Meet the Finds Liaison Assistant: Phil Hughes

Phil Hughes at Silbury Hill, Wiltshire, the largest human-made prehistoric mound in Europe. Copyright Phil Hughes. All rights reserved

ell us about yourself.

I am the Finds Liaison Assistant for Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire, having started this role in December 2017. I am assisting Alastair Willis, the Finds Liaison Officer for Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire, for three days per week for six months on a placement as part of my doctoral research being undertaken at the University of Leicester.

I have an undergraduate degree in Ancient History & Archaeology and a Masters degree in Roman Archaeology. My PhD research investigates Romano-British engagement with the prehistoric past in the East Midlands and the South-West of England with a focus on place and objects. In between completing my Masters degree and embarking on doctoral research, I worked as a field archaeologist excavating rural and urban sites from the Palaeolithic to the Medieval period.

In my spare time I can be found tripping over my own feet whilst attempting to play football, and plotting my next unorthodox soup recipe.

What does your role involve?

My role involves recording archaeological finds brought to the PAS by detectorists and members of the public at finds days and metal detectorist club meetings. In order to do this, I research the objects, photograph them, and produce clear edited images. I input the information about each object on the Portable Antiquities Scheme database so that it can be accessed by members of the public and researchers. I also ensure that finds identified as treasure are processed correctly in accordance with the Treasure Act.

What area of history/archaeology are you most interested in?

My main interest has always been in ancient Roman history and the archaeology of the Roman world, with an emphasis on Britain in the Roman Empire, investigating questions of continuity and change. More recently, I have developed an interest in British prehistory, and am able to combine the two as part of my doctoral research by investigating how material things of the past are always present, relevant and acting in a later period.

Why did you start working for the PAS?

Whilst I’ve always loved thinking abstractly about the past, and in trying to dig a giant a hole as quickly as possible, the main allure of archaeology has always resided in small finds for me. Since its inception, the PAS has transformed the information that is available to archaeologists and members of the public, giving us greater knowledge of the distribution of finds and the location of archaeological sites. Consequently, I really wanted to get involved to help cultivate the very positive relationships between these communities that the PAS has fostered and, of course, handle, deal with and think about the objects themselves!

What do you enjoy most about working for the PAS?

Most definitely the opportunity to broaden my horizons about the material culture of the British past. Whilst we all have our own favourite periods of the past and object types, I really enjoy researching objects I know nothing about from time periods I know little about. The other day I was examining and recording a post-medieval jetton, sending me down a welcome and unexpected rabbit hole of new knowledge.

What is the most exciting find from Nottinghamshire you have recorded so far? 

I recently recorded a Medieval decorative mount dated to between 1150 and 1300 CE (DENO-4E91E9). Made from copper alloy, the object is gilded and enamelled depicting the nimbate Lion of St Mark. The object would have been attached to an arm of the cross, each one depicting a winged creature of the four Evangelists: St Mark (lion); St Luke (bull); St John (eagle) and St. Matthew (angel).

A Medieval Gildedand enamelled copper alloy mount. Found near Hickling. DENO-4E91E9. Copyright: Derby Museums Trust. Licence: CC BY.

What is your favourite object recorded  on the Portable Antiquities Scheme database from Nottinghamshire?DENO-84DAB6 is a Romano-British dragonesque brooch stylistically dated to between 50-150CE. Brooches are the most common sort of  Roman dress accessory found in Britain, and the most comprehensively studied. The dragonesque type brooches are striking for their exquisite designs, often enamelled, portraying a double headed creature. Though we might consider them zoomorphic, they do not represent real creatures but, rather, two beasts with one large ear and curled snouts asymmetrically reflecting one another. The main reason for my fascination with them is that their stylisation clearly owes much to earlier pre-Roman forms of artistic design, allowing us to see how so called ‘Celtic’ cultural practices and ideas informed and merged with forms of material culture during the Roman occupation. This particular example is broken, tantalisingly missing one head adding to its mystique, but is decorated with beautiful enamelled cells of red, white and blue, making it as eye-catching today as it would have been in antiquity.

Romano-British Dragonseque brooch. Found near Clipstone. DENO-84DAB6. Copyright: Derby Museums Trust. Licence: CC BY.