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.