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!

All that glitters….

A gold half noble of Henry iV.
Gold half noble of Henry IV. Copyright: National Museums Liverpool
License: Attribution-ShareAlike License.

Sometimes all that glitters really is gold and every once in a while we are given a genuine piece of bling to record, such as this gold half noble of Henry IV, (AD 1399-1413) which was discovered in St Helens by a metal detectorist in 2012.

Currently on the PAS database we have 1, 200,145 objects within 756,059 records, and more are being added every day. However amongst all those finds there are only 63 gold half nobles recorded, which gives you an indication of how rare this class of object is.

The obverse, or the “heads” side of the coin, depicts King Henry IV standing on a ship facing out. He’s wearing a crown and armour and is holding a sword and shield. The shield is quartered with the arms of England and France. Around the edge is the legend which reads HENRIC[DI GRA REX ANGL Z F]RANC [D]N[S HIB Z AQ]. This legend can be translated as “Henry, by the Grace of God, King of England and France, Lord of Ireland and Aquitaine”.

The reverse, or the “tails” side of the coin is a what is called a ‘floriated’ cross – which is a cross decorated with flowers or floral motifs at the end. In each angle created by this cross is a lion with a crown above. All of this is within a decorative ring called a tressure, made up of eight arches. The legend on the reverse reads [DOMINE NE IN] FVRORE TVO ARGVAS [ME], which translates as “O Lord rebuke me not in Thine anger”.

A half noble of this type was part of the light coinage of Henry IV that dates from AD 1412-1413. This coin is of particular interest because it has no annulet (or small ring) next to the trefoil on the side of the ship and it therefore appears to be a variant type.  It is these very small, subtle differences in the coins that help us to identify where and when they were made.

The coin is now recorded on the PAS database and the full record can be viewed LVPL-004154.

Neolithic Axe From Caldy

Neolithic Axe from the Caldy area of Wirral.
Neolithic stone axe. Copyright: National Museums Liverpool. License: Attribution-ShareAlike.

A lot of the finds recorded with the Portable Antiquities Scheme tend to be made of metal, even though we are always more than happy to record objects made from other materials. We see lots of coins and buttons and buckles, but rarely do we get to record stone axes. Therefore this one, found while gardening in the Caldy area of Wirral and bought in for recording, was a real treat.

There are currently only 158 stone axes recorded on the Portable Antiquities Scheme database. Fourteen of these have been recovered from Cumbria, one from St. Helens recorded as LVPL-7D4596 , one from Cheshire recorded as LVPL-8F10F8 and now this example from the Wirral. Due to their construction material stone axes are usually found by members of the public while gardening or field walking and are found less frequently by metal detector users. This accounts for the small numbers recorded on the Portable Antiquities Scheme database compared with later copper alloy axes.

This latest axe from Caldy dates to the Neolithic period (c 4000-2500BC). It is sub-trapezoidal in plan with convex curved faces. Both the butt end and cutting face have been knapped and reflaked, perhaps for a secondary use or for re-hafting. The faces of the axe are worn with scratch marks and the polished surface is faded. The stone is a light greenish brown colour, possibly a volcanic rock originating from the Scarfell Pike area of the Lake District. You can view the full record at www.finds.org.uk/database record number LVPL-FA1F01.