How to Search the Database


Without knowing how to search, you can’t get any data out of the PAS database. It’s important to know how to construct searches so that you can find the records you need. For recorders, it’s essential to know how people will be searching, so that you can make records which are easier to find.

This guide will also help you map your search results, and download search results as an Excel spreadsheet.

How to find the search forms

The database welcome page ( has a Basic Search box at the top (labelled ‘Search our database’). You can find all the other searches by going to the Search page; click on ‘Search database’ at the top of the menu on the left-hand side. The main menu on this page lets you choose between the 12 different search forms.

On every Search Results page, you will find a menu above the search results which allows you to click back to either the Basic Search or the Advanced Search form.

The Advanced Search

Paradoxically, it’s best to start learning about searching the PAS database with Advanced Search. The Advanced Search gives you a lot of help in constructing your searches.

The 23 boxes are taken from both the Artefact form and the Findspot form. Have a go at filling in the boxes and see what results you get.

How to find the Advanced Search box

From anywhere in the database, you will find ‘Search database’ at the top of the left-hand menu. Click through to the Search page and choose ‘Advanced Search’ at the top of the menu.

The Advanced Search boxes explained

Each box is slightly different. Some are tick-boxes, some ask you to choose between the drop-down menu options, and others are free-text fields. Some (e.g. the Object Type box) look like free-text fields, but when you start to type, they will offer you a set of drop-down results based on your initial typing.

The ‘Object Description Contains’ box will, in theory, search on the precise string of letters (so entering ‘brooch hare’ will give different results to ‘hare brooch’) but it adds some fuzziness to the searches. This is known as ‘approximate string matching’ and means that the search looks for plurals and past tenses as well as the specific word. So if you want to find a radiate-headed brooch, instead of a coin with a radiate head, you may need to use the filters (see below) to narrow down your search results.

Filling in the ‘Start date’ and ‘End date’ with numbers will mean that your search will find everything after the start date and before the end date. So if you enter ‘1500’ as the start date and ‘1600’ as the end date, you will get records with date-ranges of 1500-1600, but also 1500-1550, 1520-1550, 1550-1600, etc.  Because the searching is done mathematically, BC dates need a minus sign at the front, so 800 BC is -800.

If you are looking for records by date created or updated, click in the relevant box and a calendar will come up. Choose the year, month and finally day, and the date will be automatically entered in the correct format.

Search results

The search results page will give you the details of what you searched for at the top. The url box at the top also gives a precise ‘address’ for your search results.

The filters down the right-hand side allow you to narrow your search results without going right back to the advanced search form. Filters can be applied or removed very easily (see below).

Basic (or Simple) Search

This is in fact a very powerful tool, and all the most complicated searches are done from this simple box.

If you type a single word into the Basic Search box, the database will search for this word across most of the fields in a record. So if you search for ‘Birdlip’ (or ‘birdlip’ – it is not case-sensitive), you will get all of the Roman Birdlip brooches that were recorded using this word, but also all of the finds recorded as from Birdlip in Gloucestershire, and all the Iron Age combs which can be paralleled by a comb from Birdlip.

If you type a PAS number into the Basic Search box, like SUSS-8D0E38, the results will include that record, but also every record that has quoted it as a parallel. So the Basic Search is useful when you don’t know which field the information might have been put into.

If you type two or more words into the Basic Search box, the database will search for records that contain both or all of these words somewhere in the record, separately. So if you type ‘strap end’ into the Basic Search box, it will search for all records which include both the word ‘strap’ and the word ‘end’.

If you would like to search for the string ‘strap end’ – that is, the precise phrase with the words in that order – then you have to wrap them up in double inverted commas. Searching for “strap end” will get the right results.

If you would like to search for records that contain either of two words, see below under ‘Search operators’.

You can restrict the Basic Search to a particular field; see below, under ‘Turning Basic Search into a very powerful tool’.

Search operators

If you type two or more words into Basic Search, it will search for records that contain both of these words somewhere in the record. It is just as if you have typed AND between the words. For example, ‘brooch lead’ will find you all records that have both of those two words; ‘brooch AND lead’ will give the same set of results. Note that if you type ‘brooch and lead’ you will get all records that contain those three words – brooch, and, and lead. Putting AND in capitals tells the search engine that the word is an ‘operator’ – something that instructs the search engine to narrow the search.

Two other commonly used operators are OR and NOT. Searching for ‘brooch OR lead’ will give you all those records with ‘brooch’ in them, and all the records with ‘lead’ in them. Searching for ‘brooch NOT lead’ will retrieve all the records with ‘brooch’ in them, except for those which also use ‘lead’.

Searches using AND, OR and NOT are also sometimes called Boolean searches. They are often visualised with Venn diagrams.

Venn diagram illustrating the results of AND, OR and NOT searches
Venn diagram illustrating the results of AND, OR and NOT searches

If you want to search using three or more terms, you need to add brackets to tell the database which set of records to search within.

For example, what would you need to write if you want to find all objects decorated with a knight, which also had either a horse or a sword? You would use ‘knight AND (horse OR sword)’.

If, on the other hand, you put the brackets around the other two terms – ‘(knight AND horse) OR sword’, your results would include every record with both ‘knight’ and ‘horse’, and every record with ‘sword’.

There are a few other search operators which are described in detail below. They include the wild card *, the negative sign – and the range finders { } and [ ].

The wild card *

The asterisk can be used to replace text. For example, if you wanted to search for records which had used the word ‘lozengiform’ and those which had used the word ‘lozenge-shaped’, you could type ‘lozeng*’ in the Basic Search box and the database would find any word starting with those letters. Similarly, if you wanted to find records that had used ‘circular’ ‘triangular’ or ‘rectangular’, you could type ‘*ular’ to retrieve records with all of these.

How to find the Basic Search box

The database welcome page ( has a Basic Search box at the top (labelled ‘Search our database’). If you click through to the Search page (‘Search database’ at the top of the menu on the left-hand side) you will find another Basic Search box at the top.

Searching across individual fields using the Basic Search (Search Syntax)

You can ask the Basic Search to look at one or more specific fields. You type a code for the individual field, then a colon, and then the term to search for – in this format: classification:annular. The search operators can be used as well, so in effect this is a better, more flexible version of the Advanced Search. The system is known as Search Syntax.

Most of the codes for the individual fields can be found in a little-known but very useful area of the website. Scroll down to the bottom of any page, find ‘About Our Site’, and click on the final option, Help. Option 3 is Searching our database, and contains many of the codes. A fuller list of the field names is also given below.

One way to work out the names of the fields and the codes for different drop-down options (such as the materials options) use the Advanced Search and check the url. For example, if you search for Primary Material = Silver, the url of the search results will be: This will show you not only the name of the field (material) but also the code for silver (22) which you can then use to search for Secondary Material, which does not appear in the Advanced Search fields.

Another way to work out the field names is to do an Excel download (see below, under Using Your Search Results). The column headers will be the field names.

By the way, it is also worth looking at option 1, Searching the PAS database for the first time.

Full list of fields

If the field you want is not included here, it is usually better to use one of the more specific searches. For people (finders and identifiers) or dates (date from, date to, dates record created or updated), use Advanced Search (and remember that you may not have the correct access level to access the People database). For coin-specific fields, use the relevant numismatic search.

A string is a set of characters that can contain letters, numbers and symbols (such as hyphens). The numbers are treated as symbols rather than as mathematical units.

If your string contains a space, the database will search as if you had added AND as an operator, unless you enclose it in double inverted commas. Wildcards (*) can be used in strings, but not in numeric fields.

Search terms for nearly every field on the database.
Search terms for nearly every field on the database.

‘Date from’ and ‘date to’ searches

For date from and date to searches, you have a choice of how precise to be. Using the Basic Search fromdate:700 will give you that precise result; all the records where the date from has been entered as 700 AD. Similarly, if you enter fromdate:700 AND todate:800 you will get all records where both these fields have this precise value. It will not retrieve a record with dates of 700-750, or 710-780.

It is usually easier to use Advanced Search to search for a date-range. In Advanced Search, entering ‘700’ in the Start Date field will retrieve all records from 700 AD onwards, right up to the present day. Entering 700 in Start Date and 800 in End Date will retrieve all records with ‘date from’ 700 AD and later, and ‘date to’ 800 AD and earlier.

If you would like to do this kind of search in Basic Search, you will need to use the operators {} and [].  See below, under Searching for a date-range using Basic Search.

Searching for BC dates

Dates BC are recorded as negative numbers, so with a minus sign (a hyphen) in front (e.g. -800). To search for negative numbers using Basic Search, you must put a back-slash \ in front of the minus sign. For example, if you want to search for something recorded with the date from 800 BC and with the date to100 BC, use the search fromdate:\-800 AND todate:\-100.

Searching for a date-range using Basic Search: the operator [ ]

Basic Search can be used to search for all records within a certain range of dates, using the operator [ ] and the word TO. The square brackets [ ] are known as the inclusive range operators because they search for what’s included in the brackets.

See below (under Searching the Dimension Fields) for the exclusive range operators { }, which exclude what’s in the brackets).

For example, you can set the range for the ‘Date From’ field to search for objects from the first millennium AD, by using the search fromdate:[1 TO 499]. Don’t use the date 500, as this will add in sixth-century finds, where the ‘Date From’ field has been entered as 500.

You can search for a date-range using BC years (negative numbers) too, and you do not need the back-slash that you normally need for precise numbers. Use the search fromdate:[-500 TO -400].

Searches for the end date can be done in just the same way; try todate:[420 TO 520] or todate:[-100 TO -1].

Searching the Dimensions fields: the operator { }

You might want to search for objects that are over or under a certain length or weight, etc. To do this, you use the curly brackets { }, the word TO, and the wildcard * to specify the range. For example, to retrieve all objects over 100mm long, search for length:{* TO 100}. To search for all objects with a weight less than 20g, search for weight:{20 TO *}.

The operator { } is known as the exclusive range operator because it specifies which values to exclude. Because you are searching for what you don’t want, rather than what you do want, it is a bit counter-intuitive and can take some getting used to. You might prefer to download an Excel spreadsheet instead, and sort the dimensions in this.

Some other operators: 1 = true, and – = NOT

A general rule of thumb is that tick-box fields (like Find of Note, Treasure etc) use the digit 1 to mean that the box is ticked. Another useful thing to know is that you can use a minus sign (a hyphen) to mean NOT. For example, entering -inscription:* will retrieve all records with the inscription box not filled in, and -weight:* will retrieve all records with nothing in the Weight field. This is particularly useful for finding records that need improvement.

Using your search results

‘The two given tokens do not match’ and similar messages

Ignore this, and simply press the ‘Search’ button again. It’s a bug which has defied efforts to fix it.


A lot of precise searching can be done by starting with a wider search, and narrowing it down via the filters on the right-hand side of your search results. The filters allow you to see the range of your search results, and allow you to quickly reverse searches that didn’t work out as you hoped.

In order, the filters are: Object type; County of origin (this is the county it was found in, not the county it was recorded in); Broad Period; Institution (the prefix of the office which recorded the find); Ruler/Issuer, Denomination and Mint (for coins only); Material (i.e. Primary Material); Workflow (green, orange or red flag); and Reece Period (for Roman coins only).

Each set of filters only displays the ten most common options. If there are more than ten, there will be a grey button below labelled ‘All options’ which opens a new window from which you can choose an option.

When you have a filter applied, this will be shown at the top of the search results, and in place of the list of filter options, only the one chosen will be shown. Below will be an option for ‘clear this filter’ which allows you to quickly reverse your search and try another.

Search statistics

Above the filters (top right of the search results page) are some search statistics. The number of ‘total results available’ is the number of records found with this search. The ‘total quantity’ is the number of objects within the records; sometimes, particularly with hoards, one record may refer to more than one object.

Ordering your search results

Above the search statistics (top right of the search results page) are some ways to sort and order your results. You can choose between most recently created (the default) or several other methods, and choose between seeing them in ascending or descending order. At the top you can choose how many you see on a single page, and whether to exclude those without images or not.

Excel downloads

To create an Excel spreadsheet from your search results, click on the grey button at the top of your results labelled Export as CSV. If this button is blue and marked CSV disabled, it means that you have too many results to download; the maximum number seems to be around 12,000 records.

All artefacts and coins – a quick and easy solution

If you want to search using just filters, then find the ‘all artefacts and coins’ button in the left-hand menu and then use your filters. This is a very quick method of searching, particularly for an unusual or recently recorded item.