Meet the Volunteers: Evelyn

 

Hello! I’m Evelyn Curl, and I started volunteering with the PAS at the Ludlow Museum Resource Centre in July of this year after completing my degree in Medieval and Early Modern History. Although my studies were largely focused on written sources and how to approach them as a historian, I have always been fascinated by material culture and how we use it to interpret the past. I grew up in Colchester, Essex, a town known for its rich history and archaeology. Permanently relocating to Shropshire last year was a bit of a culture shock as the area was completely new to me and I wanted to scope out all there was to know about its history. So what better way to do this than to get involved with the local Museum Resource Centre!

I started out by learning how to edit photographs in Adobe Photoshop, which would then be uploaded to the PAS Finds database. This is something I had no experience of, so I initially regarded the task as complicated and daunting, but I surprised myself by how quickly and easily I picked it up! I started out by Photoshopping small, round items like coins and tokens, and eventually moved on to more difficult things like intricate buckles and harness mounts. I then had the opportunity to photograph some artefacts, which proved to be a little more challenging than I initially thought it would be. The photographing process involves lots of regulating of colour, focus and light levels so as to produce the clearest image possible. Shiny objects in particular require lots of attention to avoid too much glare. I’m not very familiar with cameras and their lots of little buttons and functions, so this also took some getting used to, but I eventually got the hang of it and managed to take some really good photos.

In addition to all this, Peter Reavill, the Finds Liaison Officer for the area, provided me with some valuable training on how to write records, which nicely completed my PAS database skillset. You really have to inspect the artefact, and write about it in as much detail as possible. This involved some learning of new terms, and being aware of shape, colour and form. It gets you thinking about how much more there is to a small and simple object than meets the eye!

Perhaps my favourite part of being a PAS volunteer is how getting to handle some really interesting objects becomes a day-to-day occurrence. For example, I was lucky enough to help catalogue the famous Shropshire Piano Hoard – a hoard of gold sovereign and half sovereign coins that were found hidden underneath the keys of an upright piano. I personally love studying unusual and interesting coins of all different ages, so this was an incredible experience for me and is something that myself and PAS Intern Emily Freeman will be talking about at the PASt Explorers Conference in Cardiff on the 18th November. Needless to say, having the opportunity to handle all sorts of interesting objects like this really satisfied the history geek in me!

Volunteering for the PAS has meant that I’ve been able to do what I love, whilst acquiring some really valuable skills along the way. I have a view to developing a career in the Museum and Heritage sector, but I think that whatever your background or prospects, by becoming a PAS volunteer you are not only supporting a fantastic project, but it is also a great way to develop your own skills and connections.

Evelyn has been a brilliant volunteer and her work has been invaluable to the Shropshire team. She has recently accepted a full-time role with the Post-Excavation team at Border Archaeology and although we are a little bit sad to see her go, it is brilliant that she is progressing in her career and continuing to work with archaeological finds. Good luck Evelyn! – Emily Freeman

West Midlands Headley Trust Intern, Emily. Part Two: The Internship

Object handling table at Hereford Museum Resource Centre

Becoming a Headley Trust intern with the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) has taught me things that I had not anticipated. Whilst I had developed the basic skills necessary for the role whilst volunteering, I had not imaged working with the press a great deal (turns out when you have a piano of gold sovereigns reported to you, the press get excited) nor had I considered the need to create a network around yourself in order to share knowledge and work effectively within your host organisation.

My internship began during an interesting time in Shropshire. I arrived in Ludlow around the same time as the Shropshire Piano Hoard; 913 sovereigns and half sovereigns were found inside a piano by a tuner. This was not a usual Treasure case for the PAS as these coins were less than 300 years old and didn’t have to be dug up. However, the find came under Treasure Act so it was up to us and the Coroner to explore the case. The press loved it; we ended up on BBC and ITV news, in local and national papers, and Peter gave numerous radio interviews. It was crazy and something I have never experienced before and will probably never experience again.

 

Filming with BBC and ITV

In my new role I am both a volunteer and volunteer supervisor at Ludlow Museum Resource Centre; I have to be careful not to get my days confused! All of our volunteers (PASt Explorers) have different reasons for working with us and it has been great to have such a dynamic set of people. They are mostly local people (Ludlow being quite isolated as a town) so working with them has given me a sense of belonging to the community. On my volunteering days, I have been going through the numismatic collections held at the Resource Centre; there are a number of hoards and the Wroxeter collection, so for me it is very exciting! Rather than just looking at the pretty coins, I am actually working on a project to add additional interpretation to the museum database in the hopes that we can better understand the collection.

 

Writing notes about a coin display; Shropshire Treasure Trail leaflet

 

The Treasure 20 campaign for Shropshire is also something I have been working on, in partnership with the Graduate Curator Abigail Cox. Peter thought that we could create a treasure trail across the county, so we developed this focusing on the smaller museums, highlighting the Treasure that they have purchased through the Treasure Act. This of course necessitated a tour around all of these museums; it was a good excuse to go out and explore some beautiful collections! We developed a leaflet, keeping the design minimal and clean, identifying all the sites with Treasure. We also created social media pages on several platforms to post pictures and blogs to advertise our trail. Using social media in this way was completely new to me; although I already used social media in my everyday life, I wasn’t a frequent user.

Facebook: Shropshire Treasure Trail
Twitter: @ShropTreasure
Instagram: shroptreasure_trail

Finally, as part of the celebration, we have put together several displays in Ludlow Museum Resource Centre and The Buttercross Museum in the town. These showcase metal detectorist finds from the local area and demonstrate the array of artefacts that come through PAS.

 

Display of metal detectorist finds for Treasure 20 celebrations in Shropshire

All in all, I have been doing some amazing things as an intern and I hope to learn much more as I continue!

Meet the Volunteers: Heather

Tell us about yourself

After graduating from the University of Cambridge in 2012, I worked in the legal sector for a short time, before finding employment as a researcher with a London based heritage consultancy. I eventually decided to take a gap-year, which I am using to find out about the relationship between archaeology, antiquities and the law.

 

What does your role involve?

My training with the PAS has been structured in such a way as to ensure that I have a good grounding in many of the core FLO related skills. I began by learning to use Photoshop, to photograph finds and to determine which of those images could ‘tell us most’ about their corresponding artefacts. Next, I learned to process a set of rally finds from scratch, including obtaining grid references for individual finds. Once I had built up a degree of familiarity with the PAS database, I began to write object descriptions and to upload these, along with the photographs I had manipulated using photoshop, onto the website. I am now looking forward to writing and publishing a short article for West Midlands Archaeology, summarising the significance of the finds from this particular rally. I have also written a treasure description for the Coroner for Shropshire.

 

 

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

Had you asked me that question before I started as a volunteer, I would have undoubtedly replied: ‘anything Medieval’. Yet, the more exposure I have to the material culture of other time periods, the less confidently I can claim to have a favourite archaeological age, event or theme. What has remained constant is my interest in methodology; that, I believe, is where some of the best educational value of practising (and history) lies.

 

Why did you start working for the PAS?

I first met Peter Reavill, FLO for Shropshire and Herefordshire, back in September 2016, shortly after I had first expressed an interest in volunteering with the PAS. Peter engaged very openly and honestly with me about what it was that I hoped to gain from working with the PAS, explaining that he offered a very structured approach to training his volunteers. It very quickly struck me that this was going to be one of those elusive opportunities which would offer valuable training whilst also allowing me to pursue some of my own interests.

 

What do you enjoy most about volunteering for the PAS?

Three things:

  1. Finally having the opportunity to learn about finds identification, description, handling and conservation. I know that the PAS is providing me with a real education in this respect; a number of volunteers are reaching the stage where we can confidently identify and describe artefacts independently of our FLO. We are gaining familiarity with the staple corpus of works referred to on the public database and gaining an intuitive sense of those times when it is NOT, in fact, going to be possible to identify a find with any degree of certainty-even professional archaeologists have their limitations and the PAS database commendably acknowledges this.
  2. The PAS is a node where academic, commercial and public interests in history and archaeology come together. It raises a number of very interesting- and often contentious- issues about access to, representation of and uses and abuses of the Past.
  3. I first approached the PAS in the hope of getting a treasure related work placement with the coroner. I have been very fortunate in this regard; assisting the Senior Coroner for Shropshire with the piano treasure case was a fantastic experience. When the case went to public inquest in April this year, the Coroner instructed me- on the spot- to ask a potential claimant some questions. I felt that both my input and my opinion were valued throughout the whole of my placement. At inquest, I was even fortunate enough to meet the British Museum’s Ian Richardson.

 

What is your favourite find from Shropshire that has been recorded on the PAS database and why?

Crikey! I like all the Bronze Age flint finds- please don’t ask me to choose just one example. I grew up in Shropshire but when I think about the history of the county, I confess that the Prehistoric doesn’t usually jump to mind as a time of much activity. But of course, some of Shropshire’s most famous natural landmarks are associated with this age; take the Wrekin, for instance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

West Midlands Headley Trust Intern, Emily. Part one: In the Beginning

Hello! I’m Emily Freeman (MA Ancient History, MSc Museum Studies).

I began as a volunteer with PAS in June 2016 when my role as Documentation Assistant for the Staffordshire Hoard at Birmingham Museums Trust came to an end. My Masters degree, in Museum Studies, focused on artefacts and material culture and I have always wanted to work with archaeological collections; researching amazing finds and learning their stories. I had known of PAS for a long time, having used its database for many of my research projects at University. I also knew that PAS is the perfect place to come into contact with a huge range of artefacts.

Beginning as a volunteer, I was introduced first to Photoshop. I had some familiarity with the programme but had never had the opportunity to explore it fully. Victoria Allnatt, FLO for Staffordshire and West Midlands, showed me the ropes and I was very quickly whizzing through coins and tokens! I have an interest in coins, Roman Imperial ones in particular, which are luckily a common find here in the West Midlands. Victoria made sure to give me plenty to look at and showed me how to identify coins I was less familiar with (Medieval coins are still a bit of a mystery at times…).

After a few weeks of Photoshopping lots of round things, I was promoted to photographer which, other than the odd holiday snap, I had no experience with. Photographing a dull object (like a token) was not too difficult, as long as the settings were correct and the lights were at the right angles. Taking photos of shiny artefacts, however, proved more of a challenge. It is important to minimise shine and shadow in order for the photograph to visibly show all of the features of the artefact, otherwise, what is the point of having the picture?

 

 

Once I had mastered the photography side, I began writing simple records for the database. Records should be written so that if a person cannot see a picture of the find, they should still be able to visualise it; this was like learning a whole new language and made me question how I worked. Describing the form of the artefact and the shapes, holes and which bit is attached to what bit is incredibly difficult to begin with because the words were not in my vocabulary.

Unfortunately, working with Victoria (and eventually Teresa Gilmore) didn’t last longer than five months….. because, I became the Headley Trust intern for the West Midlands!

I relocated to Ludlow in December 2016 and to hear more about my experience as an intern, check out my second post!