finds handling and identification sessions at the re-enactment events at Piercebridge Roman Fort (23rd June) and Binchester Roman Fort (14th-15th July, and 27th August). Please feel free to come and meet us there, and find out more about what we do!

Events such as these, and the day-to-day researching and recording of artefacts, would not be possible without the dedicated work of our team of Durham PAS volunteers, who each give freely of their time, and to whom I am very grateful!

Details of the PAS and of all the finds mentioned above, together with the many others found in this region, can be found by searching the database at


Allason-Jones, L., Miket, R., 1984. The catalogue of small finds from South Shields Roman Fort. Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle upon Tyne, Newcastle upon Tyne.

Allen, M., 1999. The Durham mint: the control, organization, profits and out-put of an ecclesiastical mint. Durham theses, Durham University.

Bayley, J., Butcher, S., 2004. Roman brooches in Britain: a technological and typological study based on the Richborough collection. The Society of antiquaries of London, London.

Feachem, R.W. de F., 1951. Dragonesque Fibulae. The Antiquaries Journal 31, 32–44.

Hunter, F., 2010. Changing objects in changing worlds: dragonesque brooches and beaded torcs, in: A Decade of Discovery: Proceedings of the Portable Antiquities Scheme Conference 2007, British Archaeological Reports.

Lewis, M. (2018), ‘Metal Detecting and In Situ Archaeology’, British Archaeology 158, January-February 2018, 26-29.

Robinson, P., 1993. Archaeology on the Stainmore Pass: The A66 Project. English Heritage & Durham County Council, Durham.

9th Lancers