SPQL: A Glimpse of Life at the Edge of the Roman Empire

The second of two blog posts by University of Leeds PhD student Luke Daly-Groves. 

Echoes of the Roman past can be found all over Liverpool. In St. George’s Hall, the grand gates which secure the great hall boast the acronym ‘S.P.Q.L.’. This imitates the ‘famous Roman catchphrase, Senatus PopulusQue Romanus, ‘The Senate and People of Rome’’(1). But here, the ‘R’ for Rome is replaced with an ‘L’ for Liverpool. Along London Road, an equestrian statue of King George III in the style of Marcus Aurelius can be found and the Duke of Wellington still stands atop his column overlooking visitors to the city, as the Emperor Trajan once stood on his column in Rome (2). It is clear that the Georgians and later the Victorians wished to use elements of the Roman past for their own purposes. But what of the actual Roman past? What was so important about 43-410AD that over a millennium later imposing buildings and monuments in Liverpool would harken back to it? To understand much of the present, and see through the propaganda of the recent past, we must understand our ancient history.

At the Museum of Liverpool, my display, entitled ‘Britannia Inferior? A Glimpse of Life Around Roman Merseyside’ is giving visitors the chance to explore how their ancestors may have lived under Roman occupation. Thirty years ago, the display case which exhibits a variety of ancient artefacts discovered in and around Merseyside would have been empty. As F. Walbank claimed in the 1950s, Merseyside was ‘…a blank space on the map of Roman Britain’(3). Nothing yet was known of the Roman tile factory at Ochre Brook, of the surrounding Roman settlements or the coins buried below St. Helens, highlighted by recent metal detector finds. Indeed, most of the items on display were discovered from the 1990s onwards, some as recently as 2018. The Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) has played a significant part in revealing new evidence of Liverpool’s Roman history by enabling researchers to literally fill in the blanks on the map of Roman Merseyside. Recording finds through the PAS enables researchers to plot the locations where they were found, thus enabling them to be analysed in their appropriate context and revealing a larger image of Roman Merseyside. Each of these items tell a story. When considered together, they provide a snapshot of life on the edge of the Roman Empire. So, what do these objects tell us about Merseyside’s Roman past?

Radiate of Claudius found in St Helens, Merseyside

The oldest object on display is a coin showing the bust of Emperor Claudius. It was found in St. Helens. Claudius invaded Britannia in 43AD, thus beginning the historical era commonly known as ‘Roman Britain’. What inspired this invasion? In 27BC, according to one Roman poet, ‘[o]nly the Briton remains, still undefeated by Rome’s might…’(4). This fact was probably irritating many Romans who prided themselves on their conquering abilities. Julius Caesar had invaded Britannia but did not  properly conquer it, Augustus debated it and Caligula’s men refused to carry out his orders to invade (5). Claudius knew that a successful invasion of a mysterious, frightening, far away land on the edges of the Roman world would increase his popularity at home and help secure his political position (6). Whilst this early period of Roman occupation was characterised by tribal warfare, particularly in the North, archaeological evidence suggests that Merseyside may have provided a relatively peaceful and stable area for the Romans, as will be seen.

So how did a coin depicting Emperor Claudius end up in St. Helens and how did the native population of Ancient Merseyside react to Claudius’s invasion? It is highly likely that Meols once served as a Roman port and possibly as a launching point for Roman soldiers during and after the reign of Claudius (7). A considerable amount of Roman coins, including some of the oldest found in Merseyside, have been discovered at Meols, thus supporting this conclusion (8). Moreover, the Cornovii tribe, who likely controlled this area, made peace with the Romans swiftly (9). Perhaps the coin depicting Claudius made its way to St. Helens from Meols, owing to trading activity at the port.

Roman coins have been found all over Merseyside, thus demonstrating the fact that coin use expanded greatly in Britain with the arrival of the Romans. 10 Roman coins are on display in Britannia Inferior? dating from 41AD to 383AD. This shows the longevity of the Roman presence in ancient Merseyside. Aside from their economic usage, coins were also an important propaganda tool for the Romans because they informed people throughout the Empire with whom power lay, what the language of power was and which gods to worship (10). For example, one coin on display depicting the Emperor Trajan also bears the famous Latin acronym SPQR. Coins also helped to disseminate the Roman religion. According to Richard Hobbs and Ralph Jackson, ‘…religion appears to have permeated all aspects of life in Roman Britain’ (11). Whether the same can be said for Roman Merseyside is uncertain. The fact that such uncertainty exists is just as exciting as it is frustrating. As Professor Mary Beard notes, ‘history is about…challenging certainty’ (12). Several of the coins displayed in Britannia Inferior? depict Roman gods, suggesting that Roman religion may have been practiced in Merseyside. It is impossible to say what local people thought of such political and religious messages. The excitement lies in the knowledge that further archaeological discoveries may provide more answers to these questions. One coin on display depicting Emperor Constantine the Great, the first Christian Emperor, was found at Meols. By this time, Meols had likely evolved from a military focused harbour into a marketplace with a road connecting the latter to the Roman fortress at Chester (13). But what exactly were the Romans selling, and, perhaps more importantly, who was buying?

Wirral brooch from Merseyside

A significant number of Roman earrings and brooches have been found at Meols which, according to archaeologist Robert A. Philpott, suggests that the latter may have been manufactured at the site (14). Brooches are one of the most common Roman era objects found throughout Merseyside. The eight displayed in Britannia Inferior? vary in shape and size. The majority were found in Wirral by metal detectorists. One of these, with its square panel design, is called a Wirral brooch due to the large amount of this type found in the local area (15). Arguably the most spectacular item on display is the still shiny silver zoomorphic brooch which was found near Speke in 2006 and declared as treasure. It depicts a hare in the grasp of a rather strange looking hound. Clearly, as Vanessa Oakden suggests, brooches could demonstrate the wealth, social status and identity of the wearer (16). The fact that so many have been found in and around Merseyside shows that Romano-Britons, just like the Romans in Italy, appreciated beauty. Such appreciation extended beyond brooches and earrings as demonstrated by the finding of a remarkably preserved copper alloy armlet or bracelet which could have been worn by a lady in Merseyside, almost two thousand years ago (17).

The great majority of the brooches found in Merseyside and of those which feature in this display are found in Wirral. According to Philpott, this provides further evidence to support the idea that ‘…the division of the province into Britannia Superior in the South and Britannia Inferior, in the early 3rd century, probably had its frontier along the Mersey’ (18). Although in Latin (the language of the Romans), inferior simply means ‘lower’, its modern context still begs the interesting question, to whom was the North inferior, compared to what, and why? The items on display can help answer these questions.

Although Wirral brooches ‘…did not tend to cross the Mersey’, the Romans certainly did (19). In AD 167, a trader by the name of Aulus Viducus established a tile production centre at Ochre Brook in Tarbock (20). Viducus probably headed a family enterprise known to historians now as the ‘Viducus firm’ (21). We know this because several tiles unearthed at Ochre Brook, some of which feature in the Britannia Inferior? display, are stamped with his name. Moreover, the format of the tile stamps found here are unusual for Britain (22). This suggests that the Viducus firm probably had links with Germania (modern day Netherlands) where such stamps were more common (23). Tiles manufactured at Tarbock have been found at the Roman fortress in Chester, suggesting that the tiles could have been made to re-roof barracks there in anticipation of the return of some Twentieth Legion soldiers from Scotland in AD 167 (24). But what does this evidence tell us about the local Romano-Britons? Or, to use a completely historically inaccurate but catchy term, what were the Roman Scousers up to?

Three Wirral brooches discovered in Flintshire

If the civilian Viducus firm employed locals to work on its production site, then it can be argued, from the presence of a mortarium (used for grinding food into pastes), that local Romano-Britons would have sampled new Roman foods. Mortaria found at other Roman sites in Merseyside such as Irby, support this conclusion (25). A mortarium with white quartz grits, found at Ochre Brook, is featured in the Britannia Inferior? display. The Romans did not just introduce new foods such as onions and carrots to Britain but also significantly increased the spread of pottery making (26). Visitors to the Museum of Liverpool can view a fragmented dish found at Ochre Brook which was used for cooking (as indicated by the still visible soot marks). Moreover, an almost completely intact Roman jar found at Leasowe beach in Wirral, is also on display. It is quite possible that native Britons, not just the invading Romans, could have used jars like this too (27). But all the evidence available suggests that they did not live in houses rooved with tiles such as the ones made at Ochre Brook (28). Indeed, the surrounding rural settlements indicate that Romano-Britons continued to live in round houses, as they had done before the Romans arrived (29). This demonstrates the limits of Romanisation and the desire, for whatever reason, to preserve local customs which was also evidenced by the slow adoption of Roman table manners (30).

Small probable Roman vessel

So what should historians make of all this? The discovery of stamped Roman roof tiles and other pottery at Ochre Brook demonstrates that even in the remote corners of Empire, native Britons would have been very aware of the Romans. Nevertheless, as archaeological evidence suggests that such tiles were not used for building in local British settlements we need to be cautious before drawing broad conclusions about the pervasiveness of Roman culture. That elements of Roman culture were adopted by Britons in and around Merseyside is arguably undeniable. But this culture was not adopted to the same extent everywhere in England and certain aspects of Roman culture were emphasised more in different areas (31). There clearly was some sort of a North-South divide (32). In comparison to the variety of gold and silver hoards unearthed in the South of England, the jewellery dug up in Wirral can seem modest in comparison (33). But even these modest finds reveal differences of status in society and can tell us something of the people who wore them. In fact, they often tell us everything we know, as Sam Moorhead and David Stuttard point out, ‘[t]he written sources are very quiet about northern Britain…’ (34).

So, did the dividing line of Superior and Inferior fall across the Mersey? And what of the modern context of this label, ‘Inferior’. Could it, perhaps unwittingly, have influenced the persistent view that Merseyside is an ‘archaeological backwater’ (35)? In many ways, Roman Merseyside was not inferior, in the modern sense of the word, but simply, different. When attending a local primary school, I was taught nothing of the Romans in Merseyside but much about their activities in Chester, including a memorable visit to the amazing Roman ruins there, guided by a man dressed in the full kit of a Roman soldier. But Philpot (‘Roman Merseyside: Twenty five years on’, Journal of the Merseyside Archaeological Society, Vol. 12; 2008) notes that the Romans arrived in Merseyside before they arrived at Chester and peaceful relations with the Romano-British tribes around the Mersey arguably played an important role in facilitating the construction and maintenance of the Cestrian fort (36). Although today, large Roman constructions often leave the most lasting impressions in peoples minds, it is important to remember that the surrounding, more rural areas, with their work force, trade and peaceful social relations are, to some extent, what made the marvels of the Roman period possible. The ‘ordinary people’, whose stories are often forgotten, facilitated the achievements of the ‘great men’ (37). Perhaps then, the question we should now be asking is not ‘what did the Romans do for us?’ but rather, what did we do for the Romans?

Notes:

  1. Mary Beard, SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome (London: Profile Books, 2015), p. 16.
  2. Liverpool City Record Office, 731 GEO/4, J. Gore, ‘Equestrian Statue of His Late Majesty George the Third, Erected in London-Road’ (01/10/1822).
  3. A. Philpott, ‘Roman Merseyside: Twenty five years on’, Journal of the Merseyside Archaeological Society, Vol. 12 (2008), p. 27.
  4. Tibullus III, Roman Poet, quoted in Sam Moorhead and David Stuttard, The Romans Who Shaped Britain (London: Thames & Hudson, 2012), p. 37.
  5. Moorhead and Stuttard, Romans, pp. 36, 41.
  6. Ibid, p. 42.
  7. Philpott, ‘Roman Merseyside’, p. 33.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Richard Hobbs and Ralph Jackson, Roman Britain (London: The British Museum Press, 2016), p. 70.
  11. Ibid, p. 117.
  12. Dan Snow Interviews Mary Beard: Clip II, YouTube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YiovJREr33k [Accessed: 16/10/2018].
  13. Vanessa Oakden, 50 Finds From Cheshire: Objects from the Portable Antiquities Scheme (Gloucestershire: Amberley, 2015), p. 27.
  14. Philpott, ‘Roman Merseyside’, p. 39.
  15. Vanessa Oakden, 50 Finds From Manchester and Merseyside: Objects from the Portable Antiquities Scheme (Gloucestershire: Amberley, 2016), p. 70. See also Oakden, Cheshire, p. 25.
  16. Oakden, Manchester and Merseyside, p. 70. See also Oakden, Cheshire, p. 25.
  17. Oakden, Manchester and Merseyside, p. 73.
  18. Philpott, ‘Roman Merseyside’, p. 53.
  19. Ibid, p. 53.
  20. Vivien G. Swan and Robert A. Philpott, ‘Legio XX VV and Tile Production at Tarbock, Merseyside’, Britannia, Vol. 31 (2000), p. 65.
  21. R.W. Cowell and R.A. Philpott, Prehistoric, Romano-British and Medieval Settlement in Lowland North West England: Archaeological Excavations Along the A5300 Road Corridor in Merseyside (Liverpool: National Museums & Galleries on Merseyside, 2000), p. 94. See also Swan and Philpott, ‘Legio XX VV’, pp. 56, 59.
  22. Swan and Philpott, ‘Legio XX VV’, p. 58.
  23. Ibid, pp. 58-59.
  24. Ibid, pp. 55-56, 64-65.
  25. Philpott, ‘Roman Merseyside’, p. 46.
  26. Hobbs and Jackson, Roman Britain, p. 86. See also Moorhead and Stuttard, Romans, p. 241.
  27. Philpott, ‘Roman Merseyside’, p. 47.
  28. Ibid, p. 44.
  29. Ibid, pp. 44, 54.
  30. Ibid, p. 48.
  31. Hobbs and Jackson, Roman Britain, pp. 9, 46.
  32. Ibid, pp. 9, 46.
  33. Ibid, pp. 150-151.
  34. Moorhead and Stuttard, Romans, p. 216.
  35. Philpott, ‘Roman Merseyside’, p. 27.
  36. Ibid, p. 37.
  37. Dr Michael Lewis, Head of Portable Antiquities & Treasure, British Museum, ‘Foreword’ in Oakden, Manchester and Merseyside, p. 7.

Building Britannia: Behind the scenes at the Museum of Liverpool’s new Roman display

This week we have a guest blog by University of Leeds PhD student Luke Daly-Groves who has been putting together a display of Roman finds at the Museum of Liverpool:

For five weeks I have been working with a fantastic team of archaeologists at the Museum of Liverpool (MOL). Taking a deceptively broad departure from my PhD studies which focus on Anglo-American intelligence relations in occupied Germany, I have been collecting and researching Roman artefacts for use in a temporary display at the museum. I have always argued that there should be more collaboration between archaeologists and historians. After all, we both share the same mission, to discover the truth about the past. In this regard it may be helpful for me to talk about my experiences at the museum. Of course I would also like to share some of my thoughts about the ancient history of Merseyside.

My interest in Roman history was sparked by tales of Emperors and Empire, of bricks to marble, travels around ancient sites throughout Europe, books written by contemporaries such as Suetonius and the multimedia works of Professor Dame Mary Beard. But as Professor Beard emphasises, studying the Romans is not all about those at the top but also about revealing something of the lives of ordinary people. This is why archaeology is so important.

In the archaeological site of Pompeii, shards of pottery and even large almost intact pots lay strewn around the site, open to the elements and the mercy of thousands of tourists. Here in Liverpool, the smallest fragment of Roman tile is bagged and recorded because it may provide vital evidence. Why this seemingly large difference in approach? Context, in archaeology, as in history, is key. Very little is known about Roman activity in the North West of England. For years it was considered to be an area devoid of archaeology. Compared to the splendour of the Roman Baths in the South of England and even the imposing legionary fort at Chester, the Romans, it initially seemed to scholars, made little impact on Merseyside. I certainly had no idea of any Roman presence here prior to my work at the museum. However, just like with the study of intelligence history, the assembly of fragments can produce a broader picture.

Selecting finds from the Museum of Liverpool’s stores

I will never forget my first visit to the museum store rooms. This Aladdin’s cave of history is every historian and Indiana Jones fan’s dream. Countless shelves of boxes, all shapes and sizes, fill the massive space. Just from gazing at the front rows of a few shelves I could tell that these rooms house items relating to the history of countries all over the world, from prehistory to the Victorians. These store rooms are to the archaeologist what the archive is to the historian. Instead of documents, they hold and catalogue objects. A key difference is that archaeologists here undertake the role of both archivist and researcher, picking their own boxes and cataloguing their own items. It was refreshing to pick my own boxes. It felt like ordering from a sort of historical vending machine. But the process of preparation and analysis is the same. Before visiting the store rooms, I made a detailed list of each item I wanted to view, noting the shelf and row numbers which can be found on the museum’s impressive database. When compiling this list, I was faced with my first obstacle to research. Some items which would have been great for the display were on loan to other museums. The description of others, catalogued decades ago, did not do justice to the importance of the objects.

Just like archival research, you can never quite tell what the items you have studied on paper are going to look like when you are presented with the box which houses them. Some are of no use, others more important than one initially assumed. It is in the store room that archaeologists are faced with the same conundrum as historians, that of selection. How can one accurately represent the diversity of the past with limited time to rummage through the boxes and folders? I opted for both a thematic and chronological approach. I wanted to select items relating to different aspects of Roman life such as politics and religion whilst also demonstrating the length of the occupation. Consequently, I created a ‘timeline’ of coins, showing a span of Roman Emperors from Claudius (41-54AD) to Gratian (367-383AD). When selecting my thematic items, their appearance had to be considered. It is hard to convey context and scale in a museum display. When visiting a museum, I know I would rather see a tile stamped with the name of a Roman Emperor than a pile of orange dust. But historically, the pile of dust, due to its scale and where it was found, may be more important. It is a balancing act and there is really no right or wrong answer as to how it should be done. Just like removing chapters or sections from a book, sometimes the flow, or appearance, to the reader or observer, is the most important thing. If my display increases knowledge of Roman Merseyside and inspires people to want to learn more, I will consider this mission accomplished.

Luke mocks up some of the finds in the office

The issues of selection do not end in the store room. Having measured out the size of my display case and made a temporary mock up, I realised that not everything I picked would fit. Here is another similarity between historians and archaeologists: the limits of word count are the same as those of display space. The trick is to balance both, so they complement each other. This is a time consuming and challenging process. My first mock ups of display boards contained too much text. It took the help of the archaeology team to achieve something which would work. This can sometimes be frustrating for scholars who want to tell a story. But it is also rewarding to produce something accessible to all which could inspire the observer to research in more depth, perhaps by reading blogs such as this.

Copper alloy Roman bowl

Funding is also a big limiting factor for archaeologists and curators, as it is for historians. I first discovered this when working out the best way to display a large (for Merseyside) Roman copper alloy bowl. This incredible object was unearthed by a metal detectorist in Wirral. However, since being donated to the museum, it has remained coated in a fine layer of earth. The team which deal with cleaning such items are incredibly busy and my College was unable to provide further funds for my project. So, the bowl, when displayed, will only reveal glimpses of its greenish metal surface. Other challenges relating to display included finding suitable mounts and stands on which to place the objects. Having worked with Ron Cowell, helping to catalogue recently discovered items for his ground-breaking prehistoric display, I wished to imitate his use of different size blocks. However, as museum displays are planned months, sometimes years, in advance, the items available of this kind were very limited. Consequently, my display would have looked rather flat if Ron had not generously loaned me some of his blocks.

Whilst I was preparing my mock up display, arranging some fragments of orange Roman roof tile, one of the team informed me that stamped Roman tiles from the important archaeological site at Ochre Brook were still housed in the store rooms. I had overlooked these items on the large database, perhaps owing to their short descriptions. This resulted in another visit to the store rooms. Armed with list number two and with the help of curator Vanessa Oakden, I selected the appropriately numbered boxes from the history vending machine. The stamped tiles looked amazing. Nothing can quite describe just what it is like to hold something, almost two thousand years old, which a Romano-Briton in Liverpool would have held. The tangible definitely brings the past to life. This was made even clearer to me from observing the education team at the museum during one of their 1960s ‘hands on’ days when members of the public came to interact with objects from the recent past. Children with their grandparents expressed a genuine interest in such activities which will surely inspire further study. Similarly, the volunteer sessions in the archaeology department which allow volunteers to wash recent finds enabled members of the public, and myself, to share the sense of wonder which accompanies new discoveries.

But the museum is not just helping to spread knowledge of the past to the general public, the general public are sharing their knowledge with the museum too! For example, metal detectorists form an essential part of the museum’s day to day activities. As evidenced by the ever-buzzing telephone of the Finds Liaison Officer, Ben Jones, the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) is increasing our knowledge of Merseyside’s rich past every day. Many of the items in the museum’s store rooms and of those featured in my display were found by metal detectorists thus highlighting the importance of continuing this collaboration.

Ben Jones, FLO for Cheshire, Greater Manchester and Merseyside with volunteer Seonnie

The archaeology department is a multi-talented, multi-disciplinary, multi-purpose headquarters of history. Not content with just digging, cataloguing, scientifically analysing, mathematically plotting, engaging with historiography, publishing, collecting, displaying and lecturing, the archaeologists at MoL also engage in photography. Indeed, under the helpful guidance of Clare Ahmad, I photographed all of the items featured in my display along with some of those needed for Ron’s. This process helps future researchers to identify and study these items before or perhaps even without visiting the store rooms and enables minute details to be highlighted and enlarged through the use of digital technology. Indeed, my almost forgotten A Level photoshop skills came in handy again for a few days!

Historians and archaeologists can learn much from each other. We face the same challenges and share the same mission. The research of good historians is led by their sources, archaeologists by their objects. When both are used effectively together, the past can truly come to life. I have learnt much from my time working at the Museum of Liverpool. My research has helped to answer some important questions and raised further questions for future study. What might our ancestors have looked like? What did they believe? What did they make of the Romans? Or did the latter make Romans of them? Come and see my display entitled Britannia Inferior? A Glimpse of Life Around Roman Merseyside to find out.

Luke’s display will be on the first floor of the Museum of Liverpool during November and features several finds discovered through metal detecting which were reported via the PAS.

Placements & Pilgrims

Maxine (PAS volunteer) and Lorraine (Barker Trust student placement) taking part in photography training with Past Explorers

Supported by the Graham and Joanna Barker Trust Lorraine a first year archaeology and geography student from the University of Salford had the opportunity to spend two weeks working with the PAS at the Museum of Liverpool. During the first week Lorraine learned how to be a FLO, photographing, editing and researching finds before recording them on the PAS database and also took part in some PASt Explorer training events. One of the records Lorraine created was of this lovely Roman coin of Constantine I which was found in Cheshire.

LVPL-721ACB Roman nummus of Constantine I Copyright National Museums Liverpool: Attribution-ShareAlike License.

 

During the second week Lorraine went on to explore different features of the PAS database by using it to do some research on a topic of her choice, religious souvenirs such as ampulla and pilgrim’s badges.

 

Ampulla showing a W, indicating it is associated with Walsingham (PAS)

The funding also has allowed Lorraine to create a poster which will be printed and displayed within the University of Salford in order to promote the PAS and how our data can be used in research by those starting out in archaeology as students and throughout their careers.

Poster created by Lorraine for display

 

The Winwick Rings

LANCUM-4DD680. Copyright National Museums Liverpool: Attribution-ShareAlike License.

This lovely gold ring, recorded as LANCUM-4DD680, was discovered in the parish of Winwick, Warrington and has been declared Treasure. The ring dates to the 14th century and consists of a gold hoop with an elaborate, decorated bezel which is inset with cobalt-blue glass. Square plates with a decorative flower sit on both shoulders of the ring. There is no makers mark and the construction would suggest that it dates to the 14th or 15th century at the latest.

LANCUM-4DD680. Detail of the decorative flower. Copyright National Museums Liverpool: Attribution-ShareAlike License.

Non-destructive X-ray fluorescence analysis of the metal by the British Museum’s Scientific Research section indicated a surface composition of approximately 94-95% gold, 3-4% silver, the rest being copper.

Copyright National The ring on display. Museums Liverpool: Attribution-ShareAlike License.

As the object is over 300 years old and the precious metal content exceeds 10% where it can be ascertained; it represents Treasure under the provisions of the Treasure Act 1996. The ring has been acquired by the Museum of Liverpool and is now on display as part of the Treasure20 display which is on the 1st floor of the museum until January.

Children engaging with some of the Treasure20 display at Museum of Liverpool. Vanessa Oakden: Attribution-All rights reserved.

This is not the first medieval gold ring to be declared Treasure from the parish. Another gold ring with a sapphire set into the bezel, was found in 2007 and recorded as LVPL-0330D6. The ring was inscribed with the words JOYE SANZ FYN (Joy without end) and can be dated from 1375-1425.

George’s Story

George (right) and Harry (left) with their dad Bryan recording at the Manchester Museum. Copyright: The Portable Antiquities Scheme
License: All rights reserved

George Fowles is a young metal detectorist who has been recording with the scheme since 2015. George and his brother Harry have recorded over 32 finds so far and record both at their local metal detecting club and at various museum finds days. As part of the Festival of Archaeology we wanted to find out more from George about his finds and how he records them.

LVPL-CF7B79 Silver penny of Edward I, AD 1280. Copyright National Museums Liverpool: Attribution-ShareAlike License.

Name: George Fowles

Age: 12

What got you into metal detecting?   My Dad he said it would help me learn about history.

What has been your favourite find so far?   Although I’ve found Roman and Gold coins my favourite one is a silver ‘Edward I’ penny as it was my first hammered coin.

I have found medieval artefacts and more modern gold but my favourite artefact would have to be a simple door bell. I sought permission to search my school field and my research led me to find out a house once stood on part of the land which nobody knew about and right where I said the building had once stood I found the old brass door bell.

George’s doorbell. Copyright: George Fowles. License: All rights reserved.

What would you like to find?   Although a hoard would be nice, I would like to find an item the museum would like to keep on permanent display and I could go and see it in the museum.

Why do you record your finds?   It’s the right thing to do as it helps local archaeologists to paint the picture of our history.

What is the best thing about recording your finds?   You get to meet the Finds Liaison Officer who can confirm what you’ve found and if all the research etc. has payed off.

What do you want to do when you finish school?  To be an archaeologist.

 Do you have any advice for future detectorists?   Get permission from the land owner and RECORD YOUR FINDS.

LVPL-74665E George’s sestertius of Lucilla will be on display at the Museum of Liverpool as part of our Treasure20 celebrations. Copyright National Museums Liverpool: Attribution-ShareAlike License.

Migration & Memory – Finds from the Emerald Isle

Between 1887 and 1888 my Great Granny Ellen emigrated with her parents at the age of 4 or 5 from Liverpool to Dublin. One hundred and twenty years later I retraced her steps emigrating from Dublin to Liverpool. Our stories linked through time and place are echoed in the stories of those objects which travelled with us. While I was able to load a car full of possessions I imagine my Great Granny’s parents would have been much more selective, choosing those objects with meaning which connected them to home and family alongside more practical objects.

This St. Patrick’s day I’m looking at the numerous objects on the PAS database with a similar story of migration. Were the Irish objects discovered in the North West of England carefully chosen? Was this brooch loved by its owner, brought with purpose? Or did it end up here through trade, bought by a local who took a fancy to it?

LANCUM-B494A3 8th or 9th century insular brooch. Copyright: The Portable Antiquities Scheme
License: Attribution-ShareAlike License

Many objects connected with Ireland which were discovered in the North West can be associated with trade with the obvious ones being coins. 1,732 coins have been classified on the database as being minted in Ireland such as this penny of Edward IV minted in Dublin.

A silver Edward IV (AD1461-1483) Irish penny minted in Dublin. Copyright National Museums Liverpool: Attribution-ShareAlike License.

The Huxley Hoard on display at the Museum of Liverpool, comprising of 20 flattened bracelets, 1 silver ingot, and 1 decorated, twisted silver bar from a spiral bracelet, and the lead weights with copper alloy inlays found near Chester, are both beautiful but also have a clear connection to trade. The Huxley bracelets, flattened and folded in half, are punch-decorated with a variety of patterns. These punch-decorated bands belong to a well-known Hiberno-Scandinavian type found on both sides of the Irish Sea and produced in Ireland during the second half of the 9th and first half of the 10th centuries. Weights similar to those found near Chester may have been used to weigh pieces of hack-silver taken from armrings such as these for use as ‘small change’.

LVPL-C63F8A The Huxley Hoard of 22 pieces of silver. opyright: National Museums Liverpool
License: All rights reserved.
LVPL1049 Early Medieval lead weight. Copyright: National Museums Liverpool
License: Attribution-ShareAlike License.

Other finds would have been part of larger more practical objects such as this stunning hanging bowl mount from Cumbria. The stylised staring face and the lavish use of enamel are features characteristic of eighth-century Irish decorative metalwork. The decorated mount found in Cheshire East, also would have adorned a larger, possibly functional, object. The Cheshire mount may be compared to mounts from the ‘near Navan’ hoard and from Stoma, Norway. This object is likely to have been brought to England as a result of Viking activity.

LVPL1646 Eighth-century Irish vessel mount. Copyright: The Portable Antiquities Scheme
License: Attribution-ShareAlike License
LVPL-D35B84 Early Medieval Irish mount from Cheshire. Copyright National Museums Liverpool: Attribution-ShareAlike License.

 

But it is the small objects, usually items of jewellery which have a stronger connection to those who travelled with them. The objects we record now, lost in the past, allow us to both understand technology and trade but often convey more meaning with their ability to connect us to those who went before. Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

LANCUM-ED5E96 A Viking finger ring comparable with Hiberno-Viking armrings. Copyright: The Portable Antiquities Scheme
License: Attribution-ShareAlike License

 

LVPLD03967 Irish style clay pipe. Copyright National Museums Liverpool: Attribution-ShareAlike License.

 

The Dangers of Olive Oil!

Every month at the Museum of Liverpool a hundred of so finds come in to be recorded on the database. Many of these finds have been recovered from the plough soil in the previous months and are well looked after by their finders. However there are always one or two which arrive ‘treated’ with olive oil!

The first indication of this ‘treatment’ is usually the smell which blasts out of the finds bag upon opening. The ‘treated’ finds appear darker in colour, which some find aesthetically pleasing, but which changes the patina and for finds which are difficult to date, due to being in use throughout several periods, this obscuring of the natural patina makes dating the object considerably more difficult. But apart from my dislike of the smell and the difficulties dating some objects there is a more serious reason why you should put the olive oil down!

LVPL-4A0113 Post-medieval silver dress hook ‘treated’ with olive oil & details obscured. Copyright: National Museums Liverpool
License: Attribution-ShareAlike License.
WAW-BBB610 Untreated post-medieval dress hook.Copyright: Birmingham Museums Trust
License: Attribution-ShareAlike License

Here is the science bit!

Conservator Pieta Greaves of drakonheritage.co.uk  explains: The main problem with olive oil is that it is a fat, it is effected by oxygen and light so degrades quickly if just left around. Essentially people are exposing objects to something that begins to rot and goes rancid inside the object. It also is likely to contain sulphur which actively attacks metals in particular. It is not reversible as a treatment and will in the end destroy the object.

Some oils can be good for wood/leather; I assume that this is why people think they can use it on anything. Historically oils were used on objects; these objects are no longer around anymore or are in very little pieces.

LVPL-3B5A1B ‘Treated’ medieval buckle. Copyright: National Museums Liverpool
License: Attribution-ShareAlike License.
YORYM-AE970E Untreated buckle with unobscured details. Copyright: York Museums Trust
License: Attribution License

If you are worried about the condition of your objects please follow the advice provided in the PAS Conservation Advice notes handbook or contact a conservator and leave the olive oil in the kitchen where it belongs!

New Year, New Detector

Happy New Year! Metal detecting is a popular hobby and metal detectors a popular Christmas present so I thought it would be a good time to blog about what’s what for new and young people taking up the hobby with the help of some Lego friends.

Bob is off to do some detecting with his new machine.

To seasoned detectorists and archaeologists much of this is well known but for the parent whose child has received a detector for Christmas or a first time detectorist it is easy to be unaware. First things first, you must have permission from the landowner in order to detect on the land, this includes farmland, park land, ‘public’ land (often council owned land where detecting is not allowed). Detecting without permission from the landowner is illegal (known as nighthawking).

Bob makes sure to ask Farmer Jack for permission to search his land.

Detecting on the beach (mostly owned by the Crown) can also be restricted, have a look here for guidance. Others are privately owned or owned by the National Trust such as at Formby where a license is required.

When an object is discovered note down where you found it, you can do this there and then with GPS (many free apps are available for smartphones if you don’t want to invest in a handheld GPS) or the old fashioned way by marking a map. Or you can do it when you return home with a map or online with handy to use websites such as Grid Reference Finder or Where’s the Path.

By recording your grid reference your object can help us to understand more about the past, where people lived, traded, worked, changes in the economy and fashion and more. Without your grid reference all we have is a pretty picture.

If you find Treasure then legally it needs to be declared to the coroner within 14 days. Treasure is any object of more than 10% gold or silver & more than 300 years old. Also two or more gold/silver coins found together, 10 or more copper alloy coins found together, two or more prehistoric objects found together & any associated objects. More info on Treasure and the 1996 Treasure Act can be found here. If you have questions about Treasure contact your local FLO for help and advice.

Remember if you find something more substantial such as a hoard, stop digging and phone your FLO or local archaeologist. We can learn so much more about the past from hoards which are properly excavated just like we did with the Knutsford Hoard and we will all get so much more out of the discovery. We have some fantastic researchers using your finds in their work so once the objects are recorded that is not the end of their story. They continue to work to tell us more about the past and can be used time and time again for different types of research such as these projects.

Bob is relieved that he won’t end up like this!

Don’t forget to bring your finds to your local FLO so that they can be recorded. We record all human-made objects, metal, stone and flint, from Prehistory through to the post-medieval period. These can then be used in research to learn more about our shared past. Your FLO will be happy to guide you through the process. More detailed advice is laid out in the code of practice for responsible metal detecting. So those are those are the basic do’s & don’ts but if in doubt ask.

Visiting his local FLO at the Museum of Liverpool to record his finds was a great excuse to look at some local archaeology too!

Finds recording available during the Museum of Liverpool temporary closure

 

Finds recording at the Museum of Liverpool. Copyright National Museums Liverpo: Attribution-ShareAlike License.
Finds recording at the Museum of Liverpool. Copyright National Museums Liverpo: Attribution-ShareAlike License.

National Museums Liverpool will be carrying out essential internal works to the Museum of Liverpool, which will require the venue to be closed for a period of several weeks.

The Museum will therefore be closed from 31 December 2016 (closing at 5pm on Friday 30 December) and will re-open in late February 2017.

Background work including the work of the Finds Liaison Officer, Vanessa Oakden will be continuing as normal with finds being processed in the usual way. Appointments to record you finds and Treasure can be made by emailing vanessa.oakden@liverpoolmuseums.org.uk or by calling 01514784259.

More details on this temporary closure and works being carried out can be found here

PASt Explorers come to Liverpool!

Merseyside Maritime Museum. Copyright: National Museums Liverpool License: Attribution-ShareAlike License.
Merseyside Maritime Museum. Copyright: National Museums Liverpool
License: Attribution-ShareAlike License.

Merseyside Maritime Museum played host to the recent Portable Antiquities Scheme’s PASt Explorers’ conference on September 29th. The conference was a celebration of our volunteers with a variety of volunteer speakers discussing their experiences of volunteering with PAS. It was great to be able to listen to the experience of volunteers and to realise that it was so varied.

We had a wide variety of speakers including Liz Stewart who discussed volunteering at the Museum of Liverpool and Sophie Flynn who talked about her early experience in volunteering during college with me at the Museum of Liverpool and her return to volunteer here following university. It was lovely to hear how Sophie has valued her experiences and I have learned not to make her record so many musket balls!

Sophie Flynn discussing volunteering at NML. Copyright National Museums Liverpool: Attribution-ShareAlike License.
Sophie Flynn discussing volunteering at NML. Copyright National Museums Liverpool: Attribution-ShareAlike License.

After lunch Christina Sanna discussed her experience as an Italian student on the Erasmus+ programme which allows EU students to spend one year in another EU country. Christina discussed her favorite finds and differences in heritage law between Italy and England. Following volunteering Christina has been able to become the Finds Liaison Assistant and has created 970 records so far.

Phil Harding was our next speaker, a metal detectorist and self-recorder from Leicestershire who has recorded a fantastic 2,500+ of his objects since 2010. Self-recording allows Phil “ownership and control” over his records allowing him to revisit his data helping him to leave a “small legacy of good quality data that can be excavated and interpreted in the future”. Phil is doing a fantastic job recording his finds and hopefully his experiences will encourage others to keep going when they are grappling with image editing!

Detectorist Phil Harding talking about self-recording. Copyright National Museums Liverpool: Attribution-ShareAlike License.
Detectorist Phil Harding talking about self-recording. Copyright National Museums Liverpool: Attribution-ShareAlike License.

Following Phil we had Simon Nicholson an astronomer and teacher who following a stroke went to Derby museum to volunteer. Simon was placed with his local FLO and was thrown into the deep end with an introduction to Roman and then Medieval coins. This, Simon said, has given him “an ongoing education which is second to none” and he has now combined his hobbies of photography and walking to photograph the alabaster carved effigies abundant in Derbyshire. These effigies depict buckles, strap fittings and mounts which can be compared in date to the objects which we record and will be a really useful resource.

After the break we had three final speakers, Robert Hamer another self-recorder and detectorist followed by Roman and Medieval numismatists Matt Ball and Carl Savage discussing coins, their work helping to identify tricky coins for FLOs and their research using PAS data. The final talk of the day was Geoff Cook with a more modern but no less interesting talk on bullets and rifle ranges in the Lake District.

It was brilliant to learn how and why people volunteer and to end the day feeling inspired by the variety of experiences which people have and luckily for me following the conference I’ve two new volunteers starting next week!